By Jim EllisMay 7, 2019 — Four-term Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi (R), 75, announced from the Gillette City Hall building Saturday that he would not seek re-election next year and will end his career as the third longest-serving senator in state history.
In addition to what will be a 24-year tenure in Washington, Enzi has served in elected office in all but four years beginning in 1975. He was elected Mayor of Gillette in 1974, then to the state House of Representatives in 1986, the state Senate in 1991, and finally to the US Senate in 1996.
Sen. Enzi becomes the fourth in-cycle senator to announce his retirement, joining Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and Tom Udall (D-NM). Wyoming, being one of the strongest Republican states in the country and even more so in a presidential election year, is heavily favored to remain in the GOP column.
Most of the succession speculation centers around at-large Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wilson), the House Republican Conference chair and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Former Gov. Matt Mead (R), who just left office in January since Wyoming limits its governors to two consecutive terms, would obviously be another strong candidate if he were to run.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Barlow (R) is being prominently mentioned either as a US Senate candidate or for the open at-large House seat should Rep. Cheney declare her Senate candidacy. Republicans also control the secretary of state, state treasurer, and state auditor positions, so any of those office holders would be formidable Senate or open House seat candidates.
Enzi won his first Senate general election in 1996 with 54 percent of the vote. He then averaged 73.6 percent in his three re-elections. For a time, controversy arose in the 2014 Republican primary when Cheney originally announced that she would oppose him for re-nomination.
Because Cheney was living in Virginia when she announced her intention to run in Wyoming, the campaign got off to a poor start, and her opposition of a popular Republican incumbent put the GOP leadership both nationally and in Wyoming in a difficult position.
In the end, she withdrew from the primary race, settled in the state, and two years later won the at-large House seat when then-Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R) unexpectedly retired, which provided Cheney with an opening. She won a nine-candidate Republican primary with 40 percent of the vote, and then scored 62 and 64 percent victories in the 2016 and 2018 general elections.
Democrats will field candidates, but they will start in a severe underdog position. Gubernatorial nominee for 2018, Mary Throne, and frequent federal candidate Gary Trauner, a former Teton County School Board chairman, are the most prominent Democratic names being mentioned in the early going.
The major electoral action will occur in the late August 2020 Republican primary, but with candidate filing not even until June of next year, much time obviously remains for this new open seat race to solidify.