The “Equality State” just wanted to feel equal.
America’s least populous state held a caucus Saturday, unbeknownst to many, and to the apathy of most in the national media. While the Democrats there will have to wait until March 8, Wyoming Republicans moved up their county conventions to January 5 in an effort to gain relevance in the primary season, despite penalties that will strip them (and other pre-February 5 states which violated the sanctioned dates the GOP has set for primaries) of half their national convention delegates because of such an intrepid move. Instead of 28, the state will now have 14 Republican delegates available. The final two will be selected at the state convention in May.
Around 10am local time Saturday, Mitt Romney, who was the first candidate to visit Wyoming last summer, won the state’s first delegate as Albany County chose Tammy Johnson to be their representative at the September Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. By 2:30pm Mountain Standard Time, Fox News had projected Romney as the winner; he earned eight of the state’s 12 delegates, while Fred Thompson earned two and the fading Duncan Hunter got one. To steal a sports analogy, Romney led early and never looked back — even though he was more than 2,000 miles away, likely preparing for the weekend debate doubleheader in New Hampshire.
Former Wyoming Republican chair and former chair of the RNC Rules Committee, Tom Sansonetti, was the man behind the state’s move toward being a bigger player in presidential primary politics.
Late last summer, Samsonetti told the Boston Globe that his decision included a short and long-term goal. In the short-term, he clearly wanted Wyoming to receive more attention in the presidential race. In the future, he would like the National Committee to utilize a system “that is fair.”
Wyoming’s Republicans had hoped to draw attention by holding their county conventions a full month before most other states. But as states jockeyed to schedule their nominating contests earlier and earlier on the 2008 calendar, Wyoming unexpectedly found itself sandwiched between Iowa and New Hampshire. The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, based out of the state capital in Cheyenne, disagreed with the move in an editorial Friday morning.
Given state party rules, it’s possible that some of the delegates chosen Saturday may not be committed to a particular candidate, according to Jan Larimer, Wyoming’s Republican national committeewoman. Wyoming Republicans have tried to keep Saturday’s county conventions relevant by directly sending all 12 delegates chosen to the national convention. They will thus hold back only the two chosen at the state convention in May.
Undeniably, the race in Wyoming carried little of the influence of this past Thursday’s Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary coming up on Tuesday, and no candidate headed west to be present at Wyoming’s county conventions Saturday because of the scheduled New Hampshire debates.
“Yes, there have been some appearances by the candidates in this state that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred this early in the process,” Jim King, who teaches political science at the University of Wyoming, told the Associated Press earlier this week. “But candidates are where the media are – in Iowa and New Hampshire.”
Going in, whether anyone in the Republican contest had an advantage was unknown. No public polling numbers had been made available, and the state with a population of slightly more than half a million has few media outlets.
Larimer said different counties leaned toward different candidates, and she could not gauge whether anyone had momentum across our country’s tenth largest state, area-wise. Those familiar with the results of the Republican precinct caucuses held last month said no clear candidate emerged when delegates to the county conventions were selected.
Prior to the voting, there also had been relatively few endorsements by Wyoming’s top Republicans. Former Governor Jim Geringer has backed Mike Huckabee, while State Auditor Rita Meyer has said she supports Mitt Romney. Only Romney, Fred Thompson, Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter have passed through since September.
But in the end, Sansonetti, who also wears the hat of Wyoming’s 2008 GOP County Conventions coordinator, was pleased. He told the Salt Lake Tribune (the closest major city newspaper) in late December that vaulting to the start of the election calendar has so far drawn more attention to the state than ever before.
“Rank and file Republicans didn’t get as much as a postcard in years past,” he said. “We didn’t even see a potential nominee until the nomination was sewn up.”
With the win by Governor Romney, surely on Saturday night Sansonetti believed that Wyoming benefited. Romney was the only candidate to visit Wyoming last summer, and at the time Sansonetti noted that was one more candidate than ever had been seen in the state so early in the presidential cycle.
While Romney’s win won’t make headlines, it is noteworthy that Wyoming actually has more delegates than New Hampshire.
Ari Kaufman currently resides in Indianapolis where he is a military historian for the State of Indiana’s War Memorials and an Associate Fellow at the Sagamore Institute. A former Los Angeles schoolteacher, he is the author of Reclamation: Saving our schools starts from within.