updated 10/28/2004 2:54:25 PM ET 2004-10-28T18:54:25

Drive down the main drag here and the only presidential campaign sign is outside the Republican office. The Democrats don't even have a party office here, but a congressional candidate has one.

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"He-llooo," Democratic volunteer Sherma Bishop said, as if she hadn't seen anyone in days. Don't bother asking her for a John Kerry yard sign or bumper sticker; the national campaign didn't send any.

"We don't see any of them," Bishop, 78, said of the presidential and vice presidential candidates.

A few blocks away, at the Republican campaign office, a huge cardboard cutout of President Bush is as close as Utahns will get to him this campaign. Worker Stuart Bowler said people often come in to get their picture taken with cardboard Bush.

That's the way it goes in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana — states with too few electoral votes and too few undecided voters. Campaigns figure they know which way these states will vote — for Bush. In 2000, Bush got 58 percent of the vote in Montana, 67 percent in Idaho and Utah, and 69 percent in Wyoming.

The four states have only 15 electoral votes among them. By comparison, California has 55, and is expected to be an easy win for Kerry. It's relatively quiet in California on the presidential level, too.

"There's no point" in campaigning, said Jerry Calvert, a political science professor at Montana State University in Bozeman. "If you have so much money, you're going to spend it where you can do the most good."

Candidate overload
For other Western states, it's candidate overload. Bush, Kerry or vice presidential candidates Dick Cheney and John Edwards seemed to pop up weekly in the battleground states of Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

The four candidates have visited New Mexico 24 times this year. They traveled to Colorado 19 times.

Montana? Zip. Utah? Nada.

Spokeswomen for both campaigns said Bush and Kerry concentrate their money on battleground states, and rely on grass-roots campaigning in others.

Despite the lack of attention, Western states have a lot at stake.

Huge expanses of the western states are owned by the federal government, affecting local tax revenues, jobs and business and recreational opportunities. In states such as Montana, Wyoming and Utah, the oil and gas industry wants access to areas that conservationists believe should be preserved.

The West has 92 national forests, and the next president will decide what happens to their remaining pristine areas. Bush wants to require governors to petition the federal government to preserve them; Kerry supports the Clinton administration's protections for roadless areas.

"The future of the proper protection of Utah's wild public lands will be in large part determined by who wins the election," said Dave Alberswerth, public lands director for The Wilderness Society.

Brian Hawthorne, public lands director for The BlueRibbon Coalition, an Idaho-based group that defends motorized access to public lands, worries that if Kerry is elected he will eliminate snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park.

Living in the forgotten West does have its benefits. Unless they're watching national cable television, residents don't see campaign ads. While the Western states are electing governors, congressmen and legislators along with the rest of the country, it's hard to tell in some areas that a national election is even happening.

"Fed up with the rest of the country? Come to Wyoming," said Ken Wolfe, a chef at Cafe Wyoming in isolated Dubois, Wyo.

Wolfe catches glimpses of Cheney's airplane when the vice president visits his home in Jackson.

In St. George, Clauson Atkin, a 22-year-old food server, hopes Utah does something odd this election.

"I'd like to see us vote Democrat — just to throw 'em all for a loop," he said.

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