There is a lot at stake for the Democratic Party of Wyoming in the upcoming general election, not only for its candidates, but the future of the party itself.
A poor turnout from Democratic voters in the general election could lead to the Party losing its status as a major political party in Wyoming.
Under Wyoming elections law, major political parties are determined by any political organization whose candidates in a Governor, Secretary of State, or House of Representatives general election race receive 10% or more of the vote. A failure to reach this quota in any of those races will disqualify a party as being major.
The biggest difference between major and minor parties in Wyoming is that minor parties cannot participate in primary elections and can only elect candidates through their convention. This diminishes the ability of the party to elect its best possible candidates and keep a prominent presence at a statewide level.
Low, But Possible Risk
Based on the results of last week’s primary election, Democratic nominee Lynette Grey Bull would have received 3% of the vote in a theoretical head-to-head with Republican nominee Harriet Hageman. When combining all of the Democratic congressional votes against all of the Republican congressional votes, the Democrats did slightly better, taking 4% of the vote.
Democrats believe Grey Bull will likely get more than 3-4% of the vote in the November general election, as this was a trend that also occurred in 2020. In a theoretical head-to-head based on their 2020 primary results, Grey Bull would have earned 15% of the vote against U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney. She ended up earning 24% of the vote in the actual general election vote that took place a few months later.
David Martin, communications coordinator for the Wyoming Democratic Party, said he expects crossover voters to return to the party in the general election and doesn’t believe there is any real danger of it losing its major party status.
Vote counts this month point to Democrats crossing over to vote Republican as a major factor behind the low turnout in the Democratic primary and high turnout in the Republican primary race between Cheney and challenger Harriet Hageman. Many Democrats had said they planned to register as Republicans and vote in the primary for Cheney. Cheney even sent out mailers instructing voters how they could do it.
In Teton County, the Democrats went from having a small majority of registered primary voters in 2020 to far fewer than Republicans this year. In Albany County, Democrats went from having a near majority of primary voters to being greatly outnumbered by registered Republicans.
Wyoming Democratic Party Chair Joe Barbuto said crossover voting “obviously was significant” in the primary, but stressed that Democratic voters can’t be apathetic when it comes to the general election.
“We certainly need people to register back as Democrats,” he said.
Former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and current State House candidate Merav Ben-David has expressed concern about the situation, imploring people on Twitter last week to switch back to voting for the party.
“I don’t think we’re at that point yet (losing status) but I don’t want to get there,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
There were 16,030 fewer voters in this year’s Democratic primary than in 2020, with 7,546 voters participating this year. In the 2020 general election, Grey Bull earned 66,576 votes.
If Hageman retains the 113,025 people who voted for her in the primary, Grey Bull will have to get 12,558 votes, 8,055 more than she received in the primary, for the Democratic Party to continue to be a major party.
The Democratic Party’s power in Wyoming has shrunk over the last few decades, following a national political polarization trend of blue states becoming bluer and red states becoming redder.
Hageman is endorsed by and fully supports the policies of former President Donald Trump, who won Wyoming by a larger margin than any other state.
In other ways, the general election could be a boon for the Democratic Party, with a possible influx of Republican crossover voters, so disenchanted with Trump and leadership in the Republican Party that they vote for a Democrat, Barbuto said.
“I think it’s possible, especially for a Republican voter who thought the 2020 election was legitimate,” said Barbuto. “Someone who is the opposite of an election denier.”
Hageman has echoed Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was rigged.
Cheney has been an ardent critic of Trump over the last two years, voting to impeach him and speaking out against his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. She is a vice chair of the Jan. 6 Committee and has blamed Trump for inciting the Capital riot.
Sara Burlingame, a former Democratic state legislator currently running to get her seat back, said a reverse crossover effect such as this could happen, but also could lead to Republicans voting for a Libertarian candidate. No candidate has said they will run as a Libertarian in any of the statewide races.
“If the Republican Party is your home, your house is on fire right now,” Burlingame said. “It’s more just disaffected voters.”
A total of 49,316 people voted for Cheney last week. If the Democrats can get 68% of that voter base and all of Grey Bull’s 2020 supporters for a total of 100,000 votes, the race between her and Hageman could be competitive. A Wyoming Democratic U.S. House candidate hasn’t received at least 100,000 votes since 2008 when Gary Trauner received 106,758 in his losing campaign against Cynthia Lummis.
The gubernatorial race will present a similar risk of party demotion for the Democrats. Democratic nominee Theresa Livingston received 4,989 votes in the primary. She faces Gov. Mark Gordon in a head-to-head. Based on their primary performances, Livingston would receive 4% of the vote in the general election. When pitting all the Democratic primary candidates against all the Republican candidates, the Democrats would end up with a similar 4% of the vote.
In 2018, Democratic governor candidate Mary Throne received 27% of the vote.
The undervote populace from the primary election could also play a factor in the general elections, but it is unclear in what way. A total of 14,372 people voted but did not cast a vote in the Secretary of State race. This race between State Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, and State Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, was a battle between a Trump-endorsed candidate (Gray) espousing a need for higher election security and another candidate (Nethercott) who said Wyoming’s elections are already secure.