Tight Jackson, Dukakis Race Expected; Bush People Eye Robertson
DENVER (AP) _ Hispanic voters may become pivotal players in today’s Colorado Democratic precinct caucuses, where Jesse Jackson and Michael Dukakis are fighting for the winner’s share of Colorado’s 45 national delegates at stake.
On the Republican side, Pat Robertson supporters hope a flurry of weekend campaigning by their candidate stops Vice President George Bush’s bid for a sweep of Colorado’s 36 GOP delegates.
Because Bush is almost certain to win the GOP nomination - no matter what Robertson does here - the Democratic caucuses have taken center stage.
The four-tier process for choosing the delegates - which progresses through county, congressional district and state conventions - begins at 2,784 neighborhood meetings tonight.
At those precinct meetings, which are expected to draw about 20,000 Democrats statewide, presidential preference polls will be taken and roughly 10,000 delegates to the county conventions will be selected on the basis of those polls. Delegates either will be committed to one of the four Democratic candidates, or they will be uncommitted.
Dukakis has been endorsed by Gov. Roy Romer and state Democratic chairman Buie Seawell, two of Colorado’s six ″super delegates″ to the national convention. Some political observers, like Seawell, think the key to winning Democratic delegates may be found in the Hispanic community.
Hispanics make up about 12 percent of the registered voters statewide, and under party rules, the Colorado delegation to the Democratic National Convention in July will be at least 20 percent Hispanic, officials said.
″Jesse Jackson is going after the Hispanic voter very aggressively,″ said former New Mexico Gov. Toney Anaya, who campaigned for Jackson here last week.
But Dukakis, who speaks fluent Spanish, has done well among Hispanics in contests so far. Dukakis campaign officials, however, say the Massachusetts governor did not target Hispanics here.
″We are carrying out the same level of campaigning that we are elsewhere,″ said Richard Ybarra, Dukakis’ western states director and a son- in-law of farmworker activist Caesar Chavez.
Jackson organizers were counting heavily on his Easter weekend appearances to draw supporters to the caucuses.
″Black churches have been a primary source of support for us, and we are targeting those churches,″ said the Rev. J. Langston Boyd, Jackson’s Colorado coordinator.
Dukakis visited a shelter for the homeless in Denver on Saturday, saying he is ″a doer ... not just a talker.″
Bob Johnson, one of five paid Dukakis staffers in Colorado, predicted that Democrats would begin to focus on one Democrat to beat Bush - and that Democrat will be Dukakis.
Gore has not been in Colorado recently, but his staff has been busy trying to drum up support. Mike Veit, Gore’s Colorado director, said the strategy has been to seek support outside metropolitan Denver.
Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, who has not campaigned in Colorado, is not expected to be a factor tonight.
At the Republican caucuses, Bush supporters hoped to prevent an ambush by Robertson and his ″invisible army.″
Republicans will take non-binding straw polls at some caucuses tonight, but they are not required to do so.
Delegates also will be selected for county conventions later this month, but they will not be committed to any candidate.
″Turnout (at the caucuses) is expected to be a problem,″ said Tom Hockaday, Bush’s western regional coordinator. ″Bush will win a majority at the caucuses, but we don’t know by how much. Robertson is still a player.″
Robertson campaign aides set up 10 telephone banks to try to persuade at least 10,000 people to show up for tonight’s caucuses.
David Nelson, a Denver businessman who is coordinating Robertson’s Colorado campaign, said his goal was to win one-third to one-half of Colorado’s 36 GOP delegates for Robertson.