Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah election season kicks off Tuesday with state Democrats holding precinct caucuses throughout the state.
Justin Daniels, political director for the state Democratic Party, said interest in high-profile races for governor, attorney general, and a fourth U.S congressional seat, and increased efforts by both the Republican and Democratic parties to get people to meetings could double attendance over 2008 levels, when both parties were seeking a presidential candidate.
"No matter what their party, I hope they go out to the caucuses," Daniels said. "The more people involved, the better our democratic process is."
Democrats meet Tuesday at 7 p.m., while Republicans are set for Thursday night caucus meetings. Daniels said the caucuses are an important organizing tool for the state Democratic party as well as an opportunity to introduce candidates for statewide office to potential voters.
He said that in Salt Lake County precincts, the contested county mayoral race will likely be debated as delegates selected during the Democratic caucuses will consider the candidacies of Sen. Ross Romero and Sen. Ben McAdams at the convention level.
Romero, who currently serves as minority leader in the state Senate, said he'll be spending Tuesday attending as many caucuses as possible and reaching out to new delegates. Like Daniels, Romero said he's expecting a good turnout at the caucuses and said that groups involved with education and health care, as well as rank-and-file Democrats, have taken an interest in the election in a way he's never seen before.
"There seems to be a strong effort by many organizations at making sure their voice is being heard," he said.
He said the 2012 election is a unique combination of factors prompting the political interest of Utahns. He mentioned the affinity many feel for President Barack Obama and the religious connection that GOP front-runner Mitt Romney shares with much of the state, as well as the attention given to local candidates like retired major general Peter Cooke, who is running for governor, and Dee Smith, who announced his candidacy for Utah Attorney General on Monday.
"A lot of this is the quality of candidates running that is bringing interest to the race," he said.
McAdams said he'll be visiting precincts on Tuesday, but not before casting a vote for the delegates at his home caucus meeting. He said that in talking with individuals about the election he's noticed a greater awareness of the caucus system than in the past, something he says speaks favorably for the often-denounced manner of conducting the mall local meetings.
As a candidate, he said the caucuses offer an opportunity to connect one-on-one with voters and address the concerns and questions of individuals.
"This is a system that has a lot of critics and much of that criticism is probably deserved," he said. "But all of the criticism can be fixed by participation."
A Deseret News/KSL Poll by Dan Jones & Associates released last week found that a majority of Utahns have never attended a caucus and half of respondents said they didn't intend to.
Democratic caucuses are open to any voter while Republican caucuses on Thursday require an individual to be registered with the party. For information on the caucuses of other parties and precinct and caucus locations, visit vote.utah.gov/caucus.
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