By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
The Wyoming Legislature’s ratio of 90% Republicans to 10% Democrats represents the widest gap in the nation, and Tuesday’s General Election could see the GOP further solidify its super-majority.
But that doesn’t mean Cowboy State Democrats have no chance to retain the nine seats they now have total in the state Senate and House, or even pick up one or two more.
State Legislature Shakeup?
When the polls close on Tuesday, it’s the state legislative races where things will likely be more interesting, where there’s potential for Republicans and Democrats to gain or lose seats.
There are at least 10, and possibly up to 16, races in the Legislature that have a chance of being competitive.
“Wyoming continues to be a conservative state, a Republican state, and I think that will show up on Tuesday,” said Matt Micheli, former chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party.
Campaign finance reports filed this week show Democrats outraised their opponents in six state House races and won the funding battle in six of 12 contested state Senate races. Republicans still dominated spending in both houses.
Although there are a record number of third-party candidates running in this year’s election, none raised or spent significant sums.
Both of the Democrats in the Senate are up for reelection, and there are four Democratic incumbents in the House who face challengers.
“I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say right now, given where Wyoming is politically right now, the goal is to hold onto seats for the time being,” said state Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, who is facing Republican Steve Duerr and Libertarian Amanda Padilla in his bid for a second term. “I don’t think we’re going to flip the House or have huge gains.”
Wasn’t Always This Way
The political landscape in Wyoming wasn’t always as skewed, however. Wyoming had a Democratic governor as recently as 2011.
Gierau said the Democratic Party has drifted to the left since those years, but not as far as the Republican Party has drifted to the right.
“I don’t know if it’s drifted as far as people think we have but the other party has done a better job of telling people we’ve drifted farther,” Gierau said. “We don’t tell our own story as well as we should’ve.”
Gierau describes himself as a more moderate Democrat, something he can’t say for everyone in his party.
“I’m pro-business first. I definitely want all businesses to do well and for businesses to succeed. And I’m for all those social programs Democrats like so much as well,” he said. “Most Democrats know the second part; they just don’t connect with the first part as well.”
He said if the tables were turned and Democrats had as large of a majority as the GOP does now, he would expect the Democrats to have just as much infighting as the Republicans have had of late.
“We would be just as fractured, right down the middle,” he said.
One race lacking an incumbent that could swing for either party is in House District 22 of Teton County, where Republican Andrew Byron is taking on Independent Bob Strobel. This seat is now held by Independent Rep. Jim Roscoe. Byron recently turned down money from the Wyoming Republican Party after clarifying that he is pro-choice on abortion.
Republicans also may have an opportunity in House District 39, where Republican Cody Wylie of Rock Springs is taking on Rep. Marshall Burt, L-Green River.
Democrats are vulnerable in House District 23 of Jackson, where Democrat Liz Storer is taking on Republican Paul Vogelheim in the race for Democratic representative Andy Schwartz’s seat. Vogelheim recently set the all-time spending and raising record for any Legislature candidate in Wyoming history.
Winners Spend More
Republican candidates obliterated their Democratic opponents when it came to raising campaign war chests and spending in statewide races this election season.
Although campaign finances don’t always guarantee election results, it’s often a factor.
According to Open Secrets, a political finance watchdog group, a 20-year study of federal congressional races from 2000-2020 found that candidates who spent more on their election efforts won at least 75% of the time.
There are four candidates running for U.S. House in the general election: Republican Harriet Hageman, Democrat Lynette Grey Bull, Libertarian Richard Brubaker and Constitution Party candidate Marissa Selvig.
Hageman beat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney by 38% of the vote in the Republican primary. In total, Hageman has raised $5.4 million since her campaign started and has spent $4.9 million.
Hageman is one of the rare outliers when it comes to campaign finances, as Cheney raised and spent more than twice as much during the primary campaign and still lost by a wide margin.
Grey Bull beat her opponent by 37% of the vote in the Democratic Primary but has only raised $78,887 and spent $66,642 during her campaign.
If she can pull a sizable number of the 49,339 people who voted for Cheney, it will likely be the best performance of a Democrat congressional candidate in Wyoming since 2008.
There are only two contested state-level races in the general election.
In the race for governor, Democrat Theresa Livingston is taking on Gov. Mark Gordon and Libertarian Jared Baldes, who has claimed he has neither spent nor received a cent toward his campaign. Livingston hasn’t done much better, raising $3,330 over the course of the campaign and spending $1,685.
Livingston doesn’t have an active campaign Facebook page and hasn’t updated her campaign website in a few months.
If all these state-level races follow the “red tsunami” many Republicans have been predicting nationwide for the midterm elections, Republicans are likely to increase their dominance in the Wyoming Legislature.