Across the state this month, groups of Democrats have been starting the process of determining who among the early field of gubernatorial candidates will make this fall’s primary ballot.
Local Democratic committees are in the midst of caucuses, in which they will vote to send representatives to the state party convention in June.
"It’s really kind of like democracy at the first level," Holliston Democratic Committee Chairwoman Beth Greely said about caucuses. "You are voting for people from your town to go represent you at a convention to go decide which candidates will be on the primary ballot."
Between early February and early March, 382 Democratic caucuses will be held across the state, according to Local Republican town committees have already finished their caucuses to pick delegates for their state convention, coming up next month.
During a caucus, local registered party members gather to select delegates to attend the state convention. Delegates don’t have to be members of the local committee, but they do have to be registered Democratic voters in the town or voting ward holding the caucus as of Jan. 31.
Each town, city or ward will vote a specific number of delegates, set by the state party, to send to the convention. Local committee chairs can also attend as ex-officio members, as can local Democratic lawmakers and state committee members and minorities, people with disabilities and voters under 25 can also apply to be an "add-on" delegate.
Delegates at the state convention will vote to determine which candidates will make it onto the ballot for the September primary election. In order to make it onto the primary ballot, a candidate must secure at least 15 percent of the first vote taken at the convention. The candidate with the highest percentage of the vote will be noted on the ballot as having the party’s endorsement.
In the gubernatorial race, there are currently five Democrats vying for the party’s nomination: Joseph Avellone, Donald Berwick, Martha Coakley, Steven Grossman and Juliette Kayyem. On the Republican side, Charlie Baker and Mark Fisher of Shrewsbury are running.
Several MetroWest towns, including Hudson, Marlborough, Northborough, Southborough, Sudbury, Wayland, Framingham and Westborough are scheduled to hold their Democratic caucuses during the first weekend in March.
Other towns, including Ashland, Holliston, Hopkinton, Natick and Weston, held their caucuses earlier this month.
In Ashland, Democratic Committee Chairman Brett Walker said voters elected eight delegates at the caucus on Feb. 8. One of the delegates elected, he said, was a newcomer who had never participated in the local committee activities.
Walker said that while delegates might say that they plan to vote for a particular candidate, he encourages all delegates to stay informed and keep an open mind about all of the candidates leading up to the convention. Walker said that it was his sense Ashland delegates are generally leaning toward Grossman and Kayyem.
Hopkinton Committee Chairman Dick Duggan said that voters at the Hopkinton Democratic Caucus waived the ability of delegate hopefuls to make speeches, so he said it is tough to get a read on which candidates the Hopkinton delegates are supporting, although he has been trying to find out.
"They’re actually either undecided or they’re holding it pretty close to the vest," he said.
In Weston, Committee Chairman John Hennessy said delegates there suggested a preference for Joe Avellone, who is from neighboring Wellesley.
Framingham Committee Chairman Tom Mahoney said the caucus on March 2 will vote 33 delegates to send to the state convention. Mahoney said that he expects several delegate hopefuls to support Grossman, but also said he has heard a lot of people supporting Coakley and Kayyem as well.
Westborough Committee Chairwoman Kate Donaghue said caucuses in her town tend not to focus strictly on the candidates that a particular delegate will support if they are chosen, although she said that Coakley has strong support in that town.
In Wayland, Committee Chairman Michael Gilbreath said Democrats there are hoping to send a "unity slate" to the state convention that would aim to allow all potential candidates onto the primary ballot.
"We have selected a group of people who are pledging to vote for each of the gubernatorial candidates," he said. "We think it’s important that all five of these people really get a chance to plead their case to the public."
Kendall Hatch can be reached at 508-490-7453 or Follow him on Twitter @Kendall_HatchMW.