Mitt Romney may be the first Republican candidate for president to pour cold water on Wyoming's plan to hold the first Republican primary in the nation on Jan. 5, 2008. Romney's office implied today that Wyoming will not be a priority for the former Massachusetts governor.
"Where folks have come to know Mitt Romney in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and other states, they're growing to like him," Stephen Smith, a Romney spokesman, said in a phone interview Thursday. "Those are the early primary states where we are focusing our energy."
While rumors abound that Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire might still move their primaries up earlier on the calendar, Wyoming is currently slated to be the first state in the nation to pick a presidential candidate. That move could produce consequences. The Republican National Committee warned the state's party that it would lose half of its delegation to the August 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota.
Tom Sansonetti, the coordinator of the Wyoming Republican Party's county conventions, said he couldn't argue with the threatened sanction.
"I used to be the party's rules committee chairman, and I wrote that provision," he told the Huffington Post. "The RNC has to enforce its rules, and that's what the rules are."
The state's Republican Party does not use a primary or caucus to choose delegates for the national presidential nominating convention. Instead, it uses a series of conventions which each select one delegate for the state's 12 counties. On a state-wide basis, the party also selects 13 additional at-large delegates, and three more delegates are guaranteed by RNC rules, leading to 28 delegates in total. The selection of the latter 16 delegates is not affected by the date change.
While some delegates might not be able to vote, Sansonetti believed Republican hopefuls would see a major benefit to their political fortunes by participating in the state's candidate selection.
"We have the same number of delegates as New Hampshire, and we're a better barometer," he argued. "You cannot win the presidency without Wyoming, but you can win without New Hampshire. It's easy to campaign, no one has to buy TV or radio ads, and you don't have to come more than twice. We're putting out the bait, and we'll see if any fish come to visit."
Sansonetti pointed to recent meetings with staff from the campaigns of Rudy Giuliani, Tom Tancredo, and even Romney as evidence of interest in the Wyoming conventions.
But some of these meetings could not be confirmed.
"We are currently looking into it and we have not made a decision," Alan Moore, a press secretary for Colorado Rep. Tancredo said on Thursday.
Giuliani's campaign could not be reached at press time. And Romney's campaign would not directly answer whether its state director for Wyoming had said that the candidate would contest the early primary.
"We can't control the primary calendar, but we respect the process and intend to continue to run our current campaign strategy," Smith said in an e-mailed follow up.
But one candidate would confirm that he intended to win Wyoming's delegates. A spokesman for Texas Rep. Ron Paul called Wyoming "a great state for us."
"It's a highly winnable state, and the format is going to be interesting, but we absolutely plan to play in Wyoming," said Jesse Benton. "It would be a big boost to show people that Ron Paul can
play, and it would be great momentum as we move into Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan."
If Wyoming holds onto its first in the nation slot, it won't be the first time that an early primary that yields no convention delegates is contested by Presidential candidates in order to build early momentum. Washington, DC held a Democratic presidential 'preference' vote on Jan. 14, 2004 prior to the New Hampshire and Iowa races.
The only candidates who participated were former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Rev. Al Sharpton, former Illinois Senator Carol Mosely-Braun, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Dean won by 43%. Senators John Kerry and John Edwards, the eventual nominees for president and vice president in 2004, sat out the vote.