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Wyoming Journalist Previews ‘Cowboy Caucus’

March 7, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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The state of Wyoming holds its Democratic caucus Saturday. Sen. Barack Obama is favored but both Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinotn are campaigning to win. A journalist from Wyoming Public Television previews the contest.

JIM LEHRER: And speaking of Wyoming, here is Jeffrey Brown.

JEFFREY BROWN: The last time Wyoming played a big role in choosing the Democratic candidate was at the convention in 1960 when the state’s delegation gave John F. Kennedy the votes he needed to clinch the nomination.

Twelve delegates are at stake in tomorrow’s caucuses. And Geoff O’Gara, public affairs host at Wyoming Public Television, joins us from Cheyenne for an update.

Well, Geoff, given the history, I’m sure Wyoming Democrats aren’t used to the kind of attention they’re getting today. How much interest is all this generating?

GEOFF O’GARA, Host, Wyoming Public Television: Well, it’s like waking up after a long sleep. They’re very excited. I mean, Wyoming Democrats don’t get an opportunity like this, to have that 15 minutes of fame, and they’re enjoying it.

There’s a huge turnout expected at the caucuses tomorrow. We’ve got Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton crisscrossing the state, meeting with town hall meetings, and having all kinds of rallies. So there’s a lot of excitement here.

Energy, environmental issues

JEFFREY BROWN: In what is known as a very Republican and conservative state, who are the Democrats in Wyoming? And what issues are important to them?

GEOFF O'GARA: Well, the Democrats have actually many of the same interests that Republicans do in the state. And you're quite right: There's a 2-to-1 registration advantage for Republicans here, so the Democrats don't have a big voice in government generally.

Interestingly, though, the state has elected Democratic governors. Three out of the last four governors have been having been Democrats here. So Democrats do have a voice, and Republicans are interested in Democratic candidates, as well, which may explain some of the interests in these visitors that we're having.

The Democrats have the same interest that Republicans do, in the sense that they follow energy issues very closely; agriculture; the ranching industry; the public lands here. Those are very important to people in Wyoming, to Democrats, as well as Republicans.

JEFFREY BROWN: And are the candidates playing up those issues in the short time and fast time that they've been out there?

GEOFF O'GARA: The candidates seem to be quite well-prepared. Now, Bill Clinton came first, along with Chelsea Clinton, and he was quite ready to talk about energy issues.

When he met with a large group of people up in Riverton, Wyoming, he was talking about clean coal opportunities, energy opportunities for the future, and how that might benefit Wyoming.

So, yes, I would say that the candidates know what they're doing. They're also beginning, particularly Barack Obama has begun airing ads on television and radio around the state, and they seem to be having an effect. People seem very excited.

Mobilizing supporter turnout

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that's what I was going to ask you about, the ads, but also how much organization, how well-organized are they, given all the surprising twists of this campaign, where supposedly it was going to end and no one expected this to matter so much? How well-organized are they in Wyoming?

GEOFF O'GARA: Well, it's happened very fast, of course. And Barack Obama got in first, opened offices around the state -- I think a total of five at this point -- and then the Hillary Clinton campaign came in. They've got a couple of offices open now.

But, of course, there's almost no time for these 12 delegates that they're trying to capture tomorrow. They've got to get out there and do it all in just a matter of a couple of days. So they're both hard at work and making appearances as fast as they can.

JEFFREY BROWN: And tell us how this -- this is a caucus situation, so presumably mobilizing supporters is the key here. Is that how it will work?

GEOFF O'GARA: It's a fairly complex formula. The Democrats who want to participate in the caucuses need to have registered by February 22nd. And, in fact, there was a big upswing -- I think 3,000 new Democrats signed up so they can participate before that deadline.

But, yes, and I know all around the state the county caucuses are finding new venues in which to hold their meetings, because they know so many people are going to be showing up.

Building momentum

JEFFREY BROWN: And do you have reliable polls or clues out there as to how things are developing in the last day?

GEOFF O'GARA: Well, the pundits we have, have been saying that Barack Obama is likely to get the lion's share of the delegates here. That's not really based on a whole lot. There's not a lot of polling done in Wyoming, so a lot of it is just, "What are people talking about?"

What you find here is something I think you find elsewhere, as well. There's a lot of interest in Barack Obama as a personality. I mean, I, this morning at breakfast, ran into the Republican president of the State Senate, and he said, man, he wanted to go to Laramie. He wanted to hear Barack Obama.

Now, whether that translates into victory in the caucuses, I don't think anybody can say. It's really curiosity about an exciting personality.

Hillary Clinton is right now in Wyoming also making appearances and maybe having a similar effect.

JEFFREY BROWN: And I wonder, finally, however this turns out, are the Democrats that you talk to hoping that this will give them some momentum or more pull in the state even in the future or even in the November election?

GEOFF O'GARA: Well, I'm sure they would hope for that. On the other hand, Wyoming folks are notorious ticket-splitters. They don't mind going down the line and doing a little Democratic vote here and a Republican vote there.

So I don't think there's a great expectation that whatever momentum there might be in the presidential election is necessarily going to carry over into the other contest.

We do have in Wyoming three national seats up, both U.S. Senate seats, and our seat in the House of Representatives. So one way or another, there's going to be a lot of interest in the election this fall.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Geoff O'Gara of Wyoming Public Television, thanks very much.

GEOFF O'GARA: You bet.