Wyoming Republicans expressed surprise today as Liz Cheney ended her primary challenge of U.S. Senator Michael Enzi, citing family health issues.
“We were all shocked,” said Susan Thomas, a member of the state party’s executive committee and widow of former Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming. “It would have been a close race. It was going to be a tough, hard-hitting race. This is obviously pretty big in her family or she wouldn’t have done this.”
In a posting to her Facebook account, Cheney said she was leaving the campaign because “serious health issues have recently arisen in our family.” She didn’t elaborate.
Cheney, 47, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said she was motivated to enter the contest because of her children and that “their health and well-being will always be my overriding priority.”
The challenger, who had the backing of some of the state’s limited-government Tea Party activists, faced an uphill battle for multiple reasons, including criticism that she hadn’t lived in Wyoming long enough to represent the state in Washington.
The race reflected divisions that have burdened the Republican Party nationally since 2010, with some incumbents facing challenges if they’re viewed as too willing to compromise or not vocal enough in their opposition to Democrats. Cheney had tried to cast Enzi as part of an aging Republican “establishment.”
Enzi, 69, who has a near-perfect rating from the American Conservative Union, a Washington-based group that opposes President Barack Obama’s agenda, is seeking a fourth term.
“We have tremendous respect for Liz’s decision,” he said in a statement released by his campaign. “She and her entire family are in our thoughts and prayers.”
In her own statement, Cheney thanked supporters.
“As a mother and a patriot, I know that the work of defending freedom and protecting liberty must continue for each generation,” she said. “Though this campaign stops today, my commitment to keep fighting with you and your families for the fundamental values that have made this nation and Wyoming great will never stop.”
Cheney’s entry in the race had created rifts among longtime family friends in Wyoming and Washington and even within her own family. Comments she made about opposing same-sex marriage set off a feud with her sister, Mary Cheney, a lesbian who married her partner last year.
Dick Cheney, seeking to boost his daughter’s campaign, had also criticized Enzi.
“He doesn’t get much money from Wyoming,” Cheney said on Oct. 27 on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “In the quarter just reported, Liz got 25 percent of her funds from Wyoming; he got 13 percent of his from Wyoming.”
Thomas said she’d be surprised if any other serious candidates challenge Enzi.
“I don’t think so,” she said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think there will be anybody as strong as Liz.”
The stakes for the race were higher for the Cheney brand than the Republican Party’s efforts to win control of the Senate in 2014. In state where Mitt Romney outpolled Obama by 41 percentage points in 2012, the Republican primary’s victor is almost certain to win the seat.
“However that race went, we would have had a Republican senator,” said Marti Halverson, a member of the Republican National Committee from Wyoming.
Cheney and her husband moved to the Jackson Hole area in the state’s picturesque northwest corner in 2012. Speculation about her political ambition started immediately.
Her parents, Dick and Lynne Cheney, live on an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course with views of the Teton Mountain Range. They hosted a $30,000-per-couple fundraiser for presidential candidate Romney in 2012 at the home.
After moving to the area, Liz Cheney started making frequent appearances at county-level Republican Party events, sometimes joined by her father.
Her campaign announcement highlighted her family’s more than 100-year Wyoming history, including her father’s representation of the state in Congress from 1979 to 1989, an effort to preempt charges that she’s a carpetbagger who moved from a suburb of Washington to run for office.