The way Democrats begin selecting delegates for its national convention is similar to the way a coach recruits players. But the legislative district caucuses held statewide Thursday night were lacking one key ingredient: warm bodies.
In Boone County, not enough Democrats turned out to fill the party’s roster, turning almost every caucus attendee into a de facto delegate. Caucus organizers said they were hardly surprised, especially considering the largely ceremonial role delegates have come to play in the presidential selection process.
“The caucus this year is silly,” said Charley Christie, chairman of the Boone County Democratic Central Committee. “We’ve already had a primary. Now it’s just a matter of putting names on it.”
Here’s how the process works: Missouri sends 88 delegates to nominate a presidential candidate at the Democratic National Convention in July. Of those, 48 delegates are selected by Congressional districts and pledged to support the popular vote from the state’s Feb. 3 primary election.
A presidential candidate must receive 15 percent of the vote statewide in order to have Congressional district delegates pledged in his or her name. Only John Kerry and runner-up John Edwards met the standard this year, leaving Democrats to divvy up the state’s 48 Congressional district votes based on the percentage each candidate received in the primary: 33 to Kerry and 15 to Edwards.
That brings us to Thursday night’s legislative district caucuses, which were the first step in selecting Congressional district delegates. State legislative districts pick thousands of delegates and alternates that subsequent caucuses will winnow to 48.
But in Boone County, caucus leaders struggled to find enough delegates. For example, the 23rd District caucus at Parkade Elementary School was supposed to assign 75 delegates and 75 alternates to attend the March 11 county convention, but only 46 Democrats showed up. It was the same story in Boone County’s four other legislative districts.
“The caucus is a fun process, even though it isn’t tonight because no one’s here,” said Connie Hendren, who was one of four Democrats attending the 9th District caucus at Dripping Springs Church.
Caucusgoers said the low participation isn’t something to be concerned about. Rather, some said, it’s a distillation of hard-core Democrats who are dead set on pushing President George Bush out of office in November’s general election.
“These are the hard-core Democrats,” said Fred Hicks, who attended the 24th District caucus. “They’re the ones that are going to do the work over the next seven months.”
Other Democrats touted the caucus system as an ideal environment for political participation. The gatherings were largely informal, with participants filling into circles of folding chairs and joking through tedious parliamentary procedure with blithe nonchalance.
“The country is broken and it needs to be fixed,” said Debra Hardin, who attended the 21st District caucus in Hallsville. “I’m always amazed at the difference one person can make.”
Missourian reporters Coulter Jones, Sarah Kemp, Joi Preciphs and Lori Yount contributed to this story.