If you haven't noticed, it's election season, and Republican voters will soon be choosing a GOP nominee to challenge President Obama. The process may seem straight forward. The process may seem straight forward -- in November voters will choose whether the president gets a second term or is replaced by a republican challenger -- it can actually be very complicated. Right now precinct caucuses are being held around the state, and Wyoming Public Radio's Tristan Ahtone brings us this explanation of what happens before voters head to the polls.
TRISTAN AHTONE: Caucuses are kind of like the Republican version of American Idol.
ANDREW GARNER: At the national level the entire Republican nomination process does have sort of a reality show flair to it,
AHTONE: Andrew Garner is a professor of Political Science at the University of Wyoming.
GARNER: You know, people getting voted off every month. But it starts at the local level and builds up the state and then the state once it's chosen how to allocate it's delegates for which candidates, those delegates then go to the national party and they're the ones that make the official selection for the nominee.
AHTONE: So let’s start at the beginning with the precinct. Here’s Sublette County Committeeman Bob Rule.
BOB RULE: What we're doing at the precinct caucus is voting for delegates to the county convention.
AHTONE: Republican vote for delegates, delegates vote for other delegates at the county level… from there, more delegates go to the state level, and eventually at the republican national convention, the remaining delegates pick a presidential nominee. So at the precinct level, when you vote for a delegate, you’re voting for a presidential nominee.
BOB RULE: In other words: some of the people there will clearly say "I support Ron Paul," or "I support Mitt Romney," so if you vote for those people who are clearly stating their preference indirectly you're voting for that candidate for President of the United States.
AHTONE: Then there's two other things that happens at the precinct level: voters have an opportunity to meet local leadership and to meet people who might be running for local office and the input stage for the platform of the Republican party. Tammy Hooper is Chairman of the Wyoming GOP.
TAMMY HOOPER: At precinct caucuses they can sit down with their neighbors, if they have some ideas that they'd like to see put forth, things that they believe in, things that they'd like changed, or they want to bring to the attention of people, they can draft a platform or they can draft a resolution and then within their precinct they vote on that.
AHTONE: For example, resolutions on wolves, the handling of minerals, or ideas for economic policy are written up, voted on, and then die or go on to the county convention.
HOOPER: That becomes the platform for the state of Wyoming, and those are the things that they agree on and that they look for to hopefully have their candidates for local offices, you know, commissioners, legislators, and depending on the cycle, can be a statewide official.
AHTONE: So back to the delegates. Wyoming has only 29 of them, and it takes over a thousand to get the GOP nomination… so usually Wyoming doesn’t have a big say in who becomes the nominee… and Bob Rule says that makes this years election a little different for the state.
RULE: I've never seen anything quite like this. There's two things happening simultaneously: number one, Wyoming's turn is coming up and we don't have a national front runner yet. Often by the time Wyoming's turn comes up, somebody has swept the other races and it's obvious who the winner is going to be and Wyoming really has little say in it.
GARNER: The state of it seems to be a two man race between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, but Newt Gingrich with the southern votes… he may pick up Georgia and it may turn back into a three man race and I could see a couple of scenarios where it drags out on into April possibly May.
HOOPER: Four years ago almost… you had people who couldn't decide between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and the same is true this year for this cycle for the Republicans. We don't have an incumbent, we don't have somebody chosen that we want to run.
AHTONE: UW's Andrew Garner believes much like the democrats in 2008, republicans are searching for a unifying factor.
GARNER: What I suspect is going on is a long running national conversation among party leaders about who can best unite the party and who is most electable… what that means is that the candidate who can appeal to the most factions within the party… you've got the establishment republican side, you've got social conservatives, you've got the tea party wing of the party and within that you've got candidates that appeal to a limited number of factions.
AHTONE: Garner says in 2000, George W. Bush easily snatched up the nomination because he appealed to the many wings of the party… and at this point, none of the candidates running now have managed to receive the same broad appeal.
GARNER: The real question is going to be the economy. If the economy continues to improve, any candidates going to have a hard time appealing to voters and arguing that they should vote for him over Obama. If the economy tanks, then I think three, possibly four of the candidates could win against Obama.
AHTONE: However, Garner says Republican candidates aren't paying a whole lot of attention to voters in Wyoming in terms of mobilization or resources spent - and that brings us back to precinct caucuses. Again, State GOP chair Tammy Hooper.
HOOPER: Don't get me wrong, the presidential election is important, but you vote and participate in your local community in Wyoming. Those are the decisions that impact us. You know, your school board, your county commissioners and you want to see that from the bottom up.
This year precincts are holding a non-binding straw poll to get a sense of who Wyoming wants for presidential nominee and republican voters around the state, can find their precinct dates at WYGOP.ORG. For Wyoming Public Radio, I'm Tristan Ahtone.