Jackson Holers catch Obamania
Candidate’s volunteers travel to valley to convince voters Wyoming matters.
By Noah Brenner
February 20, 2008
Jonathan Manton was working as a campaign manager and chief of staff for Oregon legislator Floyd Prozanski last summer when he decided it was time for a change.
He was burned out on politics and had decided to “do other things,” but his plans changed when he listened to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
“The only thing in my life I have seen that is as inspirational as waking up in Jackson Hole is this campaign,” Manton told a crowd of about 50 Obama supporters gathered Monday afternoon at Hard Drive Cafe.
Manton spent a little more than two years in the valley in the late 1990s and has returned to Jackson as an Obama organizer to inspire Jackson Hole voters to support the Illinois senator’s candidacy in the weeks leading up to the Wyoming county caucuses March 8.
He arrived in the valley an hour before the event after stints organizing voters in Riverside, Calif., and Winnemucca, Nev.
Manton was joined by Obama staffer Liz Jaff and volunteer Jamie Laurie, who works in mentoring programs in the Denver public schools.
Jaff, 22, heads Obama’s Rock Springs campaign office. She is one of 12 paid staffers in four Obama offices in Wyoming.
Obama’s opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, has not announced that she is opening any offices in Wyoming and inquiries to her Colorado and national campaign offices about her plans were unanswered by press time.
Jaff, a veteran of the Colorado, Iowa and Nevada contests, will work to help people understand the caucus process, how they can participate and the importance of their vote.
“The first push is to get people registered,” she told the crowd Monday. “Once that is done, then we get Barack Obama supporters.”
Jaff chose Wyoming over an assignment in Texas, she said. She points to Wyoming’s pivotal role in nominating John F. Kennedy over Lyndon Johnson in the 1960 primary as proof that Wyoming’s 18 delegates can have impacts greater than their relatively small number.
“I want to be here when the state realizes how important they are,” she said in an interview before the organizing meeting. “This is community grassroots at its rootiest level.”
Though Obama’s camp may have conformed to the expectation that the senator has strong support among the young, the crowd at Hard Drive Cafe did not; Jaff was rallying a sea of silver-haired Jackson Holers. Though they lacked the youth of the stereotypical Obama supporter, they were no less enthusiastic, breaking into applause at several points during Jaff’s speech.
Self-professed political junky Denny Emory said Obama first caught his eye in 2006.
“They are all solving the same old problem in the same old way,” Emery said of other presidential candidates.
“Now, all the sudden we’ve got a guy running as a candidate whose vision is inspiring,” he said. “The last time we had one of those, I was 12. I have voted in every election I could my whole life, and this is the first time that has happened – it’s pretty special.”
As the event wound down, two high-school students stopped by to add their names to the list of Obama supporters. Ellery Leeds, 17, and Laramie Maxwell, 18, both said they supported the Illinois senator’s presidential bid but wouldn’t be able to make the March 8 Democratic county convention.
“I haven’t researched extensively [Obama’s and Clinton’s] differences in policy, but every time I hear him on TV, I feel like I can believe in him,” Maxwell said. “He’s so honest and he brings a lot of hope.”