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Archive for Sunday, January 27, 2008

Republicans worry about caucus plan

January 27, 2008

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— Some Kansas Republicans worry their party isn't prepared for its Feb. 9 presidential caucuses and that some meeting places will be too small and run out of ballots.

State GOP leaders said Saturday that they've made backup plans in case crowds at the caucuses are larger than expected. But they also acknowledged they don't know what to expect because the last competitive caucuses were in 1988.

This year's caucuses will determine how seven presidential candidates split up 36 of the state's 39 delegates to the Republican National Convention. The state party already has printed 17,000 ballots for 67 voting sites.

"Part of the problem is, last time we had a caucus was 20 years ago," said state GOP Chairman Kris Kobach. "We're not a state like Iowa or New Hampshire, which has a pretty good prediction level on how many people are going to show up."

The GOP State Committee scheduled the caucuses after Feb. 5, when more than 20 other states will have contests, hoping the contest wouldn't be decided. That, the committee reasoned, would give candidates a reason to visit Kansas.

An AP analysis showed it is mathematically impossible for any GOP candidate to capture the 1,191 delegates necessary to secure the nomination by then.

While Republican leaders are excited about the prospects of an unusually large turnout, some GOP activists have visions of crowds of voters waiting hours to verify their Republican registrations and cast ballots.

"I'm very concerned," said state Sen. Phil Journey, of Haysville. "These people need to be accommodated. They need to have a pleasant experience. They need to come away with a positive feeling about being a participant in the political process."

Journey said he's confident that the venue for Sedgwick and Butler counties' caucuses - the Century II arena downtown - will be large enough. But he added, "I'm really concerned about other places in the state not having enough room."

Scott Schwab, Johnson County's GOP chairman, said he's also wondering whether it will have enough space at its four caucus sites. He said he's prepared to change those sites if the GOP race remains close after Super Tuesday. "I may have to rent a parking lot and put tents out there," he said.

But he said such a crush of people would be "one of the greatest things that's happened to this party."

"That's a good problem to have," he said. "The best thing for this party is more involvement with people who register Republican, and this is bringing volunteers out of the woodwork."

A dwindling supply of ballots at a caucus site won't be a major problem, Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said. Thornburgh's office won't be involved in running the caucuses,bb and he said the GOP won't have to jump through the same legal hoops the state does in preparing ballots.

The GOP plans to collect paper ballots and count them by hand. That means, Thornburgh said, GOP workers can simply go to a copy machine and run off more ballots if the supply runs short.

"From what I can tell, there are no problems that cannot be overcome," said Thornburgh, a Republican.

In previous years, Kansas has held its presidential contests in early April or later, diminishing the state's influence.

In 1988, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole sought the GOP nomination, and his supporters feared that backers of televangelist Pat Robertson would capture a few delegates and embarrass Dole in his home state. That fear led to a surge in participation, but Dole failed to capture the nomination.

Four years later, the state held presidential primaries supervised by the secretary of state's office. In 1996, when Dole captured the nomination, Kansas committed its entire delegation to him early.

In 2000, George W. Bush already had captured the GOP nomination when Kansas had its caucuses. Four years later, Bush faced no significant opposition for renomination.

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