Their hearts throb over ... politics?
When she was a little girl, Becky Costantino used to play with ballots on election day. She lived on a ranch outside Douglas, Wyo., that doubled as a post office and polling place, and she remembers marking up trial cards while her mother oversaw the vote.Skip to next paragraph
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For a child growing up in a state whose defining characteristic is distance, the best part of politics was company. Neighbors came from dozens of miles away to vote and pass the time. "It didn't matter whether they were Democrats or Republicans. It was just exciting to see them come over," says Ms. Costantino.
Not that many of them were Democrats, truth be told. The ranch - an old stage stop - was in the heart of GOP country. Today Costantino is chairwoman of the Wyoming Republican Party. On Monday she will be in Philadelphia for her fourth national convention.
Her favorite convention moment? New Orleans, 1988, the closing music after Ronald Reagan's speech. "I remember standing there with tears rolling down my cheeks. I could not believe I was standing that close to the president," she says.
Let's be honest: Most Americans have a low opinion of politics. It's boring, partisan, irrelevant. Conventions are infomercials. Voting changes little. Candidates are all alike.
Some of that is true. Maybe a lot of it's true. But there's another side to that story. Thousands of delegates will be flocking to Republican and Democratic conventions this month, and there's a little Becky Costantino in many of them.
They don't hold elective office. They like politics because they think it's interesting, important, even fun. They say "make a difference" a lot. Shockingly, they appear to mean it.
Wyoming is a good place to find such people, and not just because one of their own has been tapped for No. 2 on the GOP ticket. The state has so few people that it is essentially a small town with really long streets. Wyoming politics remains personal, inexpensive, and generally courteous. There's a heritage of citizen involvement in the state that first gave women the right to vote.
"I guess I feel like in our political system, if we didn't have people in the grass roots, there wouldn't be a system," says Carolyn Manka, a delegate to the Republican convention from Riverton, Wyo.
Wyoming today remains perhaps the most Western of all the Rocky Mountain states. With only about 480,000 residents, it is so unpopulated that Colorado, by comparison, is Los Angeles. Half the state's land is controlled by the federal government. It is the kind of place where even city dwellers think nothing of driving 100 miles to meet someone for lunch.
Politically, it is predictably Republican in presidential elections. Democrats can still win state office, however - the state's southern tier of counties retains a Democratic heritage that began with workers imported to build the Union Pacific railway.
Making his own bid for office
With so few residents, it is easy for people who are interested in politics to find something to do. Kansas native Clark Stith ended up in Rock Springs, Wyo., after detours through California and Washington, D.C. He began showing up at GOP meetings and eventually became vice chairman of the local party. The county convention tapped him to be a delegate to Philadelphia without even asking who he supported for president.
"People aren't sticklers on rules a lot out here," says Mr. Stith, who then supported John McCain but says he'll switch his vote to support local son Dick Cheney.