The Blog

Whither Wyoming?

A primary no one seems to have noticed.

4:26 PM, Jan 4, 2008 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

"AS WYOMING GOES, so the nation"--that's an aphorism that will probably never describe American politics. But tomorrow, Wyoming Republicans will play a more significant role than ever before in determining their party's presidential nominee, when they elect 12 delegates--the same number allotted to New Hampshire--to the Republican National Convention.

If you didn't know the Wyoming GOP is holding an election tomorrow, don't feel too out of the loop. With all eyes fixed on Iowa and New Hampshire, the media--and the candidates themselves--haven't paid much attention to Wyoming either. And there are a few good reasons for that.

While Wyoming lacks the historical and geographical significance of Iowa and New Hampshire, what most diminishes its importance is its arcane system of electing delegates, a process that is much more liable to charges of being "undemocratic" and "unrepresentative" than the Iowa caucuses.

Tomorrow, 12 of the state's counties will independently elect one national delegate each at their county conventions. These county conventions range in size from about fifty county delegates in Teton county (pop. 19,288) to a hundred county delegates in Laramie county (pop. 85,384). In most counties, about two-thirds to three-fourths of the county delegates are committeemen and women who were elected back in 2006, while the remaining county delegates were elected at presidential caucuses held in December 2007 or appointed by the county chairmen in case of vacancies.

So the majority of county delegates who will choose Wyoming's 12 national delegates were not elected because of their presidential preference, but were vested with this power on account of being active party members. It's not exactly a model of Athenian democracy, but in Wyoming's defense, the county conventions are more democratic than the smoke-filled room where Warren G. Harding was nominated in 1920.

While tomorrow's election is more an expression of the preferences of active state party members than the will of the masses, a few Republican candidates have made an effort to win the state. Amy Larimer, executive director of Wyoming GOP, tells me that Romney, Thompson, and Paul have each visited the state personally, and their campaigns have deluged county delegates with direct mail and phone calls. Giuliani surrogates have campaigned in the state, while the Huckabee and McCain campaigns have been nonexistent. If you're wondering about Duncan Hunter, he's invested a lot in the state and mailed out a DVD to woo support of the county delegates, so look for him to drop out if he loses.

Romney has had the most active campaign in the state--his sons have personally contacted a number of people across Wyoming. But it's hard to say how the election will turn out. With so few people voting tomorrow, its conceivable that Ron Paul's zealous supporters could persuade enough people to poach a few national delegates. But electability will also be a big factor for the committeemen and women who will largely decide the election. "I'd be happy with any of the contenders who'd win the general," says chairman of the Goshen county GOP Jeff Jones. "In my opinion that candidate is Rudy Giuliani."

While Wyoming is probably the least influential primary prior to Super Tuesday, it's possible that the results could give some candidates a much-needed boost heading into the New Hampshire primary. A sweeping win for Romney might give him enough gas to head on to Michigan and South Carolina, even if he's defeated in New Hampshire. A couple of delegates in Thompson's or Giuliani's bracket might help them weather the upcoming storm in New Hampshire as well, while Huckabee and McCain could receive some favorable press if they win any delegates in a state where they invested nothing.

And if the election results come in and no one cares at all, then the Wyoming GOP might want to consider changing how it elects its delegates.

John McCormack is an editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.