Heavy turnout at Republican caucuses in Davis County

Mar 15 2012 - 11:51pm

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LAYTON -- They came and just kept coming.

Turnout was somewhere between heavy and very heavy Thursday night at a Republican caucus at Northridge High School for northern Davis County Republicans.

It was a trend party officials expected to happen all across the county.

"This is the heaviest turnout at a caucus meeting I've ever seen," Guilda Schroader, of Layton, said as she entered one of 26 designated precinct rooms at NHS.

It was standing-room only. The school's parking lots were full, and cars spilled over into an area designated for driver's training, near the stadium. More than 2,100 registered voters were expected at the one location alone.

Meetings were held at 34 caucus locations, in comparison to 11 two years ago, so party organizers were expecting a turnout of more than 15,000 registered Republicans to help nominate delegates, said Kris Kimball, chairwoman of the Republican Party for Davis County.

About 70,000 registered Republicans live in Davis County.

The turnout was notable, but the night was all about U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Just two years removed from a state convention where Republicans ousted Sen. Bob Bennett, Hatch, 77, has been fighting for his political life.

The six-term senator's staff has reportedly contacted more than 100,000 registered Republicans around the Beehive State since February 2011 and has actively courted the GOP faithful in a bid to secure delegates.

Dave Hansen, campaign manager for Hatch, downplayed a do-or-die element to the meetings but admitted it is a critical step along the path to re-election.

A candidate securing 60 percent of the approximately 4,000 delegates to the state convention will win the party's nomination outright. If not, the top two vote-getters will be on the ballot for a June primary.

The county convention is scheduled for April 13; the state convention is set for April 21.

At the same time, FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group, reportedly has almost $700,000 to use in its bid to oust Hatch.

Hatch faces a field of seven challengers for his Senate seat, including former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, of Bountiful, and current House Reps. Craig Frank, of Cedar City, and Chris Herrod, of Provo.

Hansen, a native of Syracuse, said the campaign took a two-step approach to the evening: Officials pored over specifics from 2010 for each precinct, then solicited 5,000 people to run for delegate spots.

He admits it is the most detailed pre-caucus campaign the senator has ever run.

One person open to the possibility of being a delegate was Ken Warhola, of Layton, who said he was leaning toward a possible replacement in the U.S. Senate.

Hatch organizers expect to have a good idea by this afternoon how they fared in the caucus process.

Hansen believes some of the delegates will remain uncommitted until the convention.

"It's going to be a very active five weeks," he predicted of the days leading up to the state convention.

The caucus brought a mix of voters of every age.

Vay and Clive Walker, a senior couple living in Layton, attended their first caucus. Vay is a registered Republican, while her husband is a registered Democrat who attended a caucus meeting Tuesday night.

Vay Walker mused, "This is a new experience for us in our old age."

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