- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Give Wyoming Republicans credit for chutzpah in the scramble to hold the earliest possible 2008 presidential primary.

Instead of setting an election date, the Wyoming Republican Party has adopted a policy stating that it will hold its county conventions on the same date as the New Hampshire primary.

For 80 years, New Hampshire has held the nation’s first primary, right after the Iowa caucuses. New Hampshire law requires the secretary of state to set the primary date seven days before “any similar event.”

By piggybacking on New Hampshire’s primary, Wyoming Republicans are hoping to grab a bit of the presidential-election spotlight. So far, it seems to be working, said Tom Sansonetti, the Cheyenne lawyer and longtime Republican activist who devised the plan.

“We’re already getting attention that we’ve never had,” said Mr. Sansonetti, who serves as the state’s 2008 county convention coordinator.

He said Republican hopefuls Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sent representatives to the Wyoming Republican State Central Committee meeting on May 5.

That’s not exactly the kind of star treatment that would pass muster in New Hampshire, but it’s not bad for Wyoming, the nation’s least populous state and therefore the state perhaps least likely to glimpse a presidential contender at any point during the election cycle.

New Hampshire officials have been outwardly blase about the Wyoming gambit. The state has tentatively set Jan. 22 as its primary date, but Secretary of State William Gardner is prepared to move it up to this year if necessary to protect the state’s advantage.

“Historically, there have been many states that have attempted to challenge our state’s status as first in the nation, and we’ve always remained first,” New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said.

Whether the state can shake Wyoming remains to be seen. If not, New Hampshire officials may have some wiggle room in that Wyoming holds county conventions to select a presidential candidate, not a primary.

“We’re watching how the landscape develops,” Mr. Scanlan said. “At some point, a decision will be made as to whether the Wyoming convention constitutes a similar event.”

Both parties attempt to discourage primary jostling by penalizing states that hold their elections before Feb. 5. States that break the Feb. 5 window and schedule their primaries earlier risk losing half their delegates to the national party conventions.

Even so, parties in four states have scheduled their primaries before Feb. 5, figuring that they’ll exert more influence over the process with early voting than they will lose with fewer convention delegates.

“We said, ‘Yes, we might lose half our delegates. On the other hand, Wyoming could play a role in this election. Do you want to play or do you want to party?’ ” Mr. Sansonetti said. “We want to play.”

Wyoming Democrats have refused to follow suit, opting to keep their vote on March 10. Political parties in the same state aren’t required to hold their elections the same day, although most do.

“The Republicans are going to lose delegates, and they’re not going to get anything in return,” Wyoming Democratic Party spokesman Bill Luckett said.

Not so, say Republicans, who predict that once savvy Republican candidates compare the states, they’ll make a beeline from Concord, N.H., to Cheyenne, Wyo.

For one, Wyoming remains a solid red state, while New Hampshire swung heavily Democratic in last year’s election. As a result, conservative Republicans in particular have a much better chance of posting a crucial election-night win in Wyoming than in New Hampshire.

“The idea is to give candidates a second lily pad on which to land on that first election night,” Mr. Sansonetti said. “Let’s face it, New Hampshire’s a blue state. We’re a better barometer.”

New Hampshire has its own strengths, including a decadeslong tradition of hosting candidates and a voting pool that’s better informed than most, state Republican National Committeeman Sean Mahoney said.

“We do have a very informed electorate that understands the issues extraordinarily well,” Mr. Mahoney said.

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