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Parties prepare for presidential picks

News editor

County Republicans and Democrats will weigh in with their preferences for presidential candidates at party caucuses March 5, but will do so in markedly different fashion.

Of the two, the Democratic caucus is the most unusual, and perhaps the most fun, district vice-chair Shelley Dunham said.

“The Democrats are a pretty lively group,” she said. “It really is a kind of celebratory experience. There’s a lot of convincing that goes on, and lot of politicking that goes on. It doesn’t get too serious.”

County Democrats will have to travel to Canton-Galva Elementary School in Canton for their caucus, as Democratic caucuses are organized by state Senate districts.

Registered Democratic voters aren’t the only ones who may participate, Dunham said. New voters, independents, and Republicans who wish to change parties all may register as Democrats on site from 1 to 3 p.m. and be included.

“We will collect as much data as we can and the Democratic Party will follow up to help them with registration,” Dunham said.

Observers also are welcome, she said.

The caucus will predictably open with speeches.

“We anticipate having in most of our caucuses a representative from the presidential campaigns,” Dunham said. “Some of our candidates who are running locally will have an opportunity to speak. Any of the county chairs will be able to address those from their county.”

Caucus participants won’t vote with a pen and ballot; rather, they’ll vote with their feet, moving into groups representing Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Rocky de la Fuente, or uncommitted.

A group with fewer than 15 percent of those participating must dissolve, and members have three choices: Join one of the other groups, become an observer, or leave.

“All voting on the Democratic side is done in the open,” Dunham said. “It’s not done by secret ballot.”

Each remaining group receives a proportional number of eight delegate spots. The individuals chosen to fill those spots will attend a meeting April 2 with other First Congressional District caucus representatives to choose four delegates to attend the national convention in Philadelphia.

“I think our Founding Fathers would be extremely pleased to see the process we go through to select delegates,” Dunham said. “We really encourage people to participate in probably what is the most basic democratic process we have in this country.”

County Republicans will caucus at Marion Community Center, as the party holds caucuses in almost every county, Republican county chairman Todd Heitschmidt said.

“We were asked by McPherson County, but I had already indicated we were going to have a Marion County one,” Heitschmidt said.

Republicans who were registered voters as of Feb. 4 are eligible to participate, Heitschmidt said, and will need to present a photo ID when they check in. Voter registration will be available on site, but new registrants will not be able to vote in the caucus.

Following a general party meeting at 9:30 a.m., the Republican caucus will begin at 10 a.m.

“They can come at any time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m,” Heitschimdt said. “It’s highly unlikely that there will be a representative from each candidate’s campaign there to speak, but those are allowed. Folks will be able to speak for a candidate if they wish.”

Republican caucus-goers will vote by secret ballot for one of eight possible choices: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, or uncommitted.

In 2012, Kansas Republicans bucked national trends by voting for underdog Rick Santorum, and Heitschmidt said frontrunners Trump and Cruz aren’t guaranteed to win this year.

“We could do that again,” he said. “We may not pick a top-three candidate.”

Heitschmidt said generating interest in both parties for caucus participation is made more challenging because Kansas delegations to national conventions are smaller than more populous states. He also said he hasn’t noticed any greater level of interest locally from the lengthy presidential campaigning that’s already taken place.

Last modified Feb. 24, 2016

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