- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - From immigration to gun rights, intense debate over which presidential candidate would be best for Wyoming dominated Republican precinct caucuses in nine Wyoming counties Tuesday.

Nearly 800 people - more than twice the number GOP officials expected - flooded Laramie County’s standing-room only caucus. The crush of people lined up outside and inside Laramie County Community College delayed proceedings by nearly an hour.

“What we see here is these campaigns are extremely energized,” Laramie County GOP Chairman Jared Olson said.

Tuesday’s caucuses won’t immediately shed light on which candidate the state will back. The precinct caucuses, which started in mid-February, determine who goes to the March 12 county conventions, where the party will select 12 delegates and 12 alternates to the Republican National Convention this summer.

Donald Trump, who had a strong showing in other Super Tuesday states, didn’t appear to have deep support in Laramie County. Ted Cruz buttons and stickers were worn throughout the room. Several caucus-goers said they liked Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

“He’s only been in the Senate for one term. And so I wouldn’t consider him part of the establishment at all. You know, senators who have been there 20 or 30 years, that’s a different deal,” said Ed Prosser, a cattle rancher south of Cheyenne and former Republican state representative.

Rubio is “a little more logical” on immigration than candidates who advocate mass deportation of those living in the country illegally, said retiree Jim Wollack.

“I personally have a hard time with just trying to kick 11 million people out of the country,” Wollack said. “Plus, I think he’s a person who can not only unite the party but unite the country.”

Cruz supporters described him as an upholder of the Constitution who followed through on promises, such as staunch opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

“He stuck to his guns,” said Irene Bales. “That’s the kind of person I want.”

Cruz is the only candidate still running who has campaigned in Wyoming. He pledged at a rally near Cheyenne last summer to end federal regulations that threaten to impede coal mining in Wyoming and elsewhere.

“He is the most principled person in the field,” supporter Robin Goodspeed said. “He is a Christian man. I am a Christian and that is important to me.”

National security, jobs, the economy and the energy industry are top issues for Gov. Matt Mead, who hasn’t endorsed a candidate yet. Mead expressed concern, though, about candidates who talk about their opponents’ physical appearance and who put one group of people against another - remarks aimed at Trump.

“I think not only myself, but other governors and people I talk to are concerned about what I think are viewed as ill-considered comments,” Mead said.

Wyoming is the country’s least populous state, and its politics lean heavily Republican. Under national party rules, that gives Wyoming an outsized share of 29 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.

Wyoming Republicans are looking for a candidate who understands their values and will work to reverse Obama administration policies, state party Chairman Matt Micheli said.

“Wyoming has more delegates than 14 other states,” Micheli said. “Our Wyoming voice is a big opportunity to make a difference in the presidential election.”

After the county conventions, 14 national delegates will be selected at the Republican state convention April 14-16 in Casper. The other three are the state GOP chairman, RNC committeeman and RNC committeewoman.

Republican presidential candidates who campaigned in Wyoming before dropping out include Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

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