Crowded Cowboy Caucuses

Another weekend gone, another caucus in the books, another Obama win.

If you blinked you missed Wyoming’s twelve pledged delegates, but you’d have to be asleep to miss two Democratic presidential candidates stumping in our northern neighbor, a state whose delegation made JFK the nominee in 1960 but hasn’t elected a Democrat to Congress since 1976.

You’ve got to forgive Wyoming Democrats for sometimes feeling like Gary Cooper in High Noon, alone and righteous against a frontier town full of ruffians. It’s said that Republicans out register Democrats 2-1 in the state, in some places 10-1. It’s a testament to how close the Dem primary race has been that both Barack Obama and the entire Clinton clan cruised the Cowboy State—Obama rallied the troops at the University of Wyoming, Bill spoke in Riverton, Rock Springs and Laramie, Chelsea at Casper College, Hillary in Casper and Cheyenne. The end result after Saturday’s day of caucusing, a 61-38 drubbing by Obama, will net him a three to four delegate advantage. Every little bit counts, right?

Wyoming Democratic Party spokesman Bill Luckett, imminently gracious to speak with me on a Sunday afternoon, said that Dems were coming out of the woodwork everywhere, with the surge in popularity directly attributed to the interest generated by the two candidates. “We had over 200 people at one of our [Democratic Party] events,” he said. “I talked to some of the old timers. They’d never seen crowds that big at one of our events.”

Wyoming Dems—whom Luckett variously described as 2nd Amendment-proud (“out West here, lots of people have guns and they use them to hunt”), 1900s-era unionists congregating predominantly in the southern part of the state—sent Johnson County, 61-38, and Washakie, 58-40, to Obama while Clinton took Weston 40-28 and the two tied dead even in Crook County, 31-all. And those aren’t percentages, those are total votes cast.

Luckett noted that Wyoming remains a complicated political animal for Democrats, as the state often trends libertarian overall, with heavy emphasis on the government-that-governs-least-governs-best, preservation-of-personal-rights-and-privacy philosophies. The state also runs counter to much of the rest of the country on critical issues of energy policy. “In a lot of cases what you see across the county is a lot of people are fed up with the country,” he said. “Wyoming’s economy somewhat countercyclical--energy is the dominant industry here…When natural gas and heating costs are high, it can help a lot of families in Wyoming.”

Cara Eastwood, spokeswoman for Governor Dave Freudenthal (D), noted that the governor initially believed that neither of the candidates had paid appropriate attention to such specifically Western issues. During Clinton and Obama’s visits, however, Freudenthal “...did take the opportunity to hear both candidates speak on Friday and was interested in their views on water, energy, health care, the economy and other issues facing the West,” Eastwood told me via email.

I asked Luckett what credence he gave to statements made by some of the state’s bigwigs who claimed that the polls might be influenced by the will of GOPers who hate the Clintons. Both state Democratic chairman John Millin, suggesting conservatives would be drawn to the booths to vote against HRC, and the U of WY’s political science professor Jim King, noting WY’s leftover distaste for the Bill Clinton presidency, raised the issue of the not-so-slumbering conservative power in the state. “I don’t sense that here,” Luckett said of possible anti-Hillary backlash. No word on if Casper’s son Dick Cheney tossed his angry ballot into the fray.

Hillary carried what is considered the most liberal county, Sweetwater (57-43 percent), while Obama carried the largest caucus in the state in Laramie County by a margin similar to his overall victory. Teton County, which includes Jackson Hole and was the only county to swing for John Kerry in 2004, delivered the most surprising crowd of the day, with 1,150 caucusers giving Obama his biggest win with 80 percent of the vote.

Saturday was the bright spot in the year for WY Democrats, but state leaders aren’t expecting miracles. “Wyoming remains a strongly Republican state,” Eastwood said. “But Democrats here were certainly energized and turned out for the caucuses this year.”

So it might be a bit much to say that Wyoming’s becoming Ted Kennedy country, but for one brief week in March, there was more blue in the state than its customary compliment of frozen toes, bruised bronco backsides and hempy Californians in for a ski weekend. -- Joe Horton

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Sean Cronin