Romney Grabs Early Lead in Wyo Caucuses

By: AP
By: AP

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) -- Mitt Romney grabbed the early lead in Wyoming's Republican caucuses Saturday as the state had its brief moment in the political spotlight sandwiched between attention-getting contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The former Massachusetts governor gained the first four delegates while California Rep. Duncan Hunter won a fifth.

Romney easily led the overall vote with more than 50 percent. Hunter was second with 21 percent and Fred Thompson, who hadn't won any delegates, was third with 17 percent. Results were expected throughout the day.

Coming two days after the Iowa caucuses and three days before the New Hampshire primary, the early date of the Wyoming GOP county conventions was intended to draw candidates' attention to the state, but has had only modest results.

Republican hopefuls Romney, Hunter, Fred Thompson and Ron Paul all stopped by the state - visits they probably wouldn't have made except for this year's early conventions - and candidates have sent Wyoming's GOP voters a flood of campaign mail.

However, the traditional leadoff nomination contests in Iowa and New Hampshire have dominated the attention of both candidates and the national media in recent months, and no candidates have visited Wyoming in the four weeks leading up to the caucuses. Hunter was the last to visit the state on Dec. 4.

Tom Sansonetti, the county convention organizer, maintained Saturday that moving the state's caucuses ahead was the right thing to do.

"The ultimate goal is not how many times we appear on Katie Couric," Sansonetti said. "The ultimate goal was to have attention paid to rank-and-file Republicans by national candidates."

In addition, he said more Wyoming Republicans have become involved in the process.

Wyoming Republicans also paid a price for jumping ahead. The Republican National Committee has slashed half of Wyoming's 28 national convention delegates. National party leaders similarly penalized Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire and South Carolina for moving up the dates of their nomination contests.

RNC rules require the punishment for states that hold their nominating contests earlier than Feb. 5. Iowa, which held caucuses on Thursday, will not be penalized because, technically, the caucuses are not binding on convention delegates. Nevada, which plans to hold its caucuses on Jan. 19, will not be penalized for the same reason.

Besides the 12 delegates chosen at Saturday's county conventions, two delegates to be chosen at a statewide convention in May will also be sent to the national convention in Minneapolis.

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