POLITICS: Campaigns

By challenging Mike Enzi, Liz Cheney embraces political risk her father avoided

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Beltway Confidential,Charlie Spiering,Senate,Wyoming,Campaigns,Analysis,Liz Cheney,Mike Enzi

Can Liz Cheney win? The daughter of the famous vice president from Wyoming announced a primary challenge to Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., shaking up the polite establishment of Wyoming politics.

In many ways, Cheney is following her father’s path to Congress, but she is also choosing to embrace the political risks that Dick Cheney avoided.

A White House chief of staff for President Ford, Cheney moved back to Wyoming after Ford lost against Carter in the 1976 presidential election. Cheney considered running for an open Senate seat vacated by Sen. Cliff Hansen but was cautioned by a friend in Wyoming politics that the popular Al Simpson would win.

Cheney was well aware of his political weakness — he hadn’t lived in Wyoming for 12 years and hadn’t voted in the state since 1964. But after 10-year veteran Rep. Teno Roncalio, D-Wyo., announced his retirement, Cheney ran and won a close three-way Republican primary.

So why is Liz Cheney embracing these political risks? Perhaps she thinks her father’s political ties to the state are strong enough to help her beat an incumbent. Family ties, however, only go so far in Wyoming, as demonstrated by the political career of Simpson’s son, Colin.

Colin Simpson enjoyed the endorsement and political ties of his father while serving in the Wyoming state legislature — but failed to win a bid for a U.S. Senate seat, as well as a bid for Wyoming Governor.

Challenging a sitting senior senator in Wyoming is an unconventional move. Sen. Craig Thomas served 12 years before dying in office, Sen. Alan Simpson served 18 years before retiring. Enzi has served 16 years and is seeking another six.

“There’s a great history of intra-party decorum in Wyoming, especially when it comes to these higher-profile offices, and certainly that decorum has been broken here,” Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., told reporters after Cheney’s announcement. “I think it’s problematic. I think it’s bad form.”

Lummis was not pleased by Cheney’s challenge. Yesterday, she spent time describing Cheney as a “show horse,” alluding to her status as a carpetbagger, and criticizing her for failing to call Enzi before launching her challenge.

Lummis’ reaction is not surprising, as she considered herself a candidate in line to succeed Enzi — should he retire. As Wyoming's lone representative in the House, Lummis would have easily had the edge over Cheney in a Republican primary.

Perhaps Cheney has broken Wyoming political tradition for good reasons — she might think she has a better shot at beating Enzi in a primary than she does in a primary against Lummis.

Cheney might have been safer, however, seeking the Wyoming house seat vacated by Lummis, should she have won an election to succeed Enzi.

But Enzi’s decision to run for re-election has put a lot of political hopes on hold. Cheney is obviously too impatient to wait six more years for the Wyoming political landscape to shift.

Should Cheney mount a successful challenge to Enzi, the comfortable seniority enjoyed by Wyoming politicians will be disrupted, throwing the the state into a more volatile political environment.

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