For this week at least, they're as big as Texas

Sagebrush Delegates

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

At a meeting of the Wyoming delegation to the Republican National Convention the other day, the state party chairwoman asked how many people had not yet been interviewed by the media. Out of the Equality State's 44 delegates and alternates, one person raised a hand.

The ubiquity of the news horde here is one reason for this result. Hundreds of reporters desperate for sources are moving slowly through the halls of the Comcast First Union Center, like anglers fly-casting for trout.

But more important, Wyoming is hot. Native son Dick Cheney is on the ticket. A state accustomed to being treated with all the deference due, say, Vermont, is now as symbolically important to the Republican Party as Texas.

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"Dick Cheney puts Wyoming on the map, politically speaking. We're so proud of him we can hardly stand it," says Wyoming delegate Brad Cave.

They got to tell him so on Monday. On short notice, the new vice-presidential nominee met with the folks from his old state for breakfast. The setting was one of the finest party spots in Philadelphia - a train parked on rails laid just for the convention in the Union Center parking lot.

No Metroliner this. The train is a sort of rolling luxury hotel, comprised of a gleaming Fire Chief-style Union Pacific locomotive with dozens of historic dining and sleeping cars trailing behind. The delegation toured the train when it arrived, then heard Cheney give a few personal remarks. Everyone got a chance for a grip-and-grin photo.

It was an emotional moment. "Some of the older ladies started tearing up," says Mr. Cave.

It was a high point, but only the beginning. As the GOP convention rolls toward its emotional culmination, tonight's acceptance speech by George W. Bush, delegates from every state are reeling from the crush of their social life. There are golf parties in the morning, followed by lunch receptions at noon, which seem to be followed immediately by presession receptions, post-session receptions, dinner, and snacks.

Among the hosts for Wyoming and other Rocky Mountain states this week have been Qwest Communications, Western Gas Resources, Arch Coal, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, Texaco, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co.

"All we do is eat," says state party chairwoman Becky Costantino.

That's not entirely true. Ms. Costantino and some others took time to tour the historic part of the city. She was especially impressed by a self-guided walking tour that uses tapes and headsets to recreate the sound of old Philadelphia in 3-D. "You'd hear this horse galloping past, and it was so real, you'd whip your head around to look for it," she says.

A Rock Springs, Wyo., resident and civic activist, Costantino is the quarterback of the Wyoming team. Like other delegation leaders, her seat on the convention floor is on the aisle, in the back row of the state's section.

She sits next to a stanchion rising out of the arena floor that holds four telephones. One connects to convention producers, and rings to give instructions: Get your folks in their seats, demonstrate now, don't demonstrate now, that sort of thing. Two others connect to the outside world. One phone has no discernible purpose.

"It hasn't rung in two days," she says.

It's hard to convey exactly what it is like on the floor when the convention is in high gear. Imagine sitting in a movie theater, only the audience is part of the show, and the lights are so bright and harsh you feel as if you're in a giant dentist's office. The aisles are packed subway-tight. The governor of Missouri is trying to squeeze past George Stephanopoulos, Clinton-adviser turned commentator. Mr. Stephanopoulos is wearing a headset with a tiny antenna that looks as if it came from etoys.com.

The Wyoming delegation is in a pretty good spot, toward the middle-back. It's right behind Arizona, so on Tuesday night, when Sen. John McCain gave his big speech, the folks in front were rocking. Wyoming joined in.

"The whole section was jumping up and down," says delegate Clark Stith.

Mr. Stith, a Rock Springs lawyer, is at his first convention. He got lost coming in Monday, and ended up in the media's tent encampment looking for something to eat. In terms of quality, this is a little bit like trolling for a meal at a junior high cafeteria. He ended up eating a sub sandwich while sitting on the floor.

Stith is also a political novice - a first-time candidate for state Senate. The elected officials in the Wyoming delegation have been helpful with advice.

"They're even down to small things, like 'here's your best use of campaign balloons,' " he says. (Tie them to your signs on election day. People's eyes will be caught as they bounce in the wind.)

But cash? There may be fundraising somewhere in Philadelphia, but that's on the national level. For the grass-roots folks, campaign checks aren't flying like confetti.

"Tell me if you see any lying around," he jokes.

*Part 1 of this series appeared July 28.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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