Wyo was at center of the political universe — briefly

Politically these past six months, we were watching the World Series, March Madness, and the Super Bowl all wrapped up into one Wyoming campaign.

This GOP primary election between incumbent Liz Cheney and challenger Harriet Hageman has been called the battle for the soul of the Wyoming Republican Party, which is not correct. This election is unique in its own right.

These two valiant women, who are former allies, found themselves in a punchbowl being watched by political observers and campaign junkies from around the world. 

I have been covering elections in Wyoming for over 50 years and have never seen one like this. I also have been predicting winners and losers for decades. This year it has been tough predicting what is going to happen.

All along, I have written here that this race was Harriet Hageman’s to lose. A win was always in the bag for her as long as some gaffe or scandal did not derail her campaign.

Readers need to know that in most instances this column is being read after the election. And it is being written BEFORE the election.

After crunching my estimated numbers of probable voters, there was a possible path where Liz could win this. What a surprise!

If Liz did pull off the upset of the decade, it would have been because of four factors:

1) Too much voter apathy among traditional Republicans who assume Hageman will win easily. Harriet’s overall vote total could be lower than expected among traditional Republican voters because of the time of year and the fact it is not a presidential election.

2) Cheney might hold on to a percentage of her traditional voters. Some 75,183 Republicans voted for her in 2018 and 78,870 voted for her in 2020. The power of incumbency came into play.

3) And of course, there are the so-called RINO’s. These are long-time registered “Republicans In Name Only” who are naturally moderate or who dislike former president Donald Trump. They would vote for Cheney in this proxy battle between Cheney and Trump.

4) And the big one would have been the numbers of cross-over voters from Democrat and Independent ranks to vote in the Republican primary. This number could be over 20,000, which is huge when you figure the winner in this race might barely get 60,000 votes.

For months, I had been ready to predict a Hageman win by at least 10,000 votes. That result still makes the most sense to me. But, after crunching the numbers, up comes a much tighter outcome.

Despite world-wide interest, I predicted voting totals will be up a little from 2018 when 116,000 voters went to the polls and from 2020 when 110,000 voted.

New York Times political writer Jonathan Martin has been traveling around Wyoming. He recently wrote about Liz Cheney: “The 56-year-old daughter of a politician has become arguably the most consequential rank-and-file member of Congress in modern times. Few others have so aggressively used the levers of the office to seek to reroute the course of American politics — but, in doing so, she has effectively sacrificed her own future in the institution she grew up to revere.”

This was written under the headline: “Liz Cheney is ready to lose. But she is not ready to quit.”

David Smith, political correspondent of The Guardian, of London, which has the largest digital base in the world, has spent the last few weeks in Wyoming covering the race. Here are some of his comments:

“In Wyoming, home to just 581,348 people, voters expect a certain level of intimacy with politics. Mike Sullivan, the state’s former governor, described it as ‘a small town with unusually long streets’, and locals say that anyone who suffers a flat tire never has to wait long for a helping hand.

“In Cheyenne members of the public can wander freely about the state capitol building with a lack of security restrictions that evokes an earlier time. The house of representatives chamber nods to the state’s origins with paintings representing “cattlemen,” “homesteaders,” “stage coach” and “trappers.”

“Wyoming has long had a way-out-west independent streak: in 1869 it became the first territory or state to grant women the right to vote and, in 1925, elected America’s first female governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross. Known as both the Equality State and Cowboy State, in the 1990s it welcomed visitors with signs that proclaimed: Like no place on earth.

“Even today it can feel remote from national trends. It has no major professional sports team and, since 1983, no scheduled rail service. The state museum in Cheyenne notes that ‘for centuries, Wyoming was a place to journey through rather than a destination … the ‘Highway of the West.’

“But in 2020 this was the state where Trump scored his biggest margin of victory, 43 percentage points. In downtown Cheyenne, the Republican party office window displays a prominent sign: “Election integrity.”

Inside, in uneasy coexistence, the wall features portraits of former presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Trump as well as a commemorative photo of Bush and Cheney’s inauguration in 2001.

Politics is fun to watch and pretty enjoyable most of the time. The primary of 2022 in Wyoming has been a doozy. It is one for the ages.