- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mitt Romney scored an overwhelming victory in the Wyoming caucuses yesterday, capturing a majority of the delegates in the nation’s second Republican presidential contest.

The former Massachusetts governor won eight of the state’s 12 delegates in yesterday’s county-by-county balloting. Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson won three, and Rep. Duncan Hunter took one delegate.

Wyoming Republicans moved up their presidential vote this year in order to play a more prominent role in the nominee-selection process, a gamble that paid real, though modest, returns.

Six Republican candidates, including Mr. Romney, visited the state last year, something that probably wouldn’t have happened if the party had stuck to its original March caucus date.

The state’s Republican voters also were deluged with campaign mail and received a few other perks, including visits and calls from candidates’ spouses, staff and children.

The three major candidates who didn’t visit the state — former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. John McCain of Arizona — received no delegates.

“It’s a big day for Romney, no doubt about it,” said Republican county convention coordinator Tom Sansonetti. “It’s also a good day for Thompson. It also shows that if you don’t show up, you’re not going to get support.”

Mr. Romney was an early favorite in the Wyoming balloting, benefiting from his connection to nearby Utah, the state’s conservative bent, and its five heavily Mormon Western counties.

The Casper Star-Tribune endorsed Mr. Romney, a Mormon, in a Dec. 31 editorial, saying he had the “leadership, experience and conservative political philosophy to be his party’s standard-bearer.”

Wyoming Republicans paid a price for their day in the sun. The Republican National Committee, which forbids voting before Feb. 5, sanctioned the party by taking away half of its 28 delegates. Four other states, New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina and Michigan, were similarly penalized.

Even so, Wyoming Republicans plan to challenge the decision and send 28 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. They argue that the national rules say nothing about sanctioning states for holding their primary votes too early.

“We all got dunned, but whether that sticks remains to be seen,” Mr. Sansonetti said. “Mitt Romney has already said that if he’s nominated, we’re getting all 28.”

Wyoming Republicans also took the unusual step of holding two votes to assign their presidential delegates. The state’s 13 at-large delegates will be elected at the state’s May 21 Rock Springs convention.

The state’s top three party officials — the state chairman and two national committee members — automatically receive delegate status.

If no candidate clinches the nomination by May 21, Wyoming Republicans could find themselves playing a pivotal role in determining the nominee, Mr. Sansonetti said.

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