CODY, Wyo. — Imagine a place where no presidential candidates visited, local television was nearly free of political ads, and yard signs — if screaming winds did not rip them out — were stuck in the ground only shortly before Election Day.
That place is Cody, a mountain-ringed city of 9,600 people bypassed by a bitter presidential campaign that cost $2.6 billion and blanketed the country’s battleground states with a months-long media barrage.
Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney held a public rally in Wyoming or anywhere close to here, a city named for William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in the high country of Northwest Wyoming. And neither did any of the Republican primary candidates.
“When it comes to crunch time, they’re not going to even waste a stamp” in Cody, said Bruce McCormack, publisher and editor of the twice-weekly Cody Enterprise. “But we try not to take it personally.”
It’s a byproduct of the Electoral College system — which chooses presidents based on the combination of states they win, rather than the national popular vote — that Cody is relegated to the most distant back burner of campaign activity every four years.
In a deep-red state like Wyoming, which gave Romney 69 percent of its vote, the three electoral votes are not worth the time, the expense, or even an extra thought from precisely calibrated campaigns that focus on closely contested swing states with a withering barrage of phone calls, door knocks, mailings, and presidential visits.
No one is suggesting that Wyoming, the least populated state, would suddenly become a mecca for presidential candidates if a national popular vote were implemented. But perhaps the candidates, seeking to augment support in a close race, would visit once or twice in a campaign cycle.
During the campaign, neither candidate held a public event in 40 states, according to FairVote, a Maryland-based nonprofit group that supports the abolition of the Electoral College. Obama appeared at public events in only eight states; Romney in 10. A total of 29 percent of their events were held in fiercely contested Ohio.
Wyoming did host private fund-raisers for the candidates — two by Romney, and one by Michelle Obama — near the affluent retreat of Jackson Hole. But in down-to-earth Cody, national political noise is not only muted, it’s nearly extinct.
“They call us a fly-over state,” said Steve Franklin, 61, a bartender in string tie and vest at the Irma Hotel, a Victorian hostelry built by Buffalo Bill. “What do we care? We don’t like them anyway. We want them to stay out of our business.”
The rivals did not rent a single billboard in Cody, which McCormack estimated has not seen a candidate for at least 30 years, and the campaigns did not mount a ground game to get out the vote.
“We didn’t have any advertising for Romney or Obama, none,” said Rob DiLorenzo, 64, who cofounded the area’s Bighorn Basin Tea Party. “No one spent any money here. Why would they?”
In Wyoming, the Romney campaign did not set up a single field office, said Tammy Hooper, the state Republican chairwoman. And the Obama organization had only one paid staff member, whose job was not to seek votes in Wyoming but to find them across the border in swing-state Colorado.
“We weren’t worried about trying to win stuff we weren’t going to get,” said Robert Vernon-Kubichek, 25, the Obama staffer. “The name of the game was to get to 270 electoral votes, and that’s what we did. Our job was to help win Northern Colorado.”
Advocates for a national popular vote argue that ignoring states like Wyoming — and, conversely, important Democratic states like California and Massachusetts — stifles the political dialogue, makes citizens feel their votes do not count, and turns battleground states into special interests that gain extra attention and favors.
“If you step back for a minute, it’s kind of crazy,” said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote. “It would be like imagining an election for governor of Massachusetts where everyone would agree: Let’s ignore Boston and rural parts of the state and concentrate on the belt around Route 128.”
Richie argues that the Electoral College suppresses turnout by taking away an incentive to vote if one party dominates a state. Turnout was 8 percentage points less in what he called the “spectator states” — those not visited by the candidates — when compared with the swing states.
But here, that dynamic was turned on its head. Nearly all registered voters in Park County, of which Cody is the seat, cast ballots on Election Day.
Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said Cody residents take voting seriously, even though they realize the outcome seems predetermined. Romney won 76 percent of the vote in Park County.
Still, Brown said, politics is discussed everywhere — at restaurants, saloons, and stores. When residents left the voting booth on Election Day, she said, most of them wore a newly applied sticker that read, “My Vote Counts.”
The absence of big rallies and stump speeches is not a factor, she said. People in Wyoming are used to being self-sufficient, Brown said, and they ferret out political information on the Internet and through one-on-one conversation.
“To be dead-honest with you,” Brown said, “I don’t know if seeing a candidate around here would change many people’s minds. I don’t think people feel that is essential to them to make an informed decision.”
McCormack, the newspaper publisher, mused that voting in Wyoming, whose population of 568,000 is smaller than Boston’s, carries a special sense of empowerment in a place where individual rights are fiercely protected. There was “plenty of interest in the presidential race,” said McCormack, 59, whose newspaper was founded by — yes — Buffalo Bill in 1899. McCormack said the city’s outnumbered Democrats are not cowed, and make their voices heard. But that effort sometimes can feel lost in the sea of Republicans.
Anne Marie Shriver, 49, a researcher at Plains Indians Museum in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, is a Democrat who said some Obama supporters don’t use bumper stickers, to avoid being mocked.
“You have to own it and be proud of it,” Shriver said of her party affiliation. “Otherwise, it’s a little dire.”
For Kathy Payne, 52, an administrative assistant at an insurance company, being a Democrat can mean keeping a low profile, particularly at work.
“I’m pretty quiet about it because most people who come in here are Republicans,” Payne said. Since the election, she added, “some of them are sure the world is ending.”
Her Republican husband, Stephen, said he saw people crying the next day.
Although the city was not bombarded with ads, the news media did not invade, and the streets were not bedecked with signs, the election mattered.
To Stephen Payne, public works director, the idea that Cody is cut off from the political discourse seems baffling.
“I don’t believe I have to have a visit from somebody to be participating in the process,” said Payne, 54.
Still, he said, “it’d be nice if I could hear someone personally without it being cut up and snipped into a sound bite.”