By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus
Never in Wyoming history have we seen an election like the GOP primary of 2022. These three hotly-contested races are a fight for the soul of the Republican party.
Although it is called the Republican primary, it is easy to predict that 15,000-plus Democrats and Independents will have a big effect on who wins the three most contested primary races.
The 2020 presidential election saw 73,491 Wyomingites vote for Joe Biden. Let’s assume most were Democrats and Independents.
If just 20 percent of these changed registration on primary election day, it would add about 15,000 votes to the final results.
Could these crossover voters tilt the U. S. Representative race to incumbent Liz Cheney over challenger Harriet Hageman?
Also, these voters may make what should be a close race between Chuck Gray and Tara Nethercott for Secretary of State into an easy win for Nethercott.
Plus, these 15,000 “bonus” voters could very well propel Megan Degenfelder to a comfortable win over current appointed State School Supt. Brian Schroeder.
Never In Wyoming History
Nobody in Wyoming has ever seen a campaign like this one where millions of dollars are being spent by the Cheney campaign to convince Democrats and Independents to vote for her. Her war chest is, by far, the biggest in state history. The Cheney campaign is spending boatloads of money trying to convince one Democrat or Independent voter at a time to get them to switch.
How hard is it to get 15,000 extra votes this way? It is very costly. I think my estimate of 15,000 might be quite low.
This election is just crazy different from just about every other statewide election in our history. And the whole world is watching. I had phone calls from friends in Montana, Iowa, and Ohio asking me about the Cheney-Hageman race recently. Everybody is watching.
As someone out here in the Cowboy State who has watched elections for 50 years, I see how crossover voters could make a significant difference.
I have a large number of Democrat friends and anti-Donald Trump friends. At least I think they are still friends. Every single one is crossing over and I predict most of them will vote, not just for Cheney, but for Nethercott and Degenfelder, as well.
The Two “Lesser” Primary Races
Besides the all-important U. S. Representative race, let’s talk about the other two interesting contested races. Let’s go over what these candidates are all going through right now with two weeks to go.
The names reel off the tongue: Chuck Gray versus Tara Nethercott and Brian Schroeder versus Megan Degenfelder.
None of these folks have run a statewide political campaign before. If some of them appear exhausted, it is because they really are worn out.
The campaign trail is brutal. And this time of year in Wyoming, it is hot, dusty, and it goes 24 hours.
We are in the final stages of the 2022 Republican primary and most of them are desperate to either hold what they are doing together or frantically trying to find some kind of secret sauce that can propel them to a win.
I have been involved in two statewide campaigns, my own in 2002 and with Foster Friess in 2018, both for a GOP nomination win in the primary. Alas, neither ended up with a victory.
Four years ago, after a vigorous debate in Sheridan, I ran into gubernatorial candidate Sam Galeotos in the hotel elevator about 10 pm that night. “You are up late,” I joked. He pointed at his suitcase and briefcase and said: “We are leaving now for Cheyenne. Have a meeting there tomorrow at 7am.”
Yes, that is how it is.
Earlier at an event in Wheatland during that campaign, Galeotos and Friess were having a conversation. Sam was complaining about how long the drive was from Evanston earlier that day to Wheatland that night. He asked Foster how about you?
“We were in Casper earlier today,” Friess replied. “It took us 11 minutes to fly here.”
Did I mention that it might help if you were a billionaire and owned a $27 million private jet? But I digress.
How Do You Market Yourself?
Today’s candidates must be mystified about how to market themselves. The Wyoming system invariably favors the incumbent because the summer season is a horrible time to campaign. Your expensive ads on primetime TV just do not get seen because people are outside enjoying themselves.
Digital marketing? Millions of dollars are being spent on Google, Facebook, YouTube, and other places in the Liz Cheney-Harriet Hageman campaigns.
Even the lesser campaigns are using digital, which despite all its bells and whistles about targeting, can turn a typical candidate’s mind into mush as he or she contemplates where to spend and where not to spend their limited money.
Although the Chuck Gray-Tara Nethercott Secretary of State race is not getting the publicity that the Cheney-Hageman race is, it is a first-rate war. This is a battle for the heart of the Republican party.
Gray is a proven conservative with a hard edge. He is distrustful of many of the election systems in the country, including Wyoming’s. If elected, he will be in charge of those systems in the Cowboy State. He wants change.
Nethercott, also a conservative but without the hard edge, offers up a different view. She has served on legislative committees that have dealt with Wyoming elections and she disagrees with Gray about their integrity. If elected, it could be assumed that the current election systems would be maintained.
It is easy to agree with Gray that nationally, there were a lot of questions about the 2020 election. But the key is that the states control their individual elections and thus if you have a big Democrat area, those officials will dictate how those elections are run. But here in Wyoming, after watching elections here in Fremont County up close for 50 years, I find the people running the polls to be incredibly honest. To a fault.
Current Supt. of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder, in a short time, has become a darling of the hard right.
But Megan Degenfelder has many years of service working for the previous Supt. Jillian Balow. Megan is the darling of the moderates and will get most of those crossover votes.
In most states, 15,000 votes could be just an afterthought. In Wyoming they may make the difference between winners and losers on Aug. 16.