Close presidential race gives significance to Kansas caucus
As the Kansas presidential caucuses in February approach, Republicans and Democrats are hoping for a good turnout in a year that both camps agree is an important time for Kansans' voices to be heard.
The Democratic caucuses will be on "Super Tuesday," Feb. 5, while the Republican caucuses are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 9. Both parties will play host to caucuses throughout the state on their scheduled dates where votes will be tallied to determine the number of Kansas delegates each candidate will get to their respective party's national nominating convention.
Richard Kiper, chairman of the Leavenworth County Republican Party, said this would be the first caucuses Kansas Republicans have had since 1988. He said the decision to conduct caucuses was made after the Legislature voted not to have a statewide presidential primary election.
"We decided to have a caucus to give the people of Kansas the opportunity to make their voice known as to who we believe should be the Republican nominee," he said.
The Leavenworth County Republican caucus will start at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Riverfront Community Center, 123 N Esplanade St, Leavenworth. Kiper said all attendees must have a photo ID that will be used to verify they are a registered voter.
So far, seven presidential candidates - Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Ron Paul, Alan Keyes, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson - have filed to participate in the Kansas caucuses. Once the meeting is called to order, each candidate is allowed to send a credentialed representative to give a 10-mintue speech before votes are cast.
Kiper said it could be a big year for Kansas to offer an influence in the final say of who will be the party's nominee. With Huckabee winning the Iowa caucus, Romney winning the Wyoming caucus and McCain winning the New Hampshire primary, Kiper said there might not be a clear GOP front-runner, by the time Kansas Republicans select their delegates.
Kiper said he encouraged all registered Republicans to attend the caucus so they are better informed and take part in the chance to influence history.
"I believe it's a civic duty for people to vote," he said. "It's also an educational opportunity for people to see how our whole political nominating system works."
On the Democratic side, Jenny Davidson, communications director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said this was an exciting year because the Democratic caucuses are on Super Tuesday.
On Super Tuesday, 22 other states - including Missouri, Oklahoma and Colorado - will be holding their caucuses and primaries as well, making it, Davidson said, one of the most exciting days in presidential politics.
The Kansas Democratic Party decided to hold its caucuses on Super Tuesday because it wanted to give Kansas Democrats a chance to be part of the decision-making process in choosing its party nominee, Davidson said. In the past, Kansas had always held the caucus after a front-runner had been identified and well on his way to the nomination.
"This race is exciting because we have a good field of candidates," she said. "It's getting people excited to come out."
Four candidates - Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Barack Obama - have filed to participate in the Kansas caucuses, but Davidson said there might be more before the Jan. 20 deadline.
The Democratic caucuses will be handled through a two-step process. First, participants will have 30 minutes to make their candidate choices. From this first vote, the chair will determine which candidates are viable for further consideration. Those receiving support of at least 15 percent of the total number of voters present will be considered viable.
Once the viable candidates are determined, voters will have more time to consider changing their vote to the narrowed list before the final vote is made.
For those residents in the 3rd Senate District, which is represented by Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, the Democratic caucus will be at Metcalf Memorial Armory, 200 Iowa St., Lawrence. For those in the 5th Senate District represented by Sen. Mark Gilstrap, there will be two options of caucuses to attend, one at the Riverfront Community Center, and the other at the Woodlands Dog Track, 9700 Leavenworth Rd., Kansas City, Kan.
The doors at all locations will open at 6 p.m. but voters must be in line by 7 p.m. to be eligible to participate.
"At the Democratic presidential caucuses, Kansans will decide who will lead our country in a new direction," Davidson said. "This is democracy at its finest, and we are excited to have the opportunity to make this decision with the majority of the country on Super Tuesday."