Democrats in Wyo. give win to Obama

The Baltimore Sun

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- In a sparsely populated state surprised to find itself in the national spotlight, Sen. Barack Obama has beaten Sen. Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

With 22 of 23 Wyoming counties reporting, including Laramie, the most populous, Obama won 59 percent of the vote to Clinton's 41 percent yesterday.

Clinton's resurgence in the race last week - thanks to her victories in Ohio and Texas - means no delegate anywhere will be taken for granted.

Wyoming, with 12 delegates at stake, became a player for the first time in years. Both candidates campaigned here, bringing unaccustomed attention to the state's Democrats. Wyoming, where more than two-thirds of voters are Republican, is often an afterthought in the Democratic presidential campaign.

But last week, both candidates came to Wyoming. Former President Bill Clinton and the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, stumped here as well.

"This is a big win for us," Obama campaign strategist David Plouffe said yesterday afternoon in a conference call with reporters. "You saw very furious campaigning by the Clintons. ... They had more activity than we did, they mounted a very aggressive campaign on the ground."

The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for a comment.

Obama won seven of the state's delegates; Clinton won five. According to the Associated Press, Obama leads in the delegate count, 1,578 to 1,468. It takes 2,025 delegates to win the nomination.

Democrats turned out in record numbers.

"Look at these lines!" exclaimed former Wyoming Secretary of State Kathy Karpan. "I feel like I died and went to heaven."

Here in the state's capital, Democratic Party officials said 1,532 voters cast ballots. The voting, which took place in the auditorium of the Cheyenne Civic Center, had to be conducted in waves, because the venue was not large enough to hold everyone. Some voters ended up waiting in line for more than two hours.

"We have been waiting too long," said Rebecca Crook, a 47-year-old nurse who had never been to a caucus. "But we'll stay. I find this really exciting."

Voters here in Laramie County cast paper ballots, which were counted in a dressing room by four volunteers. They sat at brightly lighted makeup mirrors, under the eye of two out-of-state attorneys, one observing for Clinton, the other for Obama.

At precisely 9 this morning, Laramie County Democratic Chairman Mike Bell gaveled his county's caucus to order. The civic center, with a capacity of 1,500, was nearly full, and hundreds of voters were lined up outside, in a relatively balmy 38 degrees, waiting to sign in to cast their ballots in the Democratic presidential contest.

"Good morning, Wyoming Democrats!" said Bell. "I got a question for you: Where in the hell did you come from?"

The crowd roared its approval. He was right to ask: In 2004, exactly 160 people turned up for the Laramie County Democratic caucus. Across Wyoming, where 23 county caucuses will determine whom the state's 12 delegates will support, turnout was beyond expectations.

"We have never had this many people at a state convention, let alone a caucus," said Karpan, who surveyed the Cheyenne crowd.

Outside, near the back of the line, Wyoming's first lady, Nancy Freudenthal, stood shivering with everyone else.

Her husband, Dave Freudenthal, is a popular two-term Democratic governor in a state that is dominated by Republicans. He has not endorsed either candidate publicly, and his wife was reluctant to state her preference (although their 21-year-old daughter, Katie, was holding an Obama sign).

The crowd, said Nancy Freudenthal, "is nothing I expected. At Democratic events in Wyoming, you tend to see the same worker bees over and over. Today I see tons of new faces. This has great potential to revive the Democratic Party."

About 9:25 a.m., Karpan took the microphone to nominate her candidate, Clinton. She would be followed by Ken McCauley, a retired Air Force pilot, who would nominate Obama.

"However this turns out," Karpan said, "stand up! Stand up and promise me you will support the nominee!"

Robin Abcarian writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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