- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Presidential hopefuls have jetted over Wyoming more than campaigned here, but the state’s Republicans are proving determined to show up to support their favorite candidates anyway.

Turnout at GOP precinct caucuses Tuesday in Laramie County shows Republican voters are energized like no time in recent memory. Almost 800 people - more than twice the number that local party officials expected - lined up in gusty wind to crowd inside Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne.

“I believe this election, for Wyoming, is the most important election we face,” state Republican Chairman Matt Micheli told the crowd. “We have a special obligation in Wyoming to be engaged and involved.”

Turnout also was high in Natrona County and as far afield as tiny Lysite, an eastern Fremont County town of about 50 where 11 people showed up to caucus Monday.

Next up after two weeks of precinct caucusing: County conventions statewide on March 12 that will choose 12 delegates and 12 alternates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.

The Wyoming Republican Party has a complicated system for deciding how it will represent itself - and its voters - at the national convention. Precinct caucusing began in mid-February and culminated in nine counties Tuesday.

Though no formal tally of who likes which candidate occurs at the caucuses - forbidden under national Republican rules - the gatherings play an important role in the presidential race in Wyoming because they determine who goes to the county conventions.

After choosing a dozen delegates at the county conventions, Republicans will pick 14 more at their state convention April 14-16 in Casper. Three additional delegates are automatic - the party chairman, committeeman and committeewoman - for a total of 29 delegates.

Party rules grant Wyoming bonus delegates for having Republicans in the governor’s office and Congress and GOP majorities in the state Legislature. The least-populated U.S. state gets more national delegates than over a dozen others including Oregon, which has almost seven times as many residents.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made a quick stop to campaign at a ranch near Cheyenne last summer, and it appears to be paying off. Caucus-goers in Cheyenne remembered the rally in a barn where Cruz pledged to end the Obama administration’s regulations on coal and electric utilities that burn it.

“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.”

Donald Trump got strong support in Super Tuesday states but didn’t appear to have deep backing in Laramie County. Several caucus-goers said they liked Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. While some approved of Cruz’s promise to crack down on illegal immigration, others thought Rubio was more reasonable on the issue.

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

Republican Gov. Matt Mead has not endorsed a candidate but expressed concern about those who talk about their opponents’ physical appearance and pit 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.

Republicans reported strong precinct turnout across the state over the past several days.

“People have a feeling we’re at a precipice in politics at the moment,” Fremont County GOP Chairman Richard Gard said. “It’s over the edge or get things straightened out.”

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