Colorado GOP could move caucuses to February

The Colorado Statesman

Colorado Republicans are considering moving the party’s 2012 caucuses ahead by a month to Feb. 7 if other states jump the gun and abandon a plan to delay the start of the presidential nominating calendar, state GOP Chairman Ryan Call told The Colorado Statesman on Tuesday.

While both parties are currently planning on March 6 caucuses in line with an accelerated election calendar adopted by the State Legislature — the state’s primary moves from August to June next year in an attempt to ensure general election mail ballots reach military and overseas voters in time, shifting caucuses, county assemblies and state conventions ahead — state Republicans plan to decide this fall whether to pick the earlier date.

“We’re waiting to see what Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada do,” Call said. “The law permits us to move up to the first Tuesday in February, and we might consider that if a number of other states depart and (Republican National Committee) rules permit us to do so.”

Call said that state Republicans don’t intend to be marginalized when it comes to influencing the nomination of a candidate to take on President Barack Obama next year.

“We want to make sure Colorado’s interests are being protected while balancing the needs for a thoughtful and effective nomination calendar,” he said.

Call’s Democratic counterpart expressed surprise at the prospect of a caucus date change by the Republicans.

“I was under the impression that we had an agreement to leave our caucus date at March 6,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio. “It’s news to me if they’re thinking of moving it.”

Over the years, Colorado’s two parties have had an informal agreement to hold caucuses on the same day, even when state law has allowed for flexibility, party officials said, but Palacio was talking about a recent deal reached at the national level.

Under a plan adopted last summer by both national committees, the 2012 election season doesn’t get under way until early February, about a month later than it did in 2008 when Iowa caucuses — by tradition the first in the nation — were Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary followed five days later. The current plan has the 2012 Iowa caucuses set for Feb. 6, but that date isn’t set in stone.

Dominos are poised to start falling if some states — including Florida and Missouri — make good on suggestions they might upset the calendar, prompting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to advance their contests in order to stay ahead of the pack.

States have until Oct. 1 to firm up their primary and caucus dates with the Republican National Committee. Call said the Republican State Central Committee will meet in late September to consider moving Colorado’s caucus date.

State law provides for shifting the caucus date to jostle for national influence, said Andrew Cole, a spokesman for Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

“They can do it,” Cole said. Scanning the statute, he elaborated: “It’s set in March, except in a presidential year, when (parties) have the option of moving it to the first Tuesday in February.”

The law doesn’t require state parties to hold their caucuses on the same day.

“We understand we’re not Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina,” Call said, “but being a caucus state, and with the date moved up, it will make Colorado’s voice much more prominent in the overall selection of the nominee.”

Colorado is widely seen as a crucial battleground state and a bellwether for the 2012 presidential race. With a nearly even division between Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters — the most balanced state in the country by party registration — the election could hinge on Colorado’s nine electoral votes, operatives and observers have said.

“In 2012, as goes Colorado, so goes the nation,” said Republican strategist Karl Rove during a talk at a GOP fundraiser in Denver last month.

Palacio agreed Colorado will be one of the key swing states in next year’s presidential election but questioned whether it would make much difference if Coloradans have a more prominent role in picking the Republican nominee.

“Regardless of what the date of the caucuses are, Colorado is going to be a major player,” he said. “We are one of the few battleground states for the 2012 election.”

As for holding caucuses as early as possible, Palacio said, “It would be interesting to see what would happen. In 2008, Mitt Romney swept Colorado in the caucuses and ended up not being the nominee. Anything can happen that early on.”

Palacio dismissed the notion Colorado Republicans could help steer their party’s nomination to a more electable candidate.

“They could have the caucuses tomorrow, it’s not going to change their candidates one bit,” he said. “I don’t think there is a clear contrast between Republicans candidates for president and those Republicans who lost statewide in Colorado in 2010.”

In 2008, both Colorado parties held caucuses on Feb. 5, dubbed “Super Tuesday” because of the number of states holding primaries and caucuses that day. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, ran away with the GOP vote, scoring 60 percent support over eventual nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain, who had the backing of 18 percent of caucus goers, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who got about 13 percent.

On the Democratic side, Obama defeated chief rival U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton by more than 2-to-1. He went on to win the state by 9 points in November, only the second Democrat to take Colorado’s electoral votes since 1964.

In this year’s presidential nominating race, the more moderate Romney has been considered the frontrunner, though some recent national polls and surveys in key early states show U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota pulling ahead. Other Republican candidates include businessman Herman Cain, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Hunstman. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is considering joining the race, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin hasn’t said yet whether she plans to run.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com