Bill Sniffin: In Debate’s Wake, We Are Seeing The Art Of Wyoming Politics, 2022 Edition

Bill Sniffin writes: Interestingly, I believe this debate did move the needle, but not by either Cheney or Hageman.

Bill Sniffin

July 01, 20225 min read

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus

As for the debate, here’s my take:

Incumbent Liz Cheney emerged unscathed, her main challenger Harriet Hageman did well, and candidates Anthony Bouchard and Denton Knapp may have gained ground.

That is my reaction to Thursday’s long-anticipated debate among candidates for the U. S. Representative seat from Wyoming.

Cheney has been pilloried across Wyoming because of her strident criticism of former President Donald Trump. Some polls — commissioned by groups backing Hageman — show her trailing badly against Hageman, who has been endorsed by Trump. The former president even came to Wyoming and held a rally in front of 10,000 people in Casper May 28.

But back to the debate.

Cheney, despite offering herself as a big target, easily deflected the very few shots from the others. This was my biggest surprise of the event. And she even launched a few of her own against Hageman.

Hageman was confident. She acted and sounded like she is up for the job. But she chose to build up her own credentials, it appeared, rather than tear down Cheney. She accomplished that well.

Closing statements are critical in such events. Both Cheney and Hageman hit it out of the park. Both were strong.

Did the debate move the needle of the Wyoming voters heading into the Aug. 16 primary?

Interestingly, I believe it did, but not toward either Cheney or Hageman. 

State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, was strong in his convictions and Denton Knapp presented himself as a confident elder statesman. Their performances were better than I expected and this could be bad news for Hageman. Just about every vote either of them gets will come from Hageman, thus reducing her perceived advantage over Cheney. 

Cheney will get her pro-Cheney votes and just about every Democrat vote in the state. It might be enough for her to win, which would have to be called a big upset.

A fifth candidate, Robyn Belinskey of Sheridan, was a non-factor in the debate.

County Commissioner Mike Jones of Lander thought Hageman won the debate: “Harriet Hageman did the best job relating current policies and failures of the Democratic Party under Obama and Biden to the issues we face in Wyoming. Liz pivoted halfway through to speak more about voters’ current concerns but she did not play to her strengths for which she has demonstrated very in-depth knowledge of conservative issues in the past.”

Pat Henderson of Sheridan thought Liz Cheney won: “The truth matters. Cheney asks Harriet Hageman if the last election was stolen? Crickets from Hageman. Fact: No sufficient fraud or evidence that the last presidential election was stolen or manipulated nationally or in our Wyoming. Not an important detail for Hageman? Probably is not, provided she can ride into Washington DC with a red MAGA hat on her head? Sorry the truth does matter.”

My conclusion is this just whets my appetite for more. The state Republicans are talking about doing another debate. No matter who chooses to hold it, I hope they do.

Outside of the debate here are some other observations that need to be made.

We need more joint appearances by the candidates. In Cheney’s defense, this is hard for the incumbent because she is needed back in Washington D. C. bashing Trump on a full-time basis in the national media.

In a statewide campaign, name recognition, money, and a good organization can win elections, but according to many political experts, the candidate who works his or her butt off the most often will prevail in the end.

Shaking everybody’s hand can get tiresome during a campaign, and yet, if you do it right – it is magical. If you do it wrong, well, it can be disastrous.

During my campaigning in the Republican primary 20 years ago, one of the candidates had a tendency to shake your hand and be looking over your shoulder for the next person. Man, does that make people mad. In those instances, that candidate lost more than he gained.

I will never forget two presidents, both of whom were considered great campaigners. I shook Ronald Reagan’s hand at a White House reception and he made me feel like the only person in the room. I shook Bill Clinton’s hand after a speech he gave in Jackson Hole. He looked me in the eye and made me feel special.

Both guys had reputations as master communicators and based on my limited experience with both, I would agree with that assessment.

In Wyoming, I would rank former Govs. Cliff Hansen and Mike Sullivan as two of the best at this skill, although just about everybody else has been great, too. You have to be in a small state like Wyoming.

Cliff’s long-time aide Paul Holtz used to brag about how many names Cliff could list when he worked a room. It was amazing. Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson would refer to his “3,000 closest friends” around Wyoming. And that remark was true – or maybe it was 30,000.

When it comes to campaign styles, up in Buffalo, Jim Hicks writes: “Somehow I believe that the candidate who can project empathy toward voters and a kinder gentler heart is the one who should prevail.”

He also says: “We create the monsters who use lies and exaggerations to create negative campaigns. We reward them with more votes. And as a result, we elect dishonest and mean-spirited public officials at times.”

I expect this 2022 House campaign to get very dirty toward the end. Let’s all take a deep breath and hope this campaign is based on issues and ability, not smears paid for by millions of out-of-state dollars.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.