Saturday, February 16, 2008

Obama office opening draws SRO crowd

I joined about 70 others this morning for the grand opening of the Barack Obama office at 415 W. 28th St. in Cheyenne. Surprised to see so many people there, and so many I'd never seen at local Democratic Party gatherings.

But that's what this campaign is about, drawing in those who haven't been involved before -- or not for a very long time. I ran into an old friend who said he hadn't been to such an exciting political gathering since Gary Hart ran for prez in the 1980s. In fact, he hadn't been involved in politics at all since then.

Gabe Cohen is the Obama campaign's Wyoming director. He'll be overseeing offices in Cheyenne, Laramie, Rock Springs, and Casper. To get started, he asked all of us to take out our cell phones and call 10 friends and tell them to get involved in the campaign. Gabe is young, in his 20s or 30s, as are all the Obama people I met. The crowd was a mix of ages, from 20-somethings to the retired. A lot younger demographic than we see at the average meeting of our county party.

Gabe said that "they" called the Obama campaign crazy for opening four offices in Wyoming, adding that he thought this was a natural thing to do "because we're going to get this kind of turnout everywhere." This was greeted with applause and huzzahs. He then quizzed us with this question: "Which state put JFK over the top in 1960?" Many of us shouted the answer: "Wyoming." The parallels have already been drawn between the Kennedy race for president and Obama's. The energy is there, especially with the young people.

This Cheyenne crowd was energized. Gabe introduced Matt Chandler, who's the campaign's communications director for Wyoming. We also met State Rep. Pete Jorgensen from Jackson, who's one of the Dems' five super-delegates. He said he was old enough to remember JFK, and that he'd worked overseas for a time during the 1960s and recalled "the good will we had around the world -- that's all gone now."

Pete named the other super-delegates: Cynthia Nunley, Nancy Drummond, John Millin (state party chair) and Gov. Dave Freudenthal. He also said that he'd just talked to his wife in Jackson who said that several kids from Rock Springs were coming to stay at their house to canvass Teton County for Obama.

Mike Bell, Laramie County Democrats state chair, spoke next. He said that the March 8 county convention will not be held at the UW Family Practice Center auditorium because there won't be enough room. He startled us by saying that as many as 1,000 people could attend the convention. "We need a bigger place," he said by way of understatement. Possibilities include the Civic Center and Storey Gym, but each of those have a $2,000 fee. Little America wants $6,000 for its new conference center. "We're Democrats. How we can we afford that?"

A hubbub erupted. One woman, who said she was a retired state employee on a fixed income, said she would write a $100 check so we could get the best place for our convention. Others said they would do the same thing. Sara Burlingame-Thomas lifted the cap from her three-month-old son's head and started passing it around. Within 10 minutes, we had $1,500 in cash and checks. Mike said he'd go down Monday and rent a bigger place. Huzzahs all around.

Mike had some tips for us. To participate in the caucus/convention, you must be a registered Democrat in Laramie County by Friday, Feb. 22. And don't count on being on the voter rolls if you didn't vote in the 2006 general election, as your name was probably purged at the county clerk's office. If in doubt, check with the county clerk.

Mike said that registration begins at 8 a.m. at the convention, but it may be helpful to be there by 7:30 if we're going to have such a big turnout. I may have to be there even earlier as I've agreed to be on the nominations committee. We'll kick things off with the presidential preference vote, and then move into delegate selection. "This could be a slugfest," said Mike, depending on how many people are there for each candidate. Following that, we'll discuss the party platform.

"The county caucus is very important," Mike added. "The presidential preference vote determines the delegate count." Up to 55 delegates will be chosen here for the state party convention set for Memorial Day weekend in Jackson.

To wrap things up, Obama organizer Pat Lane (another youngster) made a call for volunteers. "We've seen in the West that Barack Obama is well-liked," he said, noting that he's won primaries/caucuses in Colorado, Nebraska and Idaho. "But we didn't do that -- it was folks like you." He noted that the best way to volunteer was as a precinct captain. That person talks to registered Dems in each precinct and gets them out to the caucus. He also said that volunteers of all kinds are needed, whether for the phone bank or walking neighborhoods.

The meeting broke up and I got in line to sign up as a precinct captain. I could tell that people were excited. I took this as a very good sign that Wyoming, and possibly the U.S., will get the kind of change that we need after eight years of the Bush-Cheney regime.

To get more info about the March 8 caucus/convention, call the county and state party office in Cheyenne at 307-634-9001.

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