By Jim EllisJune 19, 2019 — Sen. Mike Enzi’s (R) retirement announcement last month will ignite a political firestorm in the Equality State, but not just yet. Because the state is small and the candidate filing deadline is almost a year away (May 29), the races will take time to develop. Both the Senate campaign and at-large House contest, assuming we see an opening in the latter situation, will become major political battles, at least as far as the Aug. 18, 2020 Republican primary is concerned.
The focal point centers around at-large Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wilson/Jackson) intention. Should she run for the Senate, as most believe she will, her path to the nomination is likely to be encumbered. Her jumping into the Senate contest will also open Wyoming’s lone House seat for the second time in three election cycles.
In addition to Cheney, a former at-large US representative and ex-state treasurer is reported to be testing the waters for the Senate seat. Additionally, a two-term former governor is looming large on the political horizon.
Cynthia Lummis (R) served in the House for four terms after her original election in 2008 and did not seek re-election in 2016. Lummis averaged 64.8 percent in her four elections, and 68.8 percent in three re-elections as the incumbent. She served eight years as state treasurer, in addition to a combined 14 years in the Wyoming House and Senate. The former congresswoman is reportedly making calls to assess her chances and if she decides to enter the open Senate contest, we could see she and Cheney squaring off for the GOP nomination.
Billionaire Foster Friess, who finished a relatively close second in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary, is also being mentioned as a potential candidate. While not committing to the race, Friess has also not ruled out running.
Third-place gubernatorial finisher Harriet Hageman, who posted a respectable 21.5 percent against now-Gov. Mark Gordon’s 33 percent and Friess’ 25.3 percent, is another potential force in a Republican Senate primary.
Ex-governor Matt Mead (R) left office in January after serving two terms. Though his name has not been mentioned in a particularly prominent fashion when discussing replacing Sen. Enzi, he would clearly be a force if he decided to become a candidate. The former state chief executive has yet to make a definitive public statement reflecting his interest, but there are indications he is looking at the race.
Rep. Cheney was originally elected in 2016, succeeding Lummis after announcing a Republican primary challenge to Sen. Enzi in 2014 before withdrawing. She defeated eight opponents in the House GOP primary, scoring 40 percent of the vote, and has since notched 62 and 64 percent general election victories in 2016 and ’18 respectively. She is receiving pressure from some quarters to stay in the House, under the reasoning that she could be a viable speaker candidate should the GOP regain the House majority in near future elections.
Should Cheney vacate the House seat, we will see a hotly contested open-seat Republican primary next year. Several state legislators are already being mentioned as candidates, with some taking some preliminary steps to prepare for the statewide race.
Potential contestants include state Sens. Tara Nethercott (R-Laramie) and Affie Ellis (R-Laramie) along with state Reps. Tyler Lindholm (R-Crook/Weston) and Cyrus Western (R-Sheridan). It is unlikely that any of the individuals mentioned as potential Senate candidates will opt to run for the open House seat should Rep. Cheney vacate.
All of the succession action for both seats will take place in the August Republican primary, as Democrats are not expected to be competitive here in a presidential election year.