Results from this Saturday’s Wyoming Democratic caucuses throw more cold water on the Hillary Clinton campaign’s repeated assertion that Barack Obama’s victories in areas without a history of voting Democratic renders him the less competitive general election nominee.
Two counties in Wyoming illustrate the flaw in this argument. The NYTimes reported that “most of the (candidates’) attention focused on the most heavily Democratic towns situated in the southern half of the state, where the Union Pacific railroad was built in the late 1800s, leaving a strong union tradition that remains.” Returns from Sweetwater County, on that southern tier, demonstrate this heritage most clearly. Sweetwater, in fact, has historically been Wyoming’s most consistently Democratic county in presidential elections, but, like other Mountain Western counties with labor or agrarian traditions - it was Socialist Eugene Debs' best county in one of his better states in 1912 - has been moving to the Republican column in the George W. Bush era. Gore’s 35% and Kerry’s 32%, in nationwide nail biters, clocked in under Mondale’s 38% and McGovern’s 42%, during Democratic drubbings.
Contrast Sweetwater with Teton County, home to the tourist destination Jackson Hole, which spurned hometown boy Dick Cheney as it delivered Kerry his only WY county in 2004. Teton resembles other booming Mountain West resort counties whose current heavy Democratic trend was presaged in 1980. In these resort counties, independent John Anderson and Libertarian Ed Clark scored stronger percentages than statewide totals - and the Mountain West was a strong region for both candidates - as Reagan comfortably outpaced Carter.
Since 1980, Sweetwater has grown by 50% in population as it’s Democratic performance has sunk to record lows. During the same period, Teton has tripled in population as Democrats scored their highest percentages since FDR.
“Hillary Clinton wins big in Sweetwater County” reported the Casper Star-Tribune, reflecting her national strength among labor and blue collar Democratic primary voters, often in counties trending away from the Democrats. In more affluent, resort-centered Teton County, Obama romped home. The numbers, from the WY Dem party, tell the story: Sweetwater goes HRC 56%-42% on a Dem caucus turnout of 596. Teton voted Obama by 80%-20%, with a turnout of 1,150.