Presidential Race Focuses on Wyoming Caucuses

Democrats in Wyoming are getting ready for a rare moment in the political spotlight when they hold a presidential caucus on Saturday. Wyoming only has 12 delegates, but in a year when every delegate counts, the candidates are campaigning hard.

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Nobody expected the state of Wyoming to have much influence over the presidential nominating process. Just 12 Democratic Party delegates are at stake in Wyoming, one-third of 1 percent of the nationwide total. And yet when Wyoming Democrats hold their caucuses tomorrow it'll be hard fought. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are campaigning hard in another sign of an incredibly close race.

From Laramie, NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY: Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have opened campaign offices all across this sprawling state. And they aren't just parachuting in for one brief event. They plan to hold several rallies in town halls today. Barack Obama's rally in Casper already has run out of tickets. And here's something else Wyoming voters aren't used to.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

Unidentified Woman: I remember walking up to her and saying I would feel a lot more safe if you were president than I have in many, many years.

BRADY: Campaign ads directed specifically at the 60,000 Democrats who live in this state.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I'm Hillary Clinton, candidate for president, and I approved this message.

BRADY: As Saturday approaches, all the excitement has prompted some to hit the streets for their candidate.

(Soundbite of knocking)

Lucinda McCarvin(ph) and Rob Breeland(ph) aren't catching very many people at home, so they hang dark blue Obama cards on door handles ahead of tomorrow's caucuses.

Mr. ROB BREELAND: This is kind of like a reminder, don't forget to be there no later than like 8:30. When the gavel comes down at 9:00, you can't participate if you're not in line.

BRADY: Breeland is in the military. McCarvin does mental healthcare work with the elderly in nursing homes. She says even her patients are not immune from the excitement surrounding this race.

Ms. LUCINDA MCCARVIN: And there is a really strong following of the political stories among the residents there, even though some of them are in their 80s or 90s.

BRADY: The past few years have been good for Democrats in Wyoming, even though the state is 60 percent Republican. In 2006, voters overwhelmingly reelected Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal. He's not endorsed either of his party's presidential nominees. In fact, he's said several times that he doesn't like anyone who's running. His spokeswoman says as a superdelegate Freudenthal will meet with both of the candidates if his schedule allows.

That sort of independence appeals to Wyoming voters. That and the fact Freudenthal is a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights. Both Obama and Clinton support increased limits on gun ownership.

Democrat Kathy Karpan served two terms as Wyoming's secretary of state and is a Clinton supporter. She says supporting gun rights is key to getting elected here regardless of party.

Here's what she thinks Clinton should say if asked about gun rights.

Ms. KATHY KARPAN: I understand your perspective. I know what the cultural values are out here, and we're not going to come in and be knocking on every door and taking your gun. Because if you don't define yourself as understanding those values, your enemy will define you. And they'll say Hillary Clinton will come and take your shotgun.

BRADY: Karpan says Clinton also should talk about protecting wild places while still keeping the booming gas and coal industries thriving.

In downtown Cheyenne, even Republicans are excited about the Democratic caucuses tomorrow in Wyoming. Scott McDonald has been watching the news closely the last few days.

Mr. SCOTT MCDONALD: It's good to see the Democratic presidential nominees thinking Wyoming's important, even if we only 12 votes in it.

BRADY: In this race, even 12 delegates to the nominating convention are important. With only 100 separating Obama and Clinton, every delegate counts.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Laramie, Wyoming.

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What's Next for the Democratic Candidates?

Barack Obama

hide captionIllinois Sen. Barack Obama talks to the press on the plane on his way to Chicago on Wednesday.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton

hide captionNew York Sen. Hillary Clinton addresses her supporters after winning the Texas and Ohio primaries on Tuesday.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Democrats in more than two-thirds of the country have passed judgment on the presidential candidates, but still, the party does not have a presumptive nominee.

What's more, there are no contests in the upcoming weeks that are likely to prove decisive.

Sen. Barack Obama remains ahead in the number of pledged delegates: He has won 1,368 to Sen. Hillary Clinton's 1,226. But Clinton has recent wins on her side, including the Ohio and Texas primaries.

So, what's next for the Democratic candidates?

Adding Up the Pledged Delegates

It has become increasingly unlikely that either candidate will be able to clinch the nomination on pledged delegates alone.

Obama remains ahead on this count, with a lead of 142 pledged delegates over Clinton.

There are 540 pledged delegates at stake in upcoming contests, according to The Associated Press. The Democratic Party awards pledged delegates proportionally, based on the popular vote. That will make it difficult for either candidate to roll up a huge lead in the pledged delegate count in the contests that remain.

That's because in a close contest, the candidate who loses the popular vote could end up with as many delegates as the winner. (In Nevada, Obama actually got more delegates than Clinton, even though she won the state's caucuses.)

To secure the nomination ahead of the convention, a Democratic candidate needs to accrue 2,025 total delegates — both the pledged kind and superdelegates. Neither candidate is close to the final tally needed.

Shoring Up the Support of Superdelegates

With the division of the pledged delegates so close, the nomination may come down to which candidate makes the most persuasive argument to the superdelegates.

Clinton has commitments from more superdelegates than Obama, 242 to 207.

There are roughly 800 superdelegates — mostly congressmen and governors, as well as members of the Democratic National Committee. While about half of the superdelegates have committed to a candidate, they are free to change their minds before the convention. (Rep. John Lewis, a prominent Civil Rights era leader, recently switched his support from Clinton to Obama).

Will Michigan and Florida Count?

The fight for the party's nomination is a muddle, in part, because the Democrats have not yet decided what to do with the delegates from Michigan and Florida.

On Wednesday, the Democratic governor of Michigan and the Republican governor of Florida urged the national party to allow those delegates to count at the national convention.

The chairman of the national party, Howard Dean, told NPR on Wednesday that, with regard to Michigan and Florida, "If you change the rules in the middle of the game, you disadvantage one candidate." He added that the two states could petition the national party's rules committee by setting forth a new plan for selecting delegates. Or they could appeal to the party's credentials committee in July to ask for the delegates to be seated at the convention.

The DNC stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates when state party officials scheduled their primaries earlier than the national party would have liked. Clinton stayed on the ballot in those states. Obama remained on the ballot only in Florida but did not campaign there. Clinton technically "won" those contests, even though there were no actual delegates to award.

If the Florida and Michigan contests end up counting, Clinton could win the delegates in those states and also be ahead in the popular vote by more than 40,000 votes.

The Next Contests on the Calendar

None of the upcoming contests are likely to be decisive.

The Mississippi primary is on Tuesday; Obama could benefit from the state's 37.4 percent African-American population. African-Americans have overwhelmingly supported Obama in other Southern states, such as South Carolina and Louisiana.

Neither contest, though, will provide enough delegates to significantly stretch Obama's lead.

Clinton is expected to do well in the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, since the state has a large white, working-class, union-heavy population, much like the demographics of Ohio, where Clinton won on Tuesday.

But she, too, is unlikely to pick up enough delegates there to significantly close the gap.

The Money Chase

Traditionally, a presidential candidate who lags in the polls this late in the nominating process sees his cash flow dry up. But both Clinton and Obama continue to have financial success, and there's no evidence that the intra-party battle will hurt campaign contributions.

Obama and Clinton are raising more money than any candidate has ever raised in a contested primary contest. Clinton has said she raised $35 million in February; Obama's campaign says it took in substantially more than that. The real numbers — including the spending — won't be known until the next Federal Election Commission filings are due on March 20.

The Obama campaign is hedging on whether it will take public financing in the fall, assuming he is the nominee. Public financing would give him $84 million from the government, or roughly $1.25 million per day between the convention and Election Day. But it seems clear that he could raise more money privately.

Sharing the Democratic Ticket

One way for the Democrats to settle this close race: The two candidates could share the Democratic ticket — with one candidate as the presidential nominee and the other as the running mate. The question then not only becomes who would receive the most prominent billing, but also whether it makes political sense to have the other as a running mate.

On Wednesday, Clinton told CBS News that she would be willing to share the Democratic ballot with Obama, provided she is "first on the ticket" — that is, with him as her vice presidential running mate. She went on to say, "The people of Ohio said very clearly it should be me," referring to her win the previous night.

The Obama camp did not comment on Clinton's statement and has said that any vice presidential talks are premature.

Multiple Ballots at the Democratic Convention

There is a distinct possibility that neither candidate will arrive in Denver in August with enough delegates to sew up the nomination. That could cause problems for the Democrats — to have two candidates slamming each other for the next five months, while Arizona Sen. John McCain unifies the Republican Party and prepares for the nomination.

History shows the pitfalls of such a scenario: The last time the Democratic convention went past the first ballot for a presidential candidate was in 1952, when the party needed three ballots to nominate Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson lost the election to President Eisenhower.

One reason the Democrats have had more and longer-lasting multi-ballot nominating conventions is because, from their first convention in 1832 until they changed the rule at the 1936 convention, it took a two-thirds majority to decide the presidential or vice-presidential nomination. The Republicans have always used a simple majority.

Reporting and research by David Greene, Don Gonyea, Peter Overby, Ken Rudin, Cory Turner, Laurel Wamsley. Written by Nancy Cook.

Obama Ahead in Texas Caucuses

Texas voters i i

hide captionA man enters a polling place at DeSoto East Middle School, just before 9:00 p.m. to participate in the Texas caucuses on March 4. The state held both a primary and caucus.

Brian Harkin/Getty Images
Texas voters

A man enters a polling place at DeSoto East Middle School, just before 9:00 p.m. to participate in the Texas caucuses on March 4. The state held both a primary and caucus.

Brian Harkin/Getty Images

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has claimed victory in the Texas primary — but her rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, may walk away with a greater share of the state's delegates.

That's because the Texas contests are actually both a primary and a caucus.

Clinton won the primary with 51 percent of the popular vote to Obama's 47 percent, according to the Associated Press. Those results earned her 65 delegates to Obama's 61 delegates.

But allocating delegates in the Lone Star State takes a "Texas two-step." After the polls closed, more than 1 million Texans also attended caucuses, the results of which determine how about one-third of the state's delegates get awarded.

The state Democratic Party estimates that Obama will come out ahead: 37 pledged delegated to Clinton's 30 delegates. But the official tally of the Texas caucus won't be ready for months.

The end result of the Texas caucuses was that attendees picked delegates. These delegates will then go on to attend a county convention in late March to caucus. Then, the delegates from the county convention must go to the state convention and hold another caucus. The whole Texas process will not be wrapped up until June.

If the numbers stand as they are now, Obama could come out ahead in the Texas contests by just three delegates.

All of this ambiguity is causing strife between the two Democratic candidates.

The Clinton camp is threatening to take legal action because it says it won the state. The Obama campaign is trying to retroactively claim victory in a place which many news organizations had already reported that Clinton won.

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