Caucus week: Push is on to bring more voices into the election process
Many hoping to get more Utahns involved in party caucuses this week
State Democratic Chair Jim Dabakis said he believes the big GOP push for caucus turnout this year is being driven by the desire to weed out those zealots.
"One of the problems that party has is that it has been captured by the extremists," he said. "The Republicans believe Bob Bennett lost because only the fanatics showed up to caucus meetings."
The $300,000 caucus initiative launched by the Utah GOP speaks to the party's urgency to keep Hatch in office, Dabakis said.
"It's unprecedented. To take television time, the ads; they've spent an astonishing amount of money and organizational ability to try to get a more moderate delegate elected. We'll see if it works."
Wright scoffs at what he calls a "good conspiracy theory" offered by Dabakis.
"It couldn't be further from the truth for us," he said. "We're not ID'ing people to see who they support. The more people who participate, the more indicative the process is of the general population."
Beyond the "Hatch" factor, people active in both parties and the issues said 2012 has a different feel than two years ago and overall, there's more widespread interest in simply getting involved.
"Regular people are realizing they can be involved in the political process by either becoming a delegate or having voice to select a delegate," Salt Lake County's GOP chair, Julie Dole, said.
"You can get right down at the neighborhood level and decide which neighbor is going to be your delegate in the party."
LDS Democrats Vice Chair Crystal Otterstrom-Young said while it is always normal for groups to urge caucus participation, she agrees this year is proving to be more intense, with a greater influx of fresh faces.
"There are a lot of people frustrated with the system right now," she said. "There's definitely a big groundswell of people wanting to become delegates this year."
The consensus, too, is while voters may not be as angry this year as they were in 2010, they're not happy, either.
"Probably the No. 1 issue is jobs and the economy," said Utah Tea Party founder and gubernatorial candidate David Kirkham. "There's a determination out there to get active, get involved in the process."
Karras said there is an urgency to take action, not simply rant and rave.
"I don't think I see the anger we had in 2010. People are still afraid — afraid of what is going on in the county and they're wanting solutions, wanting leadership. I think it is a more pragmatic crowd, that the anger of 2010 is giving way to people looking for solutions, the pragmatic approach."
But Holly Richardson, a former Utah lawmaker who has gone on to chair Dan Liljenquist's challenge to Hatch for the Republican Party's nod, said people may not be as angry, but those she's met are hungering for change.
"We've met hundreds and hundreds of people and they are so ready to change Washington and to do that you have to change faces back there. … We're not sure it will be record-breaking turnout, but we don't think it will favor incumbency."
Liljenquist and Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, also angling for Hatch's seat, are both tea party-leaning candidates who are trying to harness the wind of support that blew Bennett out of the convention.
Hatch is also facing a storm of television and radio attack ads put out by the tea party-aligned FreedomWorks, which is seeking the defeat of the six-term senator.
Despite the challenge, Hatch said he remains optimistic and believes 2012 will be a far different year than 2010.
"We are very optimistic and hopeful we are going to do fine at the state convention," he said. "More and more people walk up to me and say, 'We are with you."
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