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Crook County Has Backed Winners Since 1892

September 28, 1992

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (AP) _ The regulars at the Waterhole Tavern decided to take their own straw poll on the presidential race.

Seven hands went up for Texas tycoon Ross Perot.

Six for Democrat Bill Clinton.

And five for President Bush.

Take note, Clinton and Bush. This is Crook County: the last bellwether county in the nation.

Here in the middle of central Oregon’s sagebrush country, the folks have given a majority of their votes to the winner of every presidential election since 1892.

Crook County has enjoyed its special status since 1984, when a majority of voters in the only other bellwether county - Palo Alto County, Iowa - sided with Walter Mondale over Ronald Reagan.

Every four years, reporters trek to Oregon’s high desert to take the pulse of Crook County residents to see how they’re feeling about the presidential contenders.

No scientific polling has been done so far this year in the county, so identifying a front-runner is difficult at best.

But Crook County residents will tell you they make no claims about being able to predict the outcome of presidential elections. They’ve just always been right when it comes to casting their ballots on election day.

John Stephens, a self-employed trucker who hauls logs for a living, said he’s pinning his hopes on Perot jumping back into the race.

″I hope Ross Perot gets it,″ Stephens said. ″He’s not a politician. We need to get rid of politicians.″

What about the Republican and Democratic contenders?

″Bush is no damn good, and we sure don’t need an environmentalist like Clinton,″ he said.

Tavern co-owner Gary Gholson gave a less than ringing endorsement to four more years for Bush.

″I don’t think Bush has done that bad a job. Anybody in there is going to make mistakes,″ he said.

Gholson’s wife, Linda, was noncommittal about the two major party candidates.

″I haven’t heard anyone who’s been real enthusiastic about either one of them,″ she said.

That comment was echoed by others who were interviewed recently in Prineville, a town of 5,400 people that’s the only incorporated city in Crook County, which has a total population of 14,000.

Outside the supply stores, restaurants and taverns that make up the town’s small business district, people seemed to be against a certain candidate more than wildly in support of another.

At Barr’s Cafe, Joe Hudspeth, owner of a trucking company, said he didn’t feel that the Democrats and Republicans were offering people much of a choice.

″Either of the two candidates would be lousy,″ he said.

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