Obama campaign reaches out to valley
Political interest could help local Democrats, UW professor says.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: February 27, 2008
The crowd Friday in the Village Cafe was jumping. Like most days, the aroma of beer and pizza almost drowned out the smell of the well-worn long underwear sported by the apres-ski crowd, but the talk at the tables was decidedly different.
Comparisons of DIN settings gave way to comparisons of delegate counts and foreign travel to foreign policy as supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama rallied in Teton Village.
“I think Barack Obama is a good opportunity to cause a positive revolution in Washington,” said Alex Neth as he sat at the Village Cafe bar eating pizza. “Eight years ago, I was a huge McCain supporter, but I don’t think we can live with the status quo anymore.”
Neth said he was won over after watching Obama debate his Democratic challengers, including Sen. Hillary Clinton.
In Teton County, the Obama campaign has compiled a mailing list of 180 supporters, including 40 who have committed to volunteering their time for the cause, Obama staffer Matt Chandler said. Of the 18 precincts in the county, Obama has “precinct captains” in 15 to drum up support.
Friday’s shindig was the second event in Jackson Hole for the Obama campaign after an initial gathering at Hard Drive Cafe on Presidents Day. It was organized by a loose cadre of valley Obama supporters. In an effort to get people to register in time to participate in the Wyoming Democratic caucuses slated for March 8, partygoers got a free beer from Snake River Brewing and were entered in a raffle for prizes including an Illuminati snowboard with proof of registration as a Democrat.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Jim Stanford, who helped organize the event. “I got here and everybody had their little tickets and they were so proud of them.”
Valley artist Ben Roth printed 20 T-shirts proclaiming “Obama? Oh Yeah” with a photo of the Illinois senator. He sold all 20 at the event and plans to print more and expand into women’s styles, he said.
Roth himself switched his registration before coming out to the party.
“I had been a Republican because I thought that was the only vote that counted,” he said.
The palpable excitement about politics at the Village Cafe and with voters like Roth has the potential to carry through to the general election, said University of Wyoming political science professor Jim King.
“It suggests interest in the Democratic candidates that could carry over into the primary and into the fall campaigns,” King said. “Wyoming in presidential elections has not been competitive in recent years, but we are looking at a competitive House race and possibly a competitive Senate [race], so there are some spillover possibilities.”
King said presidential politics do not often have a huge effect on other elections, but this year could be somewhat different.
In the upcoming election, Wyoming will have essentially two and possibly three open seats, with Rep. Barbara Cubin announcing she would not seek re-election, Sen. John Barrasso defending a seat he was appointed to in June and Sen. Mike Enzi still undecided about his re-election plans.
“The place where they do have potential is on an open seat, so if they do have potential, now is the time,” he said. “With an open seat, voters know less about either candidate, so then affiliation could have that type of pulling effect. It is not going to be great, but this is the time it is likely to occur.”
Wilson’s Gary Trauner, who is challenging for Cubin’s House seat as a Democrat, has not committed to backing any candidate, but he said the interest could help his efforts.
“To me, the key is what is really behind it, and I think it is the desire for change and something different,” he said. “If that galvanizes people, I think that is a great thing because that is what I am trying to bring, as well.”