CHEYENNE – Less than a month remains until Americans begin casting votes in the nation’s first primary races, which will ultimately determine who will be the Republican and Democratic nominees for president this November.
On the Democratic side, national and most state polling has former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enjoying wide margins of support over independent senator and self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
And while Sanders has come within striking distance of Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s support has remained stuck in the single digits there and elsewhere.
Of course, the question of who wins the Democratic nomination will probably be a moot point in Wyoming, which has voted for the Republican in every presidential election since 1968. Instead, many Wyomingites will be paying much closer attention to who’s on the GOP ticket.
On that side of the aisle, businessman Donald Trump has maintained a plurality of support among the 12 candidates running for the Republican Party nomination, though Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been catching up to him, and has even surpassed Trump in some of the early primary or caucus states.
Yet amid all the campaigning, advertisements and stump speeches, it’s still unclear who Wyoming will end up supporting for the nomination. In fact, while early primary states and states with large populations have been polled numerous times over the past several months, you would have to go back to July of 2013 to find a poll of Wyoming’s primary preferences.
That month, two polling firms – Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based Harper Polling and Raleigh, North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling – asked Wyoming Republicans whom they favored as the GOP nominee in the 2016 election.
“It was during the time period when Liz Cheney’s Senate run was going on,” said Jim Williams, a polling analyst for PPP. “So we decided to take a look at that.”
The PPP poll, which surveyed 780 Republican primary voters, put Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in the lead with 19 percent. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came in second with 14 percent, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush placed third with 13 percent support.
Around the same time, Harper Polling surveyed 422 Wyoming Republicans, with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan emerging as the favorite with 15 percent support (Ryan has since ruled out another run for the White House and has instead taken up the mantle of Speaker of the House). Paul came in second at 12 percent, with Bush in third at 10 percent.
Of note, neither Harper nor PPP thought to include Trump or retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson in their polls at the time – after all, it was nearly two years before either man announced his presidential candidacy.
And while a new poll taken today would probably differ substantially from the July 2013 polls, no pollster appears in a hurry to return to the Cowboy State anytime soon.
Williams said that’s not meant as a snub; rather, it’s more a matter of political pragmatism. Since both the Republican and Democratic Wyoming caucuses come later in the primary season, pollsters tend not to spend resources here.
“Stuff usually gets wrapped up by Super Tuesday in March,” Williams said, referring to the first Tuesday in March, when 11 states will hold primaries or caucuses for each political party. “By the time Wyoming rolls around, the nomination process is pretty much over, so Wyoming sometimes gets left out in the cold on that.”
Of course, this year could prove to be very different, given the large number of Republicans running for the party’s nomination. And Wyoming’s own state GOP chairman, Matt Micheli, said it would be a mistake to underestimate Wyoming’s importance to the Republican primary process, in particular.
That’s because Wyoming’s GOP has one of the biggest partisan advantages among voter registration of any state, and for that reason, it gets a larger number of Republican delegates than many other states with more residents.
“We get 29 delegates at the national convention, and that’s more than 14 other states,” Micheli said. “For all the talk about Iowa (which holds the earliest caucus), they have 30 delegates, and we have 29. So we do have a say, and we have an important say.”
He added that in Laramie County, registered Republicans will have a chance to voice support for their favorite candidate during the county caucus on March 1.
“They’ll elect delegates to the county convention, and then all the county conventions will be held on March 12,” Micheli said. “That’s when we actually will be choosing delegates for the national convention.”
Meanwhile, Democratic county caucuses are set for Saturday, April 9, with the Democratic state convention to follow on May 28.
Given the lack of recent state polling, Micheli said it can be hard to gauge which GOP candidate will ultimately win over Wyoming’s caucus-goers. But given the state’s rural character – and the fact that it’s so often overlooked – he believes the candidates most willing to campaign here in person will be best poised to succeed.
“What works in Wyoming and what people need in this caucus system is that personal attention and local organization,” Micheli said. “And we’ve already had multiple candidates come here to do events. Ben Carson has been here, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul; I know Marco Rubio is also very organized in the state and has made personal contacts with people working here.”
Requests for additional comment were sent to Wyoming Democratic Party Chairwoman Ana Cuprill, Executive Director Aimee Van Cleave and Data Director Kevin Urasky, but were not returned by Friday evening.