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A Democrat from Boston had little chance of gaining respect or momentum in the conservative Equality State.

But in 1960, it was tiny, ignored Wyoming that gave future President John F. Kennedy the votes he needed to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

Mike Vinich, who met Kennedy during World War II, became a delegate to the '60 National Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Vinich, at the time a store owner in Hudson, said he got a call from then-Sen. Kennedy.

"He said to me, 'Mike, I'm aspiring to the presidency, and I'd like your personal help with the state of Wyoming,'" Vinich recalled. "I couldn't say no."

At the national convention in 1960, votes were tallied alphabetically, so Wyoming was the last state counted. Also the least populous state, Wyoming had only 15 delegated votes, and by the time the counting came down, Kennedy needed 13 votes to win.

"The chairman called out, 'Wyoming… Wyoming,' and we were still split. Some were for Wallace, one for Johnson, but we finally all came together," Vinich recalled. "We finally turned around and said, 'Wyoming gives its 15 votes to Kennedy for president,' and the balloons came down and people cheered. It's something I'll always remember."

Even though its politics are dominated by Republicans, Wyoming could again play an unusually crucial role in the Democratic nomination process during this year's presidential primary season. That's because the state's Democratic county conventions March 8 come at a crucial time in the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Unlike Wyoming's Republican Party, which held its county conventions early and risked losing half of its national delegates, the state's Democrats waited. Party officials expect a huge turnout.

"It's really crazy because it's really close," said Bill Luckett, communications coordinator for the Wyoming Democratic Party. "We don't know exactly what kind of numbers to expect, but we're trying to prepare. This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Wyoming to influence who's going to be the next president of the United States."

John Faunce, chairman of the Natrona County Democratic Central Committee, agrees.

"Based on years past, when we've had a contested election like this one, we've had good turnouts," he said. "The fact that campaigns are setting up offices is drawing more interest from people."

Obama recently opened four statewide offices, and Clinton has been in contact with several of the state's top political figures.

Mike Vinich thinks this year's race could be almost as close as it was in 1960, allowing Wyoming to again take the national spotlight if its 18 delegates back a winning candidate.

"Look at the massive votes they're gathering," Vinich said. "They're getting two times in every state over what the Republicans are."

Vinich said that while Obama's momentum could thrust him ahead of Clinton, it will be a close race.

"You can't tell about how it goes down in the voting. If they (the candidates) get a tie, they have to go to the superdelegates. It might come to that point in voting, we don't really know," he said. "I hope it's historical for Wyoming again. Either way, it'll be a great convention in Denver."

Contact reporter Megan Lee at (307) 266-0589 or

Want to get involved?

* Wyoming's Democratic county conventions on March 8 will be open to anyone who is registered as a Democrat in his or her county by Friday, Feb. 22.

* Bill Luckett, state communications director for the party, suggests that people who believe they are registered should check their registration status, as county clerks often purge registration after people haven't voted for two years.

* Seventeen-year-olds who will turn 18 on or before Nov. 4 can also register and participate.

* Although Wyoming usually allows voters to register at the polls, the conventions are party-run events, so registration on site is not available.

* For more information, contact Luckett at (307) 631-7638 or call your local county clerk's office.

A change in the rules

In past years, delegates were not assigned to any Democratic candidate who failed to gain at least 15 percent of the presidential preference vote. This year, however, Democrats have dropped the 15 percent rule for county conventions, according to Bill Luckett, communications coordinator for the Wyoming Democratic Party.

"There's not going to be a threshold," Luckett said. "Just one preference vote, and the candidate is entitled to a delegate."

The 15 percent rule will still hold at the statewide convention in May. Candidates who don't meet the percentage requirement will not have any pledged delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

Dem convention Q&A:

Answers from Bill Luckett, communications director for the Wyoming Democratic Party

* Who can attend and vote at the Democratic county conventions on March 8?

Our caucuses are open to all registered Democrats. We expect sizeable crowds across the state.

* How long will the conventions last?

That really depends on the county, and I'm not really sure because we don't usually have this many people. All we can go by is what we've seen in other states, so we're really trying to brace, but we don't have a good gauge to know exactly how many people we'll get.

People will show up and we'll check them in, then right away we're going to get into the presidential preference vote. Anyone in attendance can cast a ballot for presidential preference. Then supporters of each candidate will get together and decide who their state delegates are going to be. The process will take however long it takes for people to cast ballots and for them to be counted.

* Which counties will be voting in the conventions?

Every single county will be having a caucus, and every single county gets delegates at the state convention on May 23 and 24 in Jackson.

* Who will those in attendance on March 8 be voting for?

The presidential preference vote will give us a tally, and we'll have a statewide tally of how many people voted for this candidate or that candidate. Delegates will be assigned to candidates. If Candidate A gets 2/3 of the vote at the Natrona County convention (which will send 43 delegates to the state convention in May), then 2/3 of the delegates (that's 29 delegates) will be allocated to Candidate A and 1/3 (14 delegates) will be allocated to Candidate B.

*Will national delegates be elected at the county conventions?

No, technically all of the delegates will be elected at the state convention in May. Out of the state delegates elected at the county conventions, some will apply for national delegation positions and of those, seven will be chosen by the delegates at the state convention. Applicants are approved first by the presidential candidates and then go on a ballot for state delegates (who were elected at the county caucuses).

Also at the state convention, five at-large delegates will be elected and one at-large delegate will be appointed by state party Chairman John Millin.

* Are delegates bound to give their votes to their allocated candidates at the state convention?

The delegates are assigned to specific candidates and sent to the state convention. Usually, they're chosen as delegates because they stand up and say they support whomever, but it's not mandatory for them to stick with the candidate. Delegates are free to vote their conscience.

* Will the county conventions really show which candidate Wyoming Democrats support?

That's not necessarily true in any one county. I wouldn't feel comfortable saying, for example, that Natrona County votes will be an accurate reflection. But what we get from all of the counties combined on March 8 - that will tell us exactly how Wyoming Democrats voted, basically by how our delegates are going to be split up. It's a good indication.

As of today, Democrats have secured times and locations for all 23 county caucuses. Those times and locations are as follows (with the number of delegates each county gets to send to the state convention in parentheses):

Albany County (25 delegates)

9 a.m. (registration begins at 8 a.m.)

Laramie Plains Civic Center

710 Garfield, Laramie

Big Horn County (6 delegates)

2 p.m.

Basin Chamber of Commerce

407 W. C St., Basin

Campbell County (17 delegates)

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (lunch break at 12:30 p.m.)

Campbell County Public Library, meeting room

2101 S. 4J Road, Gillette

Carbon County (10 delegates)

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Union-Pacific train depot

Corner of 4th and Front streets, Rawlins

Converse County (7 delegates)

10 a.m.

Converse County Courthouse meeting room

107 N. 5th St., Douglas

Crook County (4 delegates)

10 a.m.

Crook County Courthouse, Jury Room


Fremont County (23 delegates)

10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Fremont County Courthouse, Courtroom #2

450 N. 2nd St., Lander

Chair Linda Barton arranging rides from Dubois.

Goshen County (7 delegates)

9 a.m. to noon

Pinnacle Bank, Wyoming Room (downstairs)

2000 Main St., Torrington

Hot Springs County (4 delegates)

9:30 a.m. to noon

Hot Springs County Museum

700 Broadway, Thermopolis

Johnson County (4 delegates)

2 p.m.

Bank of Buffalo, Hospitality Room

106 Fort St., Buffalo

Laramie County (55 delegates)

9 a.m. (registration begins at 8 a.m.)

Cheyenne Civic Center

510 W. 20th St., Cheyenne

Lincoln County (8 delegates)

11 a.m.

Lincoln County Courthouse

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925 Sage Ave., Kemmerer

Natrona County (43 delegates)

9 a.m. (registration begins at 7:30 a.m.)

Casper College, Durham Hall

125 College Drive, Casper

Niobrara County (1 delegate)

9:30 a.m.

Home of Everett and Fredda Lou Kilmer

207 W. 4th St., Lusk

Park County (16 delegates)

10 a.m.

Park County Complex (old Marathon building)

1501 Stampede Ave., Cody

Platte County (6 delegates)

10 a.m.

First State Bank conference center (by Safeway)

1405 16th St., Wheatland

Sheridan County (18 delegates)

2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Sheridan Senior Center

211 Smith St., Sheridan

Sublette County (4 delegates)

9 a.m.

Sublette County Library

155 S. Tyler Ave., Pinedale

Sweetwater County (24 delegates)

10 a.m.

Western Wyo. Community College, Green River campus

#1 College Way, Green River

Keynote speaker: Cheyenne attorney Paul Hickey

Teton County (17 delegates)

4 p.m.

Snow King Resort, Grand Teton Room

400 E. Snow King Ave., Jackson

Uinta County (11 delegates)

1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Uinta County Library

701 Main St., Evanston

Washakie County (5 delegates)

10 a.m.

American Legion Hall

119 S. 7th St., Worland

Weston County (4 delegates)

2 p.m.

Newcastle Senior Center

627 Pine St., Newcastle

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