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Dems frustrated over caucuses in Wyoming

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Natrona County Democratic Caucus

Bernie Sanders supporters cheer during the Natrona County Democratic Caucus at the Casper Events Center. The results — Hillary Clinton earned most of the state delegates despite losing the popular vote to Bernie Sanders — have sparked criticism against the state Democratic Party.

In last weekend’s Democratic Party caucuses, Hillary Clinton garnered most of the state delegates despite losing the popular vote to rival Bernie Sanders.

Both candidates, however, were winners compared with the Wyoming Democratic Party, which has come under fire in the days following the caucuses.

Critics — inside and outside Wyoming — have questioned the system that allowed Clinton to come out ahead in the delegate count. They’ve also knocked the state Democratic Party because absentee ballots sent out by the Clinton campaign had a return address of the Wyoming Democratic Party’s Cheyenne post office box – which some say gave the appearance of the party officially endorsing the former U.S. secretary of state.

Other criticisms have become uncivil, with party Executive Director Aimee Van Cleave saying she’s received harassing phone calls and messages, including someone saying, “Die, b----.” Someone let the air out of her car’s tires this week, she said. She doesn’t know who all is behind the attacks, but thinks many could be Sanders supporters.

Leaders of the state’s minority party, meanwhile, are condemning the harassment and urging unity ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, when dozens of Democrats will appear on the ballot for local and state offices. Time will tell whether the discord will discourage Democrats from voting.

“We will have a large number of very highly qualified candidates that will be able to influence the direction the state is going — making sure we’re protecting education, making sure we have the ability to expand Medicaid, helping protect workers throughout the state,” said Chris Rothfuss of Laramie, the leading Democrat in the Wyoming Senate. “We need to make sure Democrats are there for those elections in November. That’s what affects our day-to-day lives.”

‘Morning Joe’

In the Wyoming county caucuses, Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, received 56 percent of the vote. Clinton collected 44 percent. Basic math dictates that Sanders would earn eight delegates and Clinton would receive six.

However, Sanders and Clinton evenly split the 14 delegates who were up for grabs Saturday.

Van Cleave, the party’s executive director, said delegate math works differently. The 14 delegates are in three categories, all figured separately, which resulted in Sanders and Clinton each receiving seven delegates.

Clinton also picked up all four of the state’s superdelegates in January. That means she walks away from Wyoming with 11 delegates to Sanders’ seven.

Wyoming’s delegate apportionment was discussed on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, when host Joe Scarborough called Sanders’ win a “crushing victory.”

“Why does the Democratic Party even have voting booths?” Scarborough asked. “This system is so rigged.”

Co-host Mika Brzezinski agreed.

“We always talk about voter turnout and how important it is to do your duty as a citizen,” she said. “There’s absolutely no reason any of those people voted in any of those states.”

Van Cleave said the rules were approved by the Wyoming Democratic Party’s Central Committee. They were verified by the Democratic National Committee. Both campaigns had access to the rules last year, before any candidate had declared they were running.

“So those are the rules,” she said. “Joe Scarborough can say the system is rigged, but you can’t say the system is rigged when you are following the rules, when you don’t like the outcome.”

Absentee ballots

Democrats were allowed to vote absentee through surrogate affidavit forms. The Clinton campaign mailed surrogate forms to Democrats throughout the state, and included letters signed by former President Bill Clinton.

The letter proved effective: Wyoming’s two most heavily populated counties tipped toward Clinton, in large part due to the forms.

In Natrona County, 223 people voted via surrogate form for Clinton and 100 for Sanders; in Laramie County, 407 voted for Clinton and 229 voted for Sanders, Van Cleave said.

This year was the first that the state party used surrogate forms, she said.

The letter was a smart move by the Clinton campaign, said Charlie Hardy, a Cheyenne Democrat and Sanders supporter, who immediately noticed the return address was the post office box belonging to the Wyoming Democratic Party.

That bothered Hardy, who thought it gave the impression that party officials were for Clinton.

“I called someone at 10 at night from the Bernie campaign,” he said.

Van Cleave, the party’s executive director, said the Clinton campaign did not have permission to use the party’s return address.

“We weren’t very happy the Clinton campaign used our return address on their mailer,” she said. “We took it up with the Clinton campaign and got a formal apology from their campaign manager.”

Hardy thinks the party should have issued a statement or social media message reminding people that the Clinton campaign made a mistake and that the party is neutral.

Van Cleave, however, said she and the staff were busy notifying the public of the caucus locations and times, coordinating with the state’s 23 county parties on organizing the events and performing other work.

“Our leadership decided it wasn’t appropriate,” Van Cleave said. “A better use of our time and energies would be directing people to information on our caucuses.”


Van Cleave doesn’t know when exactly someone let the air out of her tires – and if the perpetrators did it at her home or while she was running errands. But when she woke Wednesday morning, all four tires were flat.

Progressives who are disappointed in the caucuses have threatened her using sexist names over the phone, by email and online.

On the state party’s Facebook page, someone posted a message to the party leaders saying Van Cleave should be burned alive.

The party posted a document online Thursday morning, explaining the delegate process.

Rothfuss and state Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, both posted on Facebook, contending that Van Cleave was doing her job and accusing her harassers of acting like Donald Trump supporters.

“You need not go far to find a Presidential candidate that values and rewards such actions,” Rothfuss wrote. “If you insist upon behaving that way, turn in your Blue Bison, get yourself a Drumpf hat and ‘Make America grate agin.’ If you think either of the Democratic Candidates would in any way support or condone such deplorable behavior on their behalf, you clearly have no concept of their values.”

Pelkey, the only elected Democrat who is endorsing Sanders, said he doesn’t like the delegate rules. He hopes to change them at next month’s state Democratic convention.

“We can raise issues at the state convention and we should, but Aimee Van Cleave had nothing to do with setting the policy,” he wrote on Facebook. “She is not one of the four super-delegates. She is the boots-on-the-ground, hard-working organizer this party needs. She has worked to be fair to all sides and, in my opinion, she has succeeded. She has done her best to work through the rules and did so honestly and openly. This is not Aimee’s fault.”

Pelkey said he is hopeful that Wyoming Democrats will rally behind the party’s ultimate nominee — whether it’s Clinton or Sanders.

“I honestly think so, when people realize what their choices are in November,” he said. “We’re looking at Ted Cruz or Donald Trump at this point.”

Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock.


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