- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2007

The presidential candidates begin their final surge in anticipation of this week’s votes from the first two states, Iowa and Wyoming.

Yes, Wyoming.

Republicans there are scheduled to elect their convention delegates Saturday, two days after Thursday’s Iowa caucuses and fully three days before the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary.

That Wyoming hasn’t received anything close to the campaign and news media attention devoted to Iowa and New Hampshire doesn’t bother denizens of the Cowboy State.

“This has been a very exciting year for us,” said Republican county convention coordinator Tom Sansonetti. “Everything we’ve gotten has been more than we’ve gotten in the past. If we got one letter from one presidential campaign, that would be more than we’ve gotten in the past.”

As the state with the fewest people — its population numbers just 522,830 — Wyoming is accustomed to waiting at the end of the line during presidential years. In the last two election cycles, the only candidate who could be depended on to visit was Vice President Dick Cheney — and he hails from there.

At their Aug. 25 central committee meeting, state Republicans, looking for a piece of the primary action, voted to move their convention from March to January. Wyoming Democrats refused to follow suit and held to the March 8 convention date.

The result: Six Republican candidates have made campaign stops in the state so far, some of them more than once. No Democrat has crossed the state line.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who’s visited twice, is expected to do well, especially in the state’s heavily Mormon Western counties. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a three-time visitor, is making a strong push, and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson also enjoys healthy support, say Wyoming politicos.

Republican activists are receiving regular phone calls and mailings from the campaigns. Kristi Wallin, a state committeewoman, made the local news when she received a phone call from Ann Romney, Mr. Romney’s wife.

Still, these are humble tokens indeed when compared with the candidate mob scenes in Des Moines, Iowa, and Concord, N.H. None of the Republicans, for example, is spending his day pheasant-hunting with the Wyoming locals, as did candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee earlier this week in Iowa.

Why didn’t the Republican campaign focus swing to Wyoming this year when it became clear its election would precede those in New Hampshire? For one thing, say analysts, there wasn’t time: New Hampshire officials waited until Thanksgiving to commit to the Jan. 8 primary date, long after the campaigns and news media were entrenched in the Granite State.

Geography was another factor. A vast, spread-out state with no major airport, Wyoming doesn’t make it easy for candidates to meet and greet voters and get out in the same day. Unlike New Hampshire, it’s not conveniently located to East Coast fundraising and news media power centers in New York and Washington.

Finally, there’s the sheer familiarity of Iowa and New Hampshire, which have led the presidential primary and caucus contests for decades.

“Iowa and New Hampshire are so dominant these days, and there are active contests in both parties,” said Denver political analyst Eric Sondermann. “In Wyoming, you only have one party, and you have a rather miniscule number of delegates.”