Wyoming Democrats relish candidates’ rare attention
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The headline in the Casper Star-Tribune the other day pretty much said it all: “Tiny and very Republican, Wyoming is a Democratic player at last.”
Normally, it is not much fun being a Democrat here. The sparsely populated state – with half a million residents, it ranks 50th in the nation – has 59,130 registered Democrats, compared with 136,000 Republicans.
Asked to describe what that feels like, Kathy Karpan, a former Wyoming secretary of state who supports Hillary Rodham Clinton, didn’t miss a beat: “How about Custer? We are always outnumbered, always the underdog.”
But this week, Clinton resuscitated her campaign after a long primary losing streak, keeping the nomination contest with Barack Obama close. And suddenly, Wyoming Democrats are basking in a spotlight they have not enjoyed since the state’s delegates put John F. Kennedy over the top at the 1960 Democratic National Convention.
What is at stake when Democrats caucus here today?
In reality, not much. Twelve delegates are up for grabs. Another six, mostly superdelegates, eventually will be in the mix, bringing Wyoming’s total to 18 of the 2,025 needed to secure the nomination.
But with the state’s caucus occurring during a lull in the nominating calendar, presidential candidates – and one very high-profile surrogate – have for the first time in nearly 20 years stepped foot onto Wyoming soil.
That has come as both a shock and a pleasant surprise to Democrats here, who are used to being overlooked. The last time Democratic presidential candidates came through, Karpan said, was in 1988.
On Friday, Clinton and Obama each made two appearances. Both visited Casper, while Clinton also stopped in Cheyenne and Obama went to Laramie.
On Thursday, Bill Clinton drew about 5,000 people to three rallies across the more populous southeastern part of the state. Chelsea Clinton, the candidate’s daughter, held court in a college cafeteria in Casper, drawing about 200.
Wyoming Democratic Party spokesman Bill Luckett said party officials were scrambling to accommodate larger-than-planned-for crowds for today’s 23 caucuses, one in each county. Only Democrats will be allowed to vote, and most will have to arrive at least an hour before their caucus starts in order to register. Lines, and some confusion, are anticipated.
There have been no public polls of Democrats asking specifically about Clinton vs. Obama – not, it turns out, because of Wyoming’s libertarian bent and intense regard for personal privacy but because no one expected the state to be a player in the contest.
“Anybody that tells you what’s gonna happen on Saturday is strictly guessing,” said John Millin, a Cheyenne ophthalmologist who chairs the state Democratic Party. “Sen. Obama has done much better in smaller states with caucuses. But the Clinton campaign seems to have learned from Sen. Obama’s successes and is paying attention to organizing.”
Regardless of all the Democratic attention being showered on the Cowboy State, Wyoming reliably votes Republican in presidential elections. But Democratic officials hope the burst of interest will help draw people to the party even after the candidates and national media pack up and move on to Mississippi – whose 40 delegates are up for grabs Tuesday.
Any increase in the number of registered Democrats here would come as welcome news to people like Connie Colman, 50, an adult education teacher at Casper College. A Wyoming native and lifelong Democrat who is married to a Republican, Colman said she feels like “an oddity in this state. It’s hard to meet a good Democratic man in Wyoming. … Not that I’m looking.”