Fish License Fine Is Latest Stumble in Cheney Senate BidPhil Mattingly
For a candidate trying to parlay the notion of politics as a family business, Liz Cheney has made a lot of rookie mistakes in her first month as a Wyoming candidate for the U.S. Senate.
She faced immediate push back from state Republicans for challenging an incumbent and a first poll that showed her at an almost 30-point deficit. She received an overdue property tax bill and, this week, she was forced to pay a $220 fine related to a false statement in the purchase of a fishing license.
Yet Cheney, 47, the daughter of former vice president and Wyoming Representative Dick Cheney, enters her second month with a singular sentiment among Wyoming party operatives and even some of the supporters of Republican incumbent Senator Mike Enzi: she’s staying in the primary race.
“Nobody should be looking at this as she’s simply running on the basis of her name or that she’s simply running on the basis of money that can be raised from outside Wyoming,” James King, the head of the University of Wyoming’s political science department, said in a phone interview. “She’s running a good on-the-ground campaign, at least from the start of it.”
The question swirling around the Cheney campaign is: what’s her path to victory?
Veteran Republican senators in states across the country have fallen victim to upstart, younger contenders that connect with an anti-Washington strain embodied by Tea Party activists.
Yet one prominent Tea Party representative in the state, Robert J. DiLorenzo, said he has no problem with either candidate. “They are both good people and we are fortunate to have such high quality candidates,” he said in an e-mail.
The incumbent is hardly ceding the Tea Party vote. He -- along with Cheney -- is scheduled to attend the Big Horn Basin Tea Party Picnic at DiLorenzo’s home in Emblem, Wyoming tomorrow to speak before party activists.
It’s also unclear whether the Tea Party ranks are big enough for Cheney to overcome Enzi’s wall of support from the party establishment. He’s been endorsed by the state’s younger Republican senator, John Barrasso, and only House member, Cynthia Lummis, also a Republican. In a July poll, he earned a 59 percent statewide approval rating.
In the 2012 Republican presidential caucuses in Wyoming, the candidate most associated with the small-government movement, former Texas Representative Ron Paul, received 21 percent of the vote. The state’s caucuses were won by eventual nominee Mitt Romney with 39 percent.
One silver lining for Cheney could be in those caucus turnout numbers. The total number of Republican voters who cast ballots in last year’s presidential primary race: 2,108.
Turnout may have been low because the Republican caucuses were held in March. Still, it shows that the voter pool in a state with a total population of 576,412, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, may be more accessible, and Cheney has allowed herself 13 months to work it before the Aug. 19, 2014 primary.
Enzi’s ability to switch into a campaign mode also will be key for him to maintain a lead that stood at 28 points in the first poll on the race released in July by Public Policy Polling, according to Nathan Gonzales, the deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a Washington-based non-partisan political publication that covers U.S. campaigns and elections.
“This is a different political landscape,” said Gonzales, citing former Senators Robert Bennett of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana, two Republican incumbents defeated by Tea Party-backed candidates over the past two cycles, as potential omens. “We’re no longer in an environment where longevity and statesmanship are valued commodities.”
Cheney’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for interviews. Enzi declined a request for an interview.
Cheney spent much of her first month on the campaign trail traveling to county party events to tout a no-compromise message while working to peg Enzi as part of an aging establishment and trying to tie him -- however improbably -- to the work of President Barack Obama. Enzi held a 92 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, a Washington-based group that opposes the president’s agenda.
“This race in Wyoming reflects where the party is nationally,” said Jesus Rios, the chairman of the Sheridan County Republican Party. “Nationally, we’re seeing a shift in the party with the Tea Party influence, folks putting up candidates like Ted Cruz who are winning elections.”
Harriet Hageman, a Cheyenne, Wyoming-based lawyer and adviser to Cheney’s campaign, said she views her candidate as someone who would be similar to Cruz, the freshman senator from Texas who is pushing Republican leadership in Washington to defund Obama’s health-care program.
“If you look at the people who are making a difference in Washington, they are not the ones sitting on the back bench, they are the people who are standing up and pounding their fists on the podium and saying ‘we aren’t going to survive if we continue down this road,’” Hageman said in an interview.
Rios, who said as a party official he will remain impartial during the primary process, saw Cheney in action, along with adviser Mary Matalin, who worked for her father in the Bush administration, at his county’s Aug. 10 Reagan Day Dinner. He said for the most part he has seen “a real positive reception” for Cheney, even from those who are wary of her decision to challenge Enzi.
Her family lineage brings name recognition to her campaign and access to donors. Yet to unseat Enzi, Cheney, who worked in the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, will need more than money and a name.
For his part, Enzi wasted little time in shifting to defense. Beyond the home-state endorsements of his fellow senator and U.S. House member, both of whom publicly questioned Cheney’s decision to enter the race, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite, and Senator John McCain, of Arizona, both announced that they back Enzi.
Coy Knobel, Enzi’s spokesman, called Cheney’s entrance into the race “surprising and disappointing” and checked off her lengthy residence in the Washington-area, work at the State Department and interest in foreign affairs as “not Wyoming affairs” and illustrative of an out-of-touch, out-of-town candidate.
“Cheney has money, but Wyoming folks won’t be bought,” Knobel said. “Wyoming residents expect their national leaders to have lived and worked in the state for years.”
Enzi was re-elected in 2008 with 76 percent of the vote. While he has only $488,000 in the bank -- Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, another Republican being challenged by a Tea Party candidate, has $9.6 million for his race -- King said that an incumbent can raise money at a quick clip to meet a Cheney haul that state operatives say may exceed $3 million.
State Representative Sue Wallis said Cheney is taking the right first steps in a state where campaigns are “all about relationships.”
“Liz is getting an early start because she knows she’s got a hill to climb,” said Wallis, who added that while she was appreciative of Enzi’s service, “he’s been there for 18 years and sometimes it’s time to move on.”
Enzi, in a radio interview, rejected the idea that he would fall prey to an insurgent campaign that attacked his votes and willingness to work with both parties on Capitol Hill. His focus will be on his work over the course of his career, not countering Cheney attacks, he said.
“I’m not going to talk much about my opponent,” Enzi said in an Aug. 15 interview with Sheridan Media’s Public Pulse. “There’s not much to say about my opponent.”