By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus
Here he comes!
Is former President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to Wyoming going to generate the biggest political crowd in the state’s history?
Over 20,000 people are expected. The event will be held outside in the parking area, rather than inside, which has a limited capacity of 10,000. The rally is Saturday, May 28 in Casper at the Ford Center. With that size crowd, it will be the biggest political event in our state’s 132-year history.
Much to Republicans’ chagrin, up to now, the existing records for political turnouts in the state belong to Democrats.
On March 7, 2008, Barack Obama talked to a huge crowd at the Arena Auditorium in Laramie. I tried to find out how many people were there but could not. The place could hold 16,000 people back in those days. Since 2014, the reduced capacity is 11,600.
Incredibly, Obama left Wyoming and spoke to 84,000 people at Mile High Stadium in Denver at his next stop.
Former Sen. Al Simpson, former Gov. Mike Sullivan, and former UW History professor Phil Roberts all had trouble recalling if they had seen a crowd that large before in Wyoming.
The biggest events that I have seen were huge crowd in Casper for Sen. Ted Kennedy promoting Teno Roncalio in 1972. Roncalio was in the fight of his political life against Bill Kidd. Roncalio ultimately won that race.
I attended another huge Casper crowd supporting George W. Bush naming Wyoming’s Dick Cheney on July 26, 2000, as his vice-presidential running mate. Coincidentally, I spent most of the time in the press area chatting with newsman Britt Hume, who loved coming to Wyoming.
Dick Cheney also hosted a big rally early in this century at the Casper Events Center that would have neared the 10,000 mark.
Perhaps the biggest rally up to now was on Sept. 25, 1963 at the fieldhouse in Laramie with President John F. Kennedy. The young president who barely had a month to live, talked about conservation to the crowd of 13,000.
Worland author and historian John Davis attended that Kennedy rally. He recalled how funny it was for Wyomingites to hear JFK tout the benefits of “soderash” to the chuckling crowd.
Jack Speight of Cheyenne was head of the Young Democrats for Kennedy in 1963 when JFK spoke at the old fieldhouse. It was a packed house celebrating Kennedy and Sen. Gale McGee. Speight later was chairman of the state Republican Party in 1973-74.
Kennedy’s remarks at UW focused on the importance of education and technology to protect the environment.
“Our primary task now is to increase our understanding of our environment to a point where we can enjoy it without defacing it, use its bounty without detracting permanently from its value, and, above all, maintain a living balance between man’s actions and nature’s reactions,” the President told the audience.
Although the trip was Kennedy’s only visit to Wyoming as President, then-Senator Kennedy attended a fundraiser in Cheyenne in 1958 and returned in 1960 while campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
Jim Hicks of Buffalo was a cub reporter in Casper when he covered that 1958 AFL-CIO event which featured Kennedy. Hicks says he cannot recall how many people were there. “It definitely was a sell-out,” he said.
Prior to that, Hicks also attended a visit by President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, but said it was a short stop-over.
Former Gov. Mike Sullivan recalled a crowd of about 5,000 that attended an event for President Bill Clinton during his “western swing.” It was at the Cheyenne airport.
“My recollection was Clinton’s appearance was a significant increase from the 40 who showed up when Kathy Karpan and I announced our support for Clinton about 6 months earlier!” Sullivan recalled.
Greybull native Diana Schutte Dowling says Trump’s upcoming visit reminds her of a 1954 event: “Big Horn County Republicans announced Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, would pass through Greybull at 8:45 Saturday morning Oct 23. Nixon would be traveling between appearances in Cody and Worland and had agreed to halt briefly at Greybull’s stoplight and wave to any well-wishers who might gather there. If that political gathering was the biggest in the history of Greybull no one reported it,” she said.
Wyoming Republican Party officials have spoken about this month’s Trump appearance in Wyoming since December, although the details have been slow to emerge. The time and exact venue were announced Monday by the former president.
Trump has endorsed the campaign of Republican Harriet Hageman in her GOP primary race against U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat.
“It will be a tremendous honor and incredibly exciting to have President Trump visit with us and it will no doubt be the largest political event in Wyoming history,” Hageman said in a prepared statement. “I am grateful for President Trump’s support in my campaign and I look forward to seeing him in Casper.
According to an event listing on Trump’s website, people wishing to get tickets for the event may register by cell phone. Only two tickets will be given per cell phone.
Doors for the event are scheduled to open at 11 a.m. and the rally is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.