Crook County was the last election bellwether county in United States
Crook County had the distinction of being a bellwether county for presidential elections from 1882 to 1992.
Since it was established late in 1882, the residents of the county had voted correctly in 27 presidential elections.
Through the years, there were a number of counties in the United States that had correctly voted for the winning president, but gradually it was narrowed down to two remaining counties. Palo Alto County, Iowa, and Crook County were the only two long-standing bellwether counties left in 1984.
Palo Alto County voted for Walter Mondale in the 1984 election and dropped from bellwether status, while the voters of Crook County voted for Ronald Reagan, and their streak continued.
The county basked in their notoriety as the last remaining bellwether county. Bellwether literally means the lead sheep in the flock. It became popular for national news agencies to come to Prineville to test the mood of the voters to see who the front runners for president would be. One of the first major candidates to visit the region was John F. Kennedy, who came to Powell Butte Lord's Acre Sale during the 1960 election year.
Most of the voters from the county through the years were moderate to conservative in their views, and the voting record for the county often would shift from Republican to Democratic leanings, and voters voted for who they thought were the best candidate, regardless of their party affiliation.
In 1984, there was some humor in the elections in the county. Gary Hart received eight write-in votes, Jesse Jackson received two, George Washington, Jimmy Stewart and Bugs Bunny received one write-in vote each. National news stations, newspapers and radio stations were eager to follow the status of the 1992 election in Crook County.
The bellwether status had locals wringing in anticipation when George H. W. Bush faced Bill Clinton and Independent Ross Perot in the 1992 election. After the local votes were tallied, Crook County had voted for Bush. Clinton won the election, and the last bellwether county in the United States lost its status as a correct prognosticator for national presidential elections. Many locals mourned the loss of their status.
Steve Lent is a local historian and assistant director of the Bowman Museum. He can be reached at: 541-447-3715.