By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Nathan Winters says he won’t give in to the pressure. He isn’t going to run for Secretary of State.
A few key Wyoming legislators have expressed dissatisfaction with the results of the Republican primary election won by State Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, citing Gray’s lack of candor in the Legislature and his perceived lack of trust in the security of the state’s elections.
“I believe strongly that the Republican Party must unite around the shared principles of historic conservatism especially at this time in our nation’s history,” Winters said in Cowboy State Daily op-ed Thursday. “It is for this reason that I am calling for all Republicans to unite around our Republican nominee, Chuck Gray, and for that matter, the entire Republican ticket, following the primary.”
Winters, executive director of Family Policy of Alliance, was recruited by State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, and others to run for Secretary of State as Independent against Gray. Although Winters and Case met last weekend and discussed the possibility of Winters running, Winters said he never expressed an interest in doing so.
Case still initiated a short-lived campaign after this meeting to “draft” Winters for the job and start obtaining signatures in support of his candidacy, without Winters’ prior consent.
Case said he was informed by the Secretary of State’s Office late Tuesday afternoon that he is not allowed to collect signatures before a candidate gives their approval.
Although Winters served as a Republican in the Legislature for five years, he would have had to run as Independent to participate in the general election
“Please know, if it ever becomes God’s will for me to step back into elective office, I will never run as anything less than a proud Republican,” Winters wrote. “I am a Republican because I have spent my life in the study of the time-tested principles of conservatism. The foundation of the Republican party is deeply rooted in those great principles, and we must rally around those truths and stand together so that we can pass on our freedoms to the next generation.”
Winters said he found out about Case’s effort through “news sources” and that he received an “extraordinary number of phone calls” from people trying to get him to run.
“I spoke with the authors of the petition and expressed that even if the required number of signatures were gathered, I would not run against the Party’s nominee and split a Party I love so dearly,” he wrote.
Gray won the Republican primary last week over leading challenger State Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne. He received around 75,000 votes, nearly 13,000 more votes than Nethercott received.
Case said he hasn’t given up in recruiting a candidate to run against Gray but considers the effort a “Hail Mary” attempt at this point. To get an Independent on the ballot for the general election, a candidate must give their consent and receive 5,418 elector signatures in support of their campaign by the end of the day on Monday.
Rebekah Fitzgerald, a Cheyenne political consultant, is also working to find a candidate to run against Gray, but said the current political environment and climate is “a difficult one” for recruiting a candidate with less than three months to go before the general election.
She, like Case, said she isn’t looking for a traditional, centrist-style Independent to run against Gray, but rather, a conservative.
“We’re looking for someone who can do the work of the Secretary of State’s office,” she said.
Fitzgerald said, “actions speak louder than words” and that she has never seen a Wyoming campaign “as brazen about spreading lies” as the campaign Gray ran.
During his campaign, Gray released literature, claiming that Nethercott was being sued for defamation and under investigation for campaign finance violations. There was no evidence found for either claim.
Nethercott criticized the source of Gray’s 2021 U.S. House campaign funding. Despite making less than $20,000 a year, Gray made a $300,000 donation to his own campaign. He said an inheritance from his late grandfather was the source of these funds, but he never declared the assets in his Federal Election Commission filing.
His father, Jan Charles Gray, donated $500,000 directly to his son’s Secretary of State campaign.
Although Fitzgerald said she isn’t optimistic about finding a candidate, she is motivated by the fact that more than 60,000 voters supported Nethercott, while another 28,000 either supported fellow challenger Mark Armstrong or didn’t vote in the race.
“We’re allowing voters to continue to express their preference,” she said. “Sixty-thousand voters don’t think Gray is the best fit.”