Why Liz Cheney may be riding for a fall in Wyoming Senate race

True, Liz Cheney will be able to raise scads of money, given her connections, to vie against incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi in Wyoming's GOP primary. But does money for ads matter in a state without a major media market? Skeptics cite other reasons, as well, that she could lose.

Matt Young/AP
Liz Cheney takes questions from the press during a campaign appearance in Casper, Wyoming, Wednesday, July 17. Cheney, the elder daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, announced on Tuesday her GOP primary challenge to Wyoming's senior incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi.

Is Liz Cheney a lock to win a US Senate seat in Wyoming in 2014? Or is she riding for a fall in the Cowboy State?

After Ms. Cheney announced her plans to mount a primary challenge to GOP incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi, we judged it possible that she’s already the favorite in the race. Her ex-veep dad, Dick Cheney, is a state icon, remember. She’ll be able to raise lots of money from her national connections.

But we’ve received some pushback on this judgment from folks who know a lot about Wyoming politics, so we’re going to reconsider the matter. They say Cheney the daughter has no idea what she’s getting into, and people who think otherwise have spent too much time riding the range of carry-outs on Washington’s Capitol Hill.

First, there’s the possibility that money does not really matter so much in a state that's so thinly populated it has no major media markets. It’s true that Senator Enzi does not have much campaign cash in the bank, but you don’t need much to buy airtime in Cheyenne and Casper.

Second, given that ads can’t reach everyone in the state, there’s still no substitute for campaigning in Wyoming’s vast number of small outposts. Enzi, born in Thermopolis and former mayor of Gillette, has met with local business groups, weekly editors, and party activists for decades. Liz Cheney lived in suburban D.C. until recently.

Cheney has served as a high State Department official and helped run a national security group called Keep America Safe, but those credentials may not resonate with Wyoming voters.

Republican strategist Ed Rollins said this week that Cheney may be seen as “a housewife who’s kind of bored who moved back to Wyoming after a long time to run for the Senate.”

Finally, as Mr. Rollins noted above, there’s the carpetbagger issue. Voters in New York and California may not care how long candidates have lived in their states, but Wyoming is not New York or California.

Many Wyoming voters might judge that Cheney has not moved to the state yet. That’s because she has bought a home near Jackson, the Wyoming town that serves the ski resorts of Jackson Hole. Jackson is a well-off tourist town with an airport that whisks private jets in for the weekend. Much of the rest of the state views it as separate territory. It’s as if Cheney had moved to Aspen to run for a Colorado Senate seat, or were trying for governor of Massachusetts from her adopted home island of Nantucket.

In Washington, Republicans may see the Cheney versus Enzi race as a rising star versus a low-key party stalwart. That’s how Philip Terzian describes it Friday in the Weekly Standard, in any case.

“Republicans in Wyoming have a difficult decision,” Mr. Terzian writes.

It’s indeed possible that’s how GOP primary voters in the state will feel when they go to the polls next year. It’s also possible they’ll have a different framework here, and see the race as a true Wyoming resident versus a newcomer.

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