CASPER, Wyo. Again showing the strength he exhibited in Utah and other Mountain West states, Sen. Barack Obama captured the Wyoming Democratic caucuses Saturday, seizing a bit of momentum in the close, hard-fought race with rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the party's presidential nomination.
Obama generally has outperformed Clinton in caucuses, which reward organization and voter passion more than do primaries. The Illinois senator has now won 13 caucuses to Clinton's three.
Obama has also shown strength in the Mountain West, winning Utah, Idaho, Colorado and now Wyoming. The two split Nevada, with Clinton winning the popular vote and Obama more delegates.
But Clinton threw some effort into Wyoming, perhaps hoping for an upset that would yield few delegates but considerable buzz and momentum. The senator from New York campaigned Friday in Cheyenne and Casper. Former President Bill Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, also campaigned this past week in the sprawling and lightly populated state.
Obama campaigned in Casper and Laramie on Friday but spent part of his time dealing with the fallout from an aide's harsh words about Clinton and suggestions that Obama wouldn't move as quickly to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq if elected. In Casper, Obama said Clinton had no standing to challenge his position on the war because she had voted to authorize it in 2002.
Clinton, buoyed by big wins in Ohio and Texas last Tuesday, said she faced an uphill fight in Wyoming. Her campaign also holds out little hope for Tuesday's primary in Mississippi, which has a large black population.
Obama had 61 percent, or 5,378 votes, to Clinton's 38 percent, or 3,312 votes, with all 23 Wyoming counties reporting.
Obama won seven delegates and Clinton won five. In the overall race for the Democratic nomination, Obama leads 1,578-1,468, according to the latest tally by The Associated Press. It will take 2,025 delegates to win the Democratic nomination.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said the Wyoming victory speaks to the candidate's strength in the West, and that Obama is better suited to help down-ticket Democrats even in states that traditionally vote Republican in the general election.
"I think it's evidence that Senator Obama is going to be able to put more states in play because of his strength with independent voters," Plouffe said.
Clinton's campaign took heart in the ability to pick up more delegates.
"We are thrilled with this near-split in delegates and are grateful to the people of Wyoming for their support," said campaign manager Maggie Williams. "Although the Obama campaign predicted victory in Wyoming weeks ago, we worked hard to present Senator Clinton's vision to the caucusgoers, and we thank them for turning out today."
Both candidates were looking ahead to a bigger prize delegate-rich Pennsylvania on April 22.
From the first caucuses of the day, it became clear the state's Democrats were showing up in large numbers. In 2004, a mere 675 people statewide took part in the caucuses.
In Sweetwater County, more than 500 people crowded into a high school auditorium and another 500 were lined up to get inside.
"I'm worried about where we're going to put them all. But I guess everybody's got the same problem," said Joyce Corcoran, a local party official. "So far we're OK. But man, they keep coming."
Party officials struggled with how to handle the overflow crowds. The start of the Converse County caucus was delayed due to long lines.
In Cheyenne, scores of late arrivers were turned away when party officials stopped allowing people to get in line at 11 a.m. EST. A party worker stood at the end of the line with a sign reading, "End of the line. Caucus rules require the voter registration process to be closed at this time."
State party spokesman Bill Luckett said they were obligated to follow its rules as well as those of the Democratic National Committee regarding caucus procedures.
"Everybody knew the registration began over an hour before the caucus was called to order. We've done everything we could to accommodate people in the long lines," Luckett said.
After initially accepting provisional ballots from about 20 people who remained behind at the caucus site, party officials said they and both campaigns had decided not to count those votes. John Millin, state party chairman, said doing so would have been unfair to those who had left after being turned away.
In Casper, home of the state party's headquarters, hundreds were lined up at the site of the Natrona County caucus. The location was a hotel meeting room with a capacity of 500. Some 7,700 registered Democrats live in the county.
"We'll have to put 'em in the grass after a while," said Bob Warburton, a local party official.
About 59,000 registered Democrats are eligible to participate in Wyoming's caucuses.
Only in the past few weeks have the campaigns stepped up their presence in Wyoming, opening offices and calling voters and sending mailers.
Although a win in Wyoming may not persuade many superdelegates, it will be one more prize for the candidates as they make their case for the nomination.
Clinton has hinted recently that if she wins the nomination she would consider sharing the ticket with Obama. But in an interview Friday in Wyoming with KTVQ-TV, a CBS affiliate based in Billings, Mont., Obama shied away from that possibility.
"Well, you know, I think it's premature. You won't see me as a vice presidential candidate you know, I'm running for president," Obama told the television station. "We have won twice as many states as Senator Clinton, and have a higher popular vote, and I think we can maintain our delegate count."What I am really focused on right now, because all that stuff is premature, is winning this nomination and changing the country. I think that's what people here are concerned about."
Contributing: Bob Moen in Casper and Matt Joyce and Ben Neary in Cheyenne