Liz Cheney, the former vice president’s daughter and Washington political figure who is challenging incumbent Mike Enzi for a Senate seat from her home state of Wyoming, met with reporters Wednesday for the first time as a candidate. She gave several hints about her plan to convince voters that Enzi does not deserve a shot at a fourth term in the Senate.
“I’m running because I believe it is necessary for a new generation of leaders to step up to the plate,” said Cheney, appearing at a hotel in Casper. “I’m running because I know as a mother and as a patriot that we can no longer afford simply to go along to get along.”
That was a not-so-veiled hit at Enzi’s age — he is 69 to Cheney’s 46 — and his reputation for working with Democrats. To emphasize the point, Cheney, after an extensive indictment of the Obama administration, suggested the worst thing a Republican could do is get along with the White House. The president is “working to implant his liberal philosophy so deeply into our body politic that we are all going to be dealing with its effects long after he’s gone from office,” Cheney said. “I don’t believe it has to be this way. I know we can get our nation back on track. Instead of cutting deals with the president’s liberal allies, we should be opposing them every step of the way.”
On another occasion, Cheney said, “We’ve got a president who has laid out an agenda that is directly at odds with where most Wyomingites, where most people across the nation with common sense, know where the country should be going. So I think the key is to know when to compromise and when not to.”
Of course, Enzi has opposed the Obama administration ever since the president took office. So Cheney’s problem will be in credibly portraying him as an Obama accomodationist. In 2012, Enzi received a 92 percent rating from the American Conservative Union — equal to Tom Coburn and higher than Jeff Sessions and Enzi’s Wyoming colleague John Barrasso. In 2010, Enzi had a 96 percent ACU rating — equal to Jon Kyl, James Inhofe, Pat Roberts, and Mitch McConnell.
Still, Cheney’s intention seems to be to portray Enzi as a man too willing to cooperate with Democrats. And even though there is little evidence of that, Cheney might score some points by arguing that she would be even tougher on the president than Enzi. And despite the initial negative reaction Cheney has received after announcing her run — Wyoming pols and conservative Republicans around the country have suggested she has made a bad choice — it is possible the tactic might work.
In email exchanges Wednesday, two conservative strategists who have been involved in bitter primary fights suggested that Cheney has a tough but doable job ahead of her. “It’s a well-known name with an unknown agenda vs. a mediocre right-leaning senator who’s been virtually invisible,” said one strategist. “But conservatives should be cheering for any primary of sitting Republicans. It forces incumbents to make their case to the people. No one is owed a free ride to reelection.”
“If she runs on a conservative platform and speaks out against the GOP establishment, she could earn a lot of support,” said the second strategist. “We welcome primary challengers because we believe these intra-party debates are healthy and make the party stronger. Nobody is entitled to office so every senator should be prepared to make their case to Republican voters.”
The question is whether Cheney, who has never run for office before, can do that. No one knows what skills she has as a politician. And more importantly, no one knows what her positions are on the large number of issues a Senate candidate is called on to discuss. “If she just runs as a younger version of her opponent and doesn’t offer voters anything different on the issues, then conservatives won’t get excited,” said the first strategist. “We don’t know her true policy convictions yet,” said the second strategist. “If she proves to be a rock solid conservative willing to fight the establishment in Washington, this will be an exciting race for conservatives across the nation. But right now, that’s a big IF.”