- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

DENVER (AP) - Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton on Tuesday in Colorado’s Democratic presidential caucuses, a nonbinding poll that nevertheless gives the Vermont senator an important boost in his quest for the Democratic nomination.

Sanders generated an impressive turnout among young adults at the precinct caucuses, especially in Denver and Boulder, where lines of voters surrounded some precincts more than an hour after caucusing began. Most of Colorado’s Democratic Party establishment endorsed Clinton, and most expect her to eventually win the nomination.

Molly Ison, 38 weeks pregnant, sat in a camping chair in an around-the-block line waiting to caucus for Sanders at a central Denver middle school. The 33-year-old software developer said she liked Sanders’ longstanding focus on economic equality.

“He’s been unswayed about this,” she said.

Cole Kauffman, a 32-year-old nurse, also caucused for Sanders but was under no illusions about his chances of winning the nomination.

“I’m supporting Bernie in the hopes that it pulls Hillary to the left,” Kauffman said.

Standing next to him, his wife, Elena Harman, scowled. She was one of few in the liberal neighborhood wearing a Clinton sticker on her jacket.

“I don’t dislike Bernie, but I feel domestic policy is a narrow part of what the president does, and I feel he’s not prepared to be commander in chief,” said Harman, 28, who runs a firm that advises nonprofits. “The president has a lot more direct control of foreign policy.”

Clinton organized early in Colorado with 10 field offices. Sanders’ volunteers intensified their campaign in recent weeks, and Sanders held a Sunday rally in the university town of Fort Collins.

Colorado Republicans abandoned a presidential straw poll this year because the national GOP required a binding delegate vote. State party leaders would have no voice at the national convention if the winner here dropped out before then.

Instead, GOP caucus-goers declared their preferences for state and local races, including several candidates hoping to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in November.

Some Republicans were frustrated that the party chose to wait on the presidential race.

Doug Schuck of Cherry Hills Village said the presidential contest got him interested in the first place.

“To not be able to cast a vote is disappointing. It means they’re only going to hear from a few people, the insiders they want to hear from,” said Schuck, 69, an independent automobile restorer and Donald Trump supporter.

Even Republicans who didn’t mind the party’s presidential decision said the top contest drew them to the caucus.

“What brought me out tonight was to try to get some sense of where the Republican party is going as a whole,” said 56-year-old June Fuller of Englewood, who opposes Trump and supports Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “We just have to band together and see if we can stop this terrible tsunami that’s happening.”

Colorado’s caucuses are the first step toward sending party members to the national conventions this summer. After Tuesday, each party holds successive assemblies in each county, then each congressional district, and then party conventions in April. Both parties hold primaries in June.

Colorado’s caucuses also are not a reliable predictor of the state’s eventual preferences: In 2012, Rick Santorum upset Mitt Romney in the straw poll, stunning political analysts who expected Romney to repeat his 2008 victory here. Romney went on to get the most Colorado delegates at a GOP state assembly.

Twelve states cast votes for party nominees Tuesday, the biggest single-day delegate haul of the nomination contests. Republicans voted in 11 states, with 595 delegates at stake. Democrats voted in 11 states and American Samoa, with 865 delegates up for grabs.

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Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert, Nicholas Riccardi and P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report.

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Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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