WASHINGTON COUNTY – The countywide Republican caucuses took place Thursday and drew large crowds and split participants over the fate of incumbent Sen. Orin Hatch.
William Billings, Chairman of the Washington County Republican Party, said attendance “blew up” when compared to the 2010 caucuses, which he also said swelled in attendance. Attendance at the 2012 caucuses easily doubled the 2010 number, he said.
Precincts in which 30 to 40 people attended in 2010 increased to between 100 and 160, and “even smaller precincts like Toquerville and New Harmony had over 100 people show up,” Billings said.
St. George News contributor Leo Wright attended his neighborhood caucus in La Verkin and was told that two years ago only ten people were present. This year’s caucus witnessed a “significant increase” as 56 individuals arrived in order to make their voices heard.
Billings credited a highly coordinated effort between the state and county levels of the Republican Party in getting the word out about the importance of the caucuses. It helped foster “a great spirit of participation” among the public, he said.
Another reason Billings gave was people were feeling “a massive sense of urgency…over the government’s abuse of power.”
One of the more notable factors that brought people out was whether or not Sen. Hatch should be elected for a sixth term, which would bring his time in the Senate to a total of 42 years.
“I got reports that Hatch’s reelection was a serious topic for a lot of people,” Billings said.
In his own precinct, Billings noted the voices for and against Hatch were roughly “half-and-half.” Reports from around the county were similar, he added. Washington County Republicans appeared to be evenly split when it came to the six-term senator.
Wright said people in his precinct were “adamant they [wanted] Hatch voted out, [but] nobody really knew anything about anyone else.”
Despite the focus on Hatch, Billings said he had seen a higher level of voter awareness compared to previous years.
“People are a lot more informed,” he said. “Concerns have caused them to look into the issues more.”
Billings also expressed his thanks for those who made the effort to attend to caucuses.
“An enormous amount of people came out,” he said. “I’m so proud of the Republican Party and Southern Utah in general. The meetings took forever to set up because so many people arrived, but we were excited about everyone working together.”
To Billings, the cooperation and fervor experienced during the caucuses was a model that both the state and the nation would do well to learn from.
As for individuals who did not make it to the caucuses Thursday, Billings encouraged them to become involved in the political process rather than sitting back and letting others do it for them. He said people can spend hours upon hours listening to talk radio and complain about what they hear on the show, yet do little else.
“Voices are important,” Billings said. “Get involved and let yours be heard.”
Leo Wright contributed to this article.
Copyright 2012 St. George News