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Raucous Caucus

Idaho Democrats rally on Feb. 5

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It's hard to turn the channel or open the paper without seeing a Democratic presidential candidate trying to rouse the voters to his or her campaign.

Even here in traditionally blood-red Republican Idaho, the Democrats are out in force, as the state party prepares for its role in Super Tuesday's primary blowout.

This particular Tuesday warrants the inflated title "Super Duper Tuesday," also dubbed "Tsunami Tuesday," because 24 states across the country are scheduled to hold their caucuses or primaries on one day, with 52 percent of Democratic delegates and 41 percent of Republican delegates being awarded.

In the past, Idaho's caucus took place at the end of February or beginning of March, but this year, it was moved up specifically to lure more Democrats to the event.

"We moved up our caucus so we could be part of the fun of Super Tuesday," said John Foster, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party. "But be careful what you wish for."

Organizers of the Democratic caucus expect the event will break records for participation, a fact that is keeping party officials on their toes.

Foster said planning is going great, but admitted that "having this much attention has caused us to really step up our game."

Nationally, much of the concentration has been placed on the youth vote, a demographic that has traditionally failed to turn out during elections.

But youth-oriented MTV has once again launched a campaign to draw young voters to the polls, this time by letting the young voters tell their own stories.

Currently the network is involved in a project with the Knight Foundation called MTV's Choose or Lose Street Team '08, which employs citizen journalists to follow and report the events and happenings of the election.

Idaho's citizen journalist, University of Idaho graduate Brian Rich, has his own take on politics in Idaho.

"When you're in a state where you're the extreme political minority, there are a lot of disenfranchised feelings going around," Rich said. "I think that it's really important to just build momentum, and it's cliche, but to gain awareness to the issues that people care about.

"None of that can really be done without a candidate that really speaks to younger voters," he said. "John Kerry tried to appeal to the younger voters, and I don't think it made much more than a couple points difference in the election. No president has really been able to turn out the youth vote.

"The fact that in Iowa, the youth vote came out in droves, and in New Hampshire, too, is remarkable. I think that alone is going to help the youth turn out on Super Tuesday, and in Idaho in 2008."

Rich was awarded the opportunity to work with MTV after a long application process. His task is to follow and document the events until November, and shape it into material that will interest young voters.

"The theme or legacy of the Street Team is that it's going to have a lasting impact on the generation it's being exposed to right now," he said.

"[Not losing hope] is critical in our state," Rich said. "You can set it aside and be skeptical, but giving up entirely on the political process, for the disenfranchised minority in any state ... it's just important to stay involved and do the best you can."

Voter involvement will be key if the support of Idaho Democrats is to matter in the national race.

It's an especially big challenge considering that Idahoans have not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since electing Frank Church for a last term in 1974, and it's been roughly 40 years since Idaho went Democrat blue in a presidential election.

But even the candidates are starting to take notice.

Barack Obama's campaign opened its first Idaho office in the Boise last October. Now, four more offices across the state have opened. And more than spreading the message, the Obama office has been working to get out the vote by holding mock caucuses to prepare voters for the big day.

"We've been holding trainings for a few weeks, doing them every day, and we'll have more in different communities around the state," said Chani Wiggins, communications director for Idaho for Obama.

The last training session will be held on Thursday at the Boise headquarters, and Wiggins says there will be more mock caucuses at college campuses.

But will all this training give them an edge?

"I think our advantage is that we already have a wave of support and interest from all kinds of people who have never participated in the political process before here in the state of Idaho.

"We are really working to get the message out about the caucus and about why Obama is the one to win in November. We've had a real impact statewide."

Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, has joined with the majority of state Democrats who have already endorsed Obama.

"If other Idahoans are anything like me, they maybe haven't been as excited about a candidate as they have about Barack Obama. I think that's going to make a difference. We're going to get more people participating on Feb. 5 than normal.

"I've had a lot of people ask me how caucuses work, and that's kind of cool. It does mean it is likely to set history because I think more people are going to be involved in the process," she said.

So, what can Democrats expect for Idaho's Super Tuesday caucus?

"We ask people to be patient," Foster said. "It is not a simple process, but they should go with the intention of having fun, and they should take cameras and take a lot of mental snapshots because they're going to be part of something that will become part of American history.

"People are going to want to say they were part of something that will turn out to be not only historic but groundbreaking for the country."

For more information about Idaho's Super Tuesday caucus, visit the Idaho State Democratic Party Web site at Idaho-Democrats.org, or call 208-336-1815. For more information on MTV's Choose or Lose Street Team '08, e-mail Brian Rich at BrianTRich@yahoo.com.