Cheney Bid Divides Wyoming Republicans Puzzled by Timing

Robert DiLorenzo’s e-mail account has been filling up with questions from friends about Liz Cheney ever since she formally declared her intention to challenge a fellow Republican, U.S. Senator Michael Enzi of Wyoming.

“It’s being greeted with confusion and mystery,” said DiLorenzo, a Wyoming attorney who co-founded the Big Horn Basin Tea Party. “I have seen her on Fox News, but we don’t really know enough about her and what she wants to do.”

Cheney, 46, a Fox News commentator who is the elder daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, will have her work cut out for her as she challenges a 69-year-old incumbent who is well-liked by both anti-government spending Tea Party activists and more traditional Republicans.

The two other members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation, Republican Senator John Barrasso and Representative Cynthia Lummis, the state’s at-large Republican congresswoman, have both come out in support of Enzi and the National Republican Senatorial Committee is backing him.

“When someone has never gotten a paycheck in Wyoming and has lived their entire adult life in Virginia, I think they should run from Virginia,” Lummis said yesterday on NBC News. “Hillary Clinton could pull this off in New York, in my opinion Liz Cheney cannot pull this off in Wyoming, and I’m disappointed that she’s decided to try,” she said, referring to the former first lady’s successful 2000 Senate bid after leaving the White House and a career of politics in Arkansas.

Party Burdens

The brewing race reflects divisions that have burdened the Republican Party nationally since 2010, with some incumbents facing safe re-elections getting challenged in primaries because they were viewed as too willing to compromise or not vocal enough in their opposition to Democrats. In 2010, Republican Senator Bob Bennett of Utah lost in an intra-party fight, as did Indiana’s Senator Richard Lugar in 2012.

“It will split the party probably,” said Susan Thomas, a member of the state party’s executive committee and widow of former Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming. “Some people wish she had waited for another six years.”

The stakes for the race are higher for the Cheney brand than the Republican Party’s efforts to win control of the Senate in 2014. In such a heavily Republican state -- Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama there by 41 percentage points in November -- the primary’s winner is almost certain to take the seat.

James King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming, said the race is likely to hinge more on stylistic and generational differences than policy distinctions.

Similar Ideology

“The Tea Party is not as out of the mainstream as it would be in some other places,” he said. “It’s not like you have a centrist, moderate Republican getting hit from the right. He has a solidly conservative voting record, so there isn’t as much room to attack from the right.”

Enzi, who announced July 16 that he would seek a fourth term, has said that Cheney told him she wouldn’t run if he did, an assertion she challenged yesterday.

“It’s not true -- I did not tell Senator Enzi I wouldn’t run if he did,” she told reporters in Casper, a day after she and Enzi announced their candidacies. “I suppose he’s just confused.”

In an interview yesterday with CNN, Enzi predicted Wyoming Republicans will stick with him.

“She’s never been to any of my listening sessions,” Enzi said of Cheney. “I’ve done listening sessions in Wyoming where I actually listen to what the constituents have to say. I’m an old shoe salesman. I listen to the customer. I know who the customer is. I see how what fits with the inventory we’ve got, which is the legislation. I love to legislate.”

Family Fight

Thomas, the party leader who plans to back Enzi, said weathering the campaign ahead of the August 2014 primary will be difficult for a close-knit state with fewer than 600,000 residents.

“They say all politics is local,” she said. “In Wyoming, everything is local. I know both people very well and have worked with them. I know their families.”

DiLorenzo said the incumbent’s only real weakness is a lack of boldness. In his last election in 2008, Enzi didn’t face a primary challenger. He won the general election with 76 percent of the vote.

“Mike Enzi has always been good to us and has always treated us well,” he said. “Our only thing with Mike is that we wish he would be more vocal.”

Emphasize Seniority

King said he expects Enzi to remind the state’s residents frequently that he has built valuable seniority and committee assignments since first winning his seat in 1996.

“He will be in the position of saying that he can have influence, rather than just a voice,” King said.

Cheney and her husband moved last year to the Jackson Hole area in the state’s picturesque and upscale northwest corner. 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. Their home was the site of a $30,000-per-couple fundraiser for Romney a year ago.

After moving to the area, Cheney started making frequent appearances at county-level Republican Party events, sometimes accompanied 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 suburban Washington, D.C. to run for office.

Carpetbagger Attacks

“It’s very clear that part of this campaign will involve the question of whether she is really of and from Wyoming,” King said.

For her part, Cheney has said she’s running because she thinks it’s time for a “new generation of leaders” and that the party can “no longer afford simply to get along to go along.”

A former senior State Department official in President George W. Bush’s administration, Cheney was born in Madison, Wisconsin. After attending elementary school and junior high in Wyoming, she graduated from high school in northern Virginia, college in Colorado and law school in Chicago.

A typical statewide race in Wyoming costs between $1.5 million and $2 million, King said, adding that he expects that figure to grow in this race because of the national interest.

“Both candidates will have access to the funds they need,” he said. “Incumbents can usually raise whatever they need.”

Lummis said money is unlikely to determine the race.

“She will outraise him by factors of 10 or more and he will still win, because Wyoming is grass-roots retail campaigning,” she said. “It’s talking to people face to face, it’s not about who has the best consultants and the shiniest ads and the best pollsters.”

-- Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Robin Meszoly

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.