CHEYENNE, WYO — . -- In a sparsely populated state that unexpectedly found itself at the center of the Democratic political universe this week, Sen. Barack Obama handily beat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in caucuses Saturday. The victory gave a psychological lift to a campaign that had had an uncharacteristically difficult week.
Obama bested Clinton in Wyoming with 61% of the vote to her 38%, giving him seven delegates and her five.
With Clinton's resurgence last week -- thanks to wins in the Ohio and Texas primaries -- the fight for every delegate has become intense, making Wyoming a player for the first time in years.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, March 10, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 78 words Type of Material: Correction
Wyoming Democrats: In an article about the caucuses in Sunday's Section A, the last name of the Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman John Millin was misspelled Mullin. Also, in some editions, the article incorrectly said that nearly 500 delegates remained to be awarded in upcoming contests and a little more than 100 superdelegates remained uncommitted. In fact, about 600 delegates remain to be awarded in the upcoming contests, and about 300 superdelegates have not indicated which candidate they back.
The fight now moves to Mississippi, which holds its primary Tuesday, and delegate-rich Pennsylvania, which holds its primary April 22. Given the heightened acrimony between the two campaigns, that seems like a lifetime away.
Obama, with 1,578 delegates, is roughly 100 ahead of Clinton, according to the Associated Press tally. To become the party's nominee, a candidate needs 2,025 delegates.
Obama campaign strategist David Plouffe described Wyoming as "a big win for us" in a conference call with reporters Saturday afternoon.
The Obama campaign took repeated knocks last week from the Clinton campaign and in the losses to her in the Ohio and Texas primaries. And it shot itself in the foot when Harvard historian Samantha Power, one of the campaign's foreign policy advisors, told a Scottish reporter that Clinton was "a monster." Power quickly resigned.
Plouffe accused the Clinton camp of running a "scorched-earth campaign" and vowed that "we are going to campaign as hard as we can" in the coming contests.
Both candidates barnstormed in Wyoming last week, as did former President Clinton and the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea. "War for Wyoming," screamed a banner headline on Saturday's front page of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. The visits put an unaccustomed spotlight on the state's Democrats, who constitute little more than a quarter of registered voters and feel a little lonely at times.
Clinton's campaign manager, Maggie Williams, downplayed the Wyoming loss. "We are thrilled with this near split in delegates and are grateful to the people of Wyoming for their support," she said in a statement Saturday. "Although the Obama campaign predicted victory in Wyoming weeks ago, we worked hard to present Sen. Clinton's vision to the caucusgoers and we thank them for turning out today."
At a Cheyenne rally Friday, Hillary Clinton said she had "an uphill climb here, because it's a caucus."
Bill Clinton, who has reined in his rhetoric, has again become an effective campaigner for his wife. State party officials said his visit Thursday paid off. Rock Springs in Sweetwater County, where the former president held a rally, gave Hillary Clinton her largest victory, 57% of its vote.
Statewide, about 14% of the state's 59,000 registered Democrats showed up, compared with fewer than 2% -- or 675 actual voters -- in 2004.
"Look at these lines!" exclaimed former Wyoming Secretary of State Kathy Karpan at the Cheyenne Civic Center, where the Laramie County caucus took place. "I feel like I died and went to Heaven."
Democratic Party officials said 1,532 Laramie County voters cast ballots. In 2004, 160 showed up to caucus.
"It's the biggest circus we've ever pulled off," said John Mullin, chairman of the state Democratic Party.
The voting had to be conducted in waves because the venue was not large enough to hold the crowd. Some voters ended up waiting in line for more than two hours.
"We have been waiting too long," said 47-year-old nurse Rebecca Crook, who had never been to a caucus. "But we'll stay. I find this really exciting."
The paper ballots were counted by four volunteers, who found space in a dressing room. They sat at brightly lit makeup mirrors under the eye of two out-of-state attorneys, one observing for Clinton, the other for Obama.
In Cheyenne, despite the blocks-long lines, Laramie County Democratic Chairman Mike Bell gaveled his caucus to order at precisely 9 a.m.
"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.
As "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung by a barbershop quartet, cowboys doffed their hats and folks who hadn't made it inside the auditorium yet got antsy.
Outside, near the back of the line, Wyoming First Lady Nancy D. Freudenthal stood shivering with everyone else.
Her husband, Dave Freudenthal, is a popular two-term Democratic governor. Though Wyomingites reliably vote Republican in presidential campaigns, they have a contrarian streak; half their governors have been Democrats. Freudenthal did not endorse either candidate and would not state his preference.
"I don't have to answer that question," Freudenthal said as he stood in the auditorium in blue jeans and a windbreaker. He did talk about turnout, though. "Obviously we're enthusiastic about the number of people here, to see the operation of democracy at its most inspiring."
Having both Clinton and Obama in the state was a boon, he said. And as for the small number of Democrats in his overwhelmingly Republican state, he added, "It's a little less lonely today than it was a couple of days ago."
Nancy Freudenthal marveled at the turnout.
"This is nothing I expected," she said. "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."