Barack Obama scored a comfortable victory in caucus voting in the western state of Wyoming, as record numbers of Democrat voters there turned out to voice their preferences in the increasingly down-and-dirty struggle for the party's presidential nomination.
After a day of unusual frenzy for Wyoming Democrats, many of whom had to wait in long queues even to get inside overcrowded caucus sites at schools, hotels and civic centres, the first returns showed the state swinging decisively in Mr Obama's favour.
Heavily Republican Wyoming is the least-populated state in the US, and the numbers actually caucusing yesterday could be counted in the low thousands. Yet the win will go some way to soothing the wounds inflicted on Mr Obama last week, notably by his defeats on Tuesday in Ohio and Texas.
Moreover, the Cowboy State will end up mattering when it comes to the increasingly breathless battle between him and Hillary Clinton for numbers of delegates heading to the party convention in the summer. Mr Obama should emerge with a solid majority of the 12 delegates that were on offer in Wyoming – possibly, and rather remarkably, even negating the net gains made by Mrs Clinton last week.
For that reason alone, Wyoming Democrats witnessed an intensity of campaigning by the candidates, over a mere 48 hours, not seen in a generation. Both Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton held rallies there on Friday, concentrating on the large cities of Laramie and Cheyenne. Bill Clinton and the former first daughter, Chelsea, also showed up in an attempt to rope in votes for the family cause.
Most observers had expected a victory, however, for Mr Obama, who has won most of the states that have held caucuses rather than fully fledged primaries. US TV networks declared Mr Obama the winner. With 90 per cent of caucus votes reporting, he was leading Mrs Clinton by roughly 58 per cent to 41 per cent.
After so many weeks of frantic campaigning, both candidates remained behind closed doors yesterday. They are girding themselves for next Tuesday, when it is the turn of Mississippi to hold its primary. Again, it is thought likely to favour Mr Obama, potentially returning to him some of the momentum he had enjoyed over recent weeks until it was so rudely stopped by Mrs Clinton last week.
Though the overall numbers of Wyoming voters seemed small, it was far beyond what would be normal on a caucus day. In 2004, only 675 people statewide took part in the process. This time, organisers at some caucus sites found themselves quickly overwhelmed after opening at 9am. There were hundreds lined up, for example, outside a hotel in Casper, in Natrona County. Officials had booked a ballroom accommodating 675 people that turned out to be far too small. There are some 7,700 registered Democrats in the county.
Chaos also reigned outside the civic centre in Cheyenne, the state capital. By 11am, there were still people outside trying to get in, but under party rules, they were turned away because they had missed the deadline for registering to take part. "End of Line" said a sign held up by one party worker where the snake of voters ended. "Caucus rules require the voter registration process to be closed at this time."
The turnout was a reflection of the excitement that is felt by so many Democrats in a race between the two candidates which remains deadlocked. It also gave Wyoming Democrats a rare opportunity to have an impact.
"Why I'm here today is that, in Wyoming, this is probably the only vote that counts, because this state is going Republican in the general election," said Matt Sachse, a 42-year-old state employee.
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