By Bill Sniffin, publisher
After the primary election Tuesday, it sure looks like the conservatives won the soul of Wyoming’s Republican Party.
During the primary campaign, it was obvious the Cowboy State seemed to be moving toward a three-party system, with Democrats, far-right conservative Republicans, and Republicans, who are labeled moderate or RINO (Republican in Name Only) by their opponents.
If you are keeping score, it sure appeared to be a wonderful night for the conservative Republicans. The primary election battlefield was littered with the carcasses of stalwart candidates who had been labeled moderate.
In Wyoming, what the heck does moderate mean? After Tuesday, it appears that if you show that you might consider raising any kind of tax, then you are a moderate. Based on these results, it also appears that if you do not sign a pledge for Wyoming gun owners, you could face stiff opposition.
And based on these results, it would appear that the next session of the Legislature could be a truly cantankerous battle between pragmatic moderates who might consider anything to balance the budget versus staunch conservatives who prefer cutting government programs as their way to balance the state budget. And based on Tuesday’s results, it would appear many of Wyoming’s voters support that position.
Let’s look at some of the results:
Wyoming’s State Senate became more conservative as a result of contested elections in Tuesday’s Wyoming primary election.
State senate races in Cheyenne, Gillette, Riverton, and Cody generated much of the excitement,
In Campbell County, Incumbent Sen. Michael Von Flatern lost big to Troy McKeown, 1,507 to 626. Von Flatern had literally been in the sights of the Wyoming Gun Owners, who campaigned vigorously against him. Von Flatern was viewed as a moderate. A last-minute endorsement by retiring U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi could not save him.
In Laramie County, Sen. Anthony Bouchard held on to his seat, despite heavy opposition from Erin Johnson. Bouchard’s margin of victory of 2,064 to 1,903 was typically close, as have been almost all of Bouchard’s races. This result was a surprise to many observers as moderate Wyoming politicians like Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) openly campaigned against Bouchard.
In Fremont County, State Rep. Tim Salazar moved up to win retiring State Sen. Eli Bebout’s seat with a 2,882 to 1,738 win over businessman Mike Bailey. Bebout had been in the legislature for decades and was a former Speaker of the House and President of the Senate.
In Park County, Hank Coe was retiring after 31 years in the legislature. County Commissioner Tim French defeated Rep. David Northrup, 2,174 to 1,442. Stefanie Bell got 1,205 votes. A lot of outside money went into this race. French was considered by many to be the most conservative of the candidates.
In the House, the biggest upset occurred in District One in Crook and Weston Counties where Chip Neiman defeated Majority Whip Tyler Lindholm, 1,812 to 1,593. Neiman was considered the conservative in this race.
In Park County, a mud-slinging campaign saw incumbent Sandy Newsome defeat Nina Webber, 1,237 to 868. It was a hard-fought battle. Webber was considered the conservative with Newsome seen as a moderate.
In somewhat of an upset, Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr finished third in the primary and will not compete in the general election for a second term. Patrick Collins 8,451 and Rick Coppinger, 2,959, finished first and second.
In another upset of a kind, a one-half cent sales tax to support economic development won in Fremont County by a vote of 5,132 to 5,001. With the state economy in the toilet, observers thought this tax would never pass. The funds would be used for job development, airport funding, and local shuttle buses.
The two biggest guns running were former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis easily winning the primary for U, S. Senate to replace retiring Mike Enzi and Incumbent U. S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who easily won her primary election.
When the smoke cleared, it clearly was a good night for the most conservative of Wyoming’s Republicans. Earlier this year they dominated the GOP state convention and pretty much controlled the state platform, too.
As for the moderates, it might be back to the drawing board for them. They took a pretty good licking Tuesday, Aug. 18.
Editor’s note: Anthony Bouchard’s votes were updated to include the numbers for Goshen County at 11:15 a.m. on Aug. 19.