Just to get you situated, here's a snippet of my Wednesday afternoon drive into Wyoming (If you get carsick, you might want to skip this, it's a little bouncy. The soundtrack is James McMurtry, "Choctaw Bingo.") Just a look at the mountains, the meadow, the aspens, willows, and cottonwoods. This is why this the mountain West will always be home, why it is such a draw for me.
I arrived on a beautiful afternoon in Jackson, ready to meet up with Gary Trauner for another afternoon of canvassing. I'd hoped to have a repeat of the front-porch magic I had witnessed when I met up with him for a canvass in Cheyenne in 2006. Here's what I wrote then:
Gary Trauner has front porch mojo that you really have to see to believe. We met him in Cheyenne for a very chilly few hours of block walking in an "undecided" precinct. Undecided my ass. It was the middle of the day, Tuesday, so I wondered how much luck we'd have finding people at home. About half the houses were empty, but at the others the most remarkable thing happened. "Gary Trauner! How're you doing? You've got my vote. My husband's/wife's too! And we're Republicans!" At door after door people bounded out to say hello and to tell him how sick of Barbara Cubin they are. All but maybe three people he met reacted this way--not only recognizing him, but offering their support.
But it wasn't to be this time around. Mostly just because few people were home. The woman here, with her daughter, was an exception. She's a stay at home mom that volunteers in early childhood education. And she wanted to talk about the economy, which is probably the number one doorstep conversation candidates are having these days. We met a few more folks while walking the precinct--a plumber who bounded across the yard of the house he had just finished working in to say hello and let Gary know he had his vote. On the whole, there were probably six or seven people, a few undecided, but the balance seeming firmly decided for Gary. All of them concerned about the economy.
When I was here in 2006, the topic going door-to-door was Iraq. After Iraq, it was health care. There was a great sense of unease in 2006, the beginnings of the tidal wave that nearly swept Gary into office that year. Just one vote per precinct, and Gary would be in Congress today. That narrow margin is one of the reasons why Gary is one of our Orange to Blue candidates again this cycle, after having been a Blue Majority favorite in 2006.
That unease is still there, and in a big way, but the real anger hadn't seemed to reach Wyoming yet. The difference this year seems to be the added layer of fear because of the economic meltdown. Wyoming has huge oil and gas wealth, and the economy here hasn't been hit as hard in some states. Though it also has the highest number of people working multiple jobs to get by, so that wealth doesn't necessarily get spread around. The foreclosure crisis is more of a real estate slowdown in much of the state, but that doesn't stop people from worrying as they watch the markets tumble.
But that's a topic for my next missive, from a candidate's forum in Laramie Thursday night. To foreshadow a little, just compare that picture from Wednesday afternoon's canvass to what we (my trusty Focus and me) woke up to in Jackson on Thursday.