By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus
Question: Can challenger Harriet Hageman hold off a surging incumbent Liz Cheney here in the dog days of the Wyoming political season?
Not only is this the biggest political question in Wyoming, but this race for Wyoming’s lone Congressional seat offers up one of the biggest political questions in the entire country. All eyes are fixed on the Cowboy State as we watch this battle, whose key player lives 2,000 miles away in a mansion on the Florida coast.
This race is a test to see just how much control former President Donald Trump has over the Republican party, even out here in Flyover Country.
Trump’s feud with Cheney is way beyond personal. He hates her. She has become a national spokesman for every anti-Trumper in the country. When she voted to impeach him, it was a line in the sand. Now it has grown into total war.
As for the race, Hageman is a highly-qualified natural resources lawyer who was hand-picked by Trump to defeat his nemesis Cheney. Hageman has run a good campaign and has worked very hard. While Cheney is back in Washington appearing on national TV slamming Trump, Hageman is criss-crossing the state shaking hands and making friends.
The term “dog days” comes from parts of America that are a lot hotter and a lot more humid than Wyoming. This refers to those scalding-hot August days when dogs go crazy and humans do, too.
Did I just infer that it was not hot here in Wyoming? The mercury hit 107 in Torrington on Monday. Whew! It’s okay, though, out here we call that a “dry” heat. But I digress.
From a political standpoint, it also means a time when you are exhausted and yet, those final four weeks may be the most important four weeks of the campaign. You can’t let up now.
A recent poll shows Hageman ahead by a whopping 22 points, 52 percent to 30 percent. This poll should put the Cheney team into a desperation mode. If you can believe this poll, it may take a miracle or two in the next four weeks for Cheney to retain her seat.
I do not believe the poll. The race is closer than this. Can Cheney still win? Now that is a good question.
In an earlier column I predicted that two other contenders in the House race, Denton Knapp of Gillette and Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne, would pull valuable votes away from Hageman. The poll does not reveal that, but we shall see.
I also predicted some late scandal might erupt which would be capitalized on by the Cheney team. If such a thing is coming, we have not seen any indication of that. One pro-Cheney outfit is running ads implying Hageman worked to help Colorado get Wyoming water. I talked with the promoter of that project, Aaron Million of Fort Collins, and he confirmed that Hageman never worked for them. The ad is dishonest.
And then there are two of the oddest factions of voters who have shown up in this race. And these two will have a big impact.
The first faction is the angry mob known as anti-Cheney voters. It is unusual to have so many people who will vote “against” one candidate rather than “for” another. This race will feature over 10,000 of them. This helps Hageman.
Second faction is made up of anti-Trumpers, who mainly are members of the Democratic Party and Independents. Can you be more of a staunch Democrat in Wyoming than former Gov. Mike Sullivan of Casper or former U.S. Senate candidate Rodger McDaniel of Laramie? Both are now Republicans and both are voting for Cheney.
This equally angry mob of folks will join with Sullivan and McDaniel and register as Republicans so they can vote for Cheney in the GOP primary, Aug. 16. This will benefit Cheney big-time. Every Democrat I know says they are doing this. And they tell me that EVERY other Democrat they know is doing it, too.
Both the Hageman and Cheney campaigns are dealing with a reality that occurs this time of year. It seems the only way to get attention is by attending all the summer events around the state. And folks, Wyoming is a very BIG state. You can be doing a parade in Sheridan at noon and an evening event in Evanston in the same day, for example. Then head to Cheyenne the next morning. An airplane works very well in these cases.
In many ways a candidate’s campaign becomes a reactive effort versus a proactive promotion. It is very hard for you to control your own operation. Events outside of your control are dictating your schedule.
If Hageman really is in the lead, these situations will help her.
I still think this race is Hageman’s to lose but I believe it is much closer than that poll would indicate. If the election were today, I think Hageman would win by less than 10,000 votes. But she would win.