CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Liz Cheney's abandoned effort to unseat Sen. Mike Enzi has left him sitting pretty financially: The estimated $1.8 million he has on hand following her 25-week campaign is more than three times what he's had available at this point in any of his previous campaigns.
Enzi's war chest, stuffed full by massive fundraising last year, will be a formidable challenge for any Democrat who steps up against him. But Robin Van Ausdall, executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party, said a Democrat is preparing to do just that in the weeks ahead.
Who that will be remains unknown. Van Ausdall dropped no hints, and there's been no widespread speculation. She didn't express lofty hopes, though. Beating a popular Republican incumbent in Wyoming takes practically an act of God, she said.
Playing multimillion-dollar catch-up — assuming the Democrat doesn't have a large personal fortune to spend — makes for even slimmer odds than that.
"One of the things we were most concerned about in a primary like the one with Cheney-Enzi was it was going to make the cost of entry into that race prohibitive for a Democrat," Van Ausdall said.
Wyoming hasn't had a Democratic congressman since 1979 or a Democratic U.S. senator since 1977. The measure of success for Democrats in this race, Van Ausdall said, could be just to meet as many voters possible, make the case for the party's values and "move the needle a bit" to boost Democratic voter registration above 30 percent.
Democratic registration in Wyoming is 21 percent, down from 26 percent in 2009.
Democrats aren't the only ones taking stock after the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney announced two weeks ago that family health issues — one of her daughters has Type 1 diabetes — led her to give up the campaign she launched in July.
Many Republicans are relieved there will be no barrage of negative Cheney-Enzi ads to exacerbate state party infighting.
"We're all breathing a collective sigh of relief," said Bill Novotny, a member of the Republican State Executive Committee.
Several months before Cheney announced her campaign, many Republicans were questioning a move by the mostly Republican Legislature and Republican Gov. Matt Mead to strip most powers from Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill. Hill is now being investigated for possible misuse of federal funds, an accusation she denies, and is running for governor.
Outright losers with Cheney's departure include newspapers, and television and radio stations that won't get the ad buys that would have accompanied a testy Cheney-Enzi fight before the Republican primary in August.
"I definitely think it's fair to say there's a lot of station managers, whether they're television or radio, who are kind of saying 'bah humbug' and were looking forward to record ad sales with a highly contested primary," said Novotny, who managed Republican Gov. Matt Mead's successful 2010 campaign.
That might be just as well for many who would've been exposed to those TV ads. Saturating the airwaves in rural Wyoming requires broadcasting from major markets such as Denver and Salt Lake City. A lot of non-Wyoming residents stood to be innocent bystanders to broadcast vitriol.
Not that Enzi won't go ahead and buy broadcast ads regardless of the strength of his opponent. Sen. John Barrasso, a rising star nationally in the Republican Party, spent just shy of $2 million on his 2012 campaign even though his Democratic opponent, Albany County Commissioner Tim Chesnut, only spent about $1,000.
Barrasso spent almost that much just on coffee mugs and lip balms adorned with his name, Federal Election Commission records show.
Likewise, Enzi plans to push ahead with upcoming fundraisers in Casper, Cheyenne, Cody and Sheridan, campaign spokeswoman Kristen Walker said.
"He's continuing to fund raise aggressively," Walker said.
Enzi's $1.8 million in available cash is Walker's estimate; year-end campaign finance reports aren't due for a couple weeks. He had $1.2 million in the bank at the end of September.
Enzi has served almost three full terms and had about $522,000 at this point six years ago, his previous record entering an election year.
Figures like that make it tough to recruit people to challenge Wyoming's congressional delegation, said Van Ausdall.
"You're going to have to raise $1.5 to $2 million to be competitive," she said. "Any rational person is going to look at that and say that's more than I want to do."
Enzi also got quite the running start. He announced his campaign July 16, the same day Cheney did. In 2008, he didn't announce his campaign until April 26, ending months of speculation — which turned out to be true — that he was pondering not seeking re-election because he had been passed over, for a second time, for a seat on the Senate Finance Committee.
Cheney had $795,000 at the end of September. She did not return a message seeking an updated figure and her plans for the campaign money.
Federal rules prohibit personal use of campaign funds. A defunct campaign's funds may be given to IRS-recognized charities. They also may go to other candidates and political action committees in amounts that don't exceed the usual FEC contribution limits.