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Colorado Democratic Caucuses Stir Interest

April 5, 1988

DENVER (AP) _ At one Denver neighborhood caucus, Democrats split their county convention delegates between Jesse Jackson and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis after the state party chairman and a prominent state senator took opposite sides.

At a GOP caucus not far away, Republicans went for Vice President George Bush in a straw poll, except for one diehard supporter for Kansas Sen. Robert Dole, who has dropped out of the race.

At a Grand Junction Democratic caucus, a timeout was called so participants could watch the final minutes of the Kansas-Oklahoma game for the NCAA basketball championship.

And at the executive mansion of Gov. Roy Romer, where another Democratic precinct caucus was held, Dukakis was the 2-to-1 favorite.

At 2,784 Democratic caucuses and the same number of GOP neighborhood gatherings across Colorado on Monday night, Coloradans took the first step in choosing delegates to their national party conventions this summer.

The spotlight was on Democrats because of the tight Jackson-Dukakis race and because the Colorado caucuses could give one of the candidates momentum going into today’s Wisconsin primary. At stake were 45 of the state’s 51 Democratic delegates to the national convention.

The interest level was reflected by turnout, which was considered good at Democratic caucuses and thin at GOP gatherings, party officials said.

On the Republican side, Bush was expected to capture most of Colorado’s 36 GOP delegates to the Republican National Convention, although Bush campaign officials were wary of an ambush by Pat Robertson, who spent three days in Colorado on Easter weekend. The ambush failed to materialize in early returns.

State Democratic chairman Buie Seawell and Regis Groff, a black state senator from Denver, took opposite sides at Denver’s Precinct 822, with Seawell endorsing Dukakis and Groff urging support for Jackson.

Seawell, who is one of six Colorado ″super delegates″ to the national convention and already committed to Dukakis, said Dukakis not only has governed Massachusetts well, but ″I believe Michael Dukakis can win.″

Groff, known for his fiery rhetoric, said he had been a Dukakis supporter until recently, when Jackson’s message persuaded him to switch sides.

″His message is an American message,″ said Groff. ″He speaks to all Americans.″

Four of the precincts seven delegates were sent to the county convention committed to Jackson and three to Dukakis.

At the Republican caucus in Precinct 623 of Denver’s Capitol Hill, Bush swept a straw poll, 17-1.

″All year long, Precinct 623 has been a Dole precinct, and there was one diehard vote for Dole tonight,″ said caucus chairperson Evamarie McGowan.

At Denver Precinct 637, the executive mansion on Capitol Hill, Romer - who already has endorsed Dukakis and will go to Atlanta as a super delegate - saw his precinct send six delegates to the county convention committed to Dukakis and three for Jackson.

″Tonight, we’re all equal,″ Romer said prior to his remarks in support of Dukakis, ″and this party thrives on good competitive issues. I have the highest respect for Jesse Jackson and Al Gore. But I think Mike Dukakis is the best qualified - and the most electable.″

At another Democratic precinct caucus on Denver’s Capitol Hill, Precinct 621A, the delegates were split 3-3 for Jackson and Dukakis, with one delegate uncommitted.

″I want to throw the rascals out and Duke’s the man,″ said Ray McCall, a Dukakis supporter and a delegate to the county convention.

Democrats in Precinct 31 in north Grand Junction heard a spirited debate between Dukakis and Jackson supporters before recessing for 35 minutes to watch the final 2 minutes and 11 seconds of the NCAA championship basketball game.

Then, the caucus decided to send four Dukakis delegates, three uncommitted delegates and one Jackson delegate to the Mesa County convention.

When precinct chairman Joe Coleman tried to resume discussions with seven seconds left in the game, one Democrat said, ″Get the basketball game over with. Let’s get our priorities straight.″