CASPER, Wyo. — Sen. Barack Obama captured the Wyoming Democratic caucuses, seizing a bit of momentum in the close, hard-fought race with rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the party's presidential nomination.
Obama won 59 percent, or 4,459 votes, to Clinton's 40 percent, or 3,081 votes, on Saturday with 22 of Wyoming's 23 counties reporting. Twelve delegates were at stake. Obama already has a lead in the overall race for nominating convention delegates.
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 Idaho, Utah, 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 New York senator campaigned Friday in Cheyenne and Casper. Former President Bill Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, also campaigned this 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's campaign credited the candidate's message for the win.
"Especially in the intermountain West, people are hungry for something different, people are hungry for someone who's a uniter, who can bring together a coalition of change," said Gabe Cohen, Obama's state director in Wyoming.
Clinton's campaign took heart in their ability to pick up more delegates.
"We knew that Wyoming was an uphill climb and that Senator Obama was expected to win," said Ben Kobren, a spokesman for Clinton's campaign in Wyoming. "We're glad we were able to bring out our grassroots support and come very close in delegates."
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Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said the Wyoming victory shows the candidate's strength in the West, and that Obama is better suited to help Democrats running for other offices even in states that traditionally vote Republican in the November 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.
Both candidates were looking ahead to the bigger prize — delegate-rich Pennsylvania on April 22.
In the overall race for the nomination, Obama led 1,578-1,468, according to the latest tally by The Associated Press. It will take 2,025 delegates to win the Democratic nomination.
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.
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.
Wyoming boosts candidate
Only in the last 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, Montana, 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."
On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain has already surpassed the number of delegates needed to clinch his party's nomination.
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