- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

HILDALE, Utah (AP) - Fifty-five people gathered at a school in Hildale, Utah, Tuesday night to discuss the Republican presidential candidates. Voters across the state were holding such caucuses, but in Hildale, some saw the process as a sign of changing times.

“I want us to function like a normal city,” Jesse Barlow, 32, told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/1LK5WII ). Barlow was elected precinct vice chairman and ran what he described as the city’s first Republican caucus in at least four years at the Water Canyon School.

Hildale and the adjoining Colorado City, Arizona, are home to the polygamous sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a radical offshoot of Mormonism, which disavowed polygamy more than a century ago.

Authorities believe the group’s former leader, Warren Jeffs, continues to exert control from a Texas prison cell.

Jeffs’ brother, FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs, sent Barlow away from the community without explanation in 2013, according to Barlow. Barlow and his family have recently returned to Hildale after living in St. George.

Lyle Jeffs is currently behind bars while awaiting trial on charges that he orchestrated a years-long, multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.

Tuesday’s caucus was the first Republican caucus in the city in at least four years, Barlow said, and it garnered record turnout. The previous record for a Hildale Republican caucus was five people, all city employees meeting at the city offices, according to Barlow.

“I would have to say there was a lot of energy” at Tuesday’s caucus, said Barlow. He said he didn’t see anyone he could identify as in good standing with the FLDS church. Former members say the faithful are not allowed to go to Water Canyon.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won the Hildale caucus with 26 votes, followed by Donald Trump with 19 votes and Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 10, said Barlow.

Democrats in Hildale had to drive to the city of Hurricane and caucus there.

Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow is listed as the precinct chairman on the Washington County Republican Party website, but Jesse Barlow, the mayor’s cousin, said he was asked to lead the meeting because the mayor hasn’t been active in the caucuses for years.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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