More than 500 people shoehorned themselves into every possible spot in the state Capitol cafeteria Tuesday for combined Democratic caucuses of 27 precincts.
People — half of them standing for lack of chairs — tried to ignore the wall sign that read, "Maximum capacity 315."
This week’s caucuses
Democrats » Met Tuesday at 148 sites statewide to select 2,500 delegates to the state convention and voted for their party’s presidential nominee
Republicans and Constitution Party caucuses » Meet 7 p.m. Thursday
Locations » Visit vote.utah.gov
Rules » Only registered Republicans may participate in GOP caucuses, but people may register as Republicans at the meetings.
"With this crowd, you would think Democrats ran this state. We don’t yet, but we will soon," outgoing Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon told the cheering crowd.
"This is at least triple the size of the crowd here last time," said state Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, who is running to replace Corroon in a hot race against fellow Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City.
The crowd was a sign that the millions of dollars in ads, plus repeated across-the-pulpit pleas from the LDS First Presidency to attend caucuses, had positive results, at least in this meeting for precincts in Salt Lake City’s downtown, Capitol Hill and Avenues areas. Democrats had similar combined meetings in 147 other sites statewide Tuesday to elect 2,500 delegates to the April 21 state Democratic Convention and smaller numbers of delegates to county conventions.
Luci Kelly, chairwoman of Salt Lake City Precinct 35, said two years ago four people attended from her precinct, and she became chairwoman "because I didn’t step back quickly enough." On Tuesday, her precinct had 24 people — a sixfold increase.
The dozen or so people around the table for the caucus of Precinct 52 couldn’t say how big of an increase they had. None of them attended the meeting two years ago.
Neil Webster, chairman of Precinct 21, said the 23 people participating "was at least triple what we had last time. And we tend to have a pretty active area" compared to most.
People came for many reasons.
Corinna Trujillo said it was her first caucus, and she came largely because of a letter from Mormon church leaders read to congregations for the past three Sundays urging attendance. "It feels good to be involved," she said with a smile.
Johnnie Bobo said he has been an independent voter previously, so he had never attended a party caucus. "I wanted to see how the process works. I wanted to have a voice in this" effort that will help select which candidates are on the ballot.
Melissa Jensen came "to try to become a delegate. It’s important to be engaged." She brought several neighbors who had never before been to a caucus in hopes of helping her win election as a delegate. It worked. "I won," she said later, pumping a fist.
Some came to support individual candidates, with the Salt Lake County mayor’s race gaining much of the attention, campaign signs and brochures.
"I’m here for McAdams," said Brian Spittler, who has not only attended caucuses before but has been a state and national Democratic candidate.
Similarly, Kelly said she attended to fulfill her precinct duties and because she likes Romero in the same race. "I think the Hispanic population needs more representation. ... But I like McAdams, too. I like them both, so it’s a hard decision," she said.
Webster said most people in his now triple-sized precinct were there to help U.S. Senate candidate Pete Ashdown, who lives in the precinct and spent much of the night with them. "They all know Pete and want to do whatever they can."
Ashdown told the crowd that Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has amassed millions for the Senate race. "I can still win, but I need all your help, all your effort — and all your money," he said to laughter.
Delegates elected Tuesday will go on to county and state conventions, where they will choose nominees — if one candidate in a race can win 60 percent of the vote — or set up a head-to-head primary between two top vote-getters if neither reaches that threshold.
Those at the caucuses also cast ballots for the party’s presidential nominee, where the options were President Barack Obama or "uncommitted."
"We don’t expect ‘uncommitted’ to get 15 percent of the vote," which would be needed to win a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, said Matt Lyon, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party.
"So we’re pretty confident that all 29 of Utah’s delegates will be pledged to President Obama," along with an additional five party officials who are "superdelegates" from the state, Lyon said.Next Page >
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