Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily

While Wyoming’s Red Sea Became Redder, Its Blue Island (Teton County) Got Bluer

in elections/News/politics

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

Wyoming’s elections on Tuesday followed a decades-long national trend of political polarization. A key feature of the trend is already conservative areas becoming more red and progressive area turning more blue.

“We did good in Wyoming; nationally, not as much,” said state Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, vice president of the Wyoming Senate, about how Republicans fared overall in the mid-term elections.

A Pair Of Dem Strongholds

In Teton County, by far the most prevalent base of Democratic voters in Wyoming, people cast twice as many votes for U.S. House Democratic challenger Lynnette Grey Bull than Republican nominee Harriet Hageman. This ran opposite to the statewide vote in the race, where Hageman received nearly three times as many votes.

Teton County voters also elected a nearly all-blue county commission, losing its one Republican commission seat and gaining a Democratic newcomer. One former Democratic commissioner, Greg Epstein, switched his affiliation to Independent during his commission term.  

There were a few exceptions to blue dominance in Teton, as the race between winning Democratic House candidate Liz Storer and Republican Paul Vogelheim was decided by 163 votes. Also, House Republican candidate Andrew Byron beat Independent challenger Bob Strobel in a district that partly encompasses Teton. This seat is now held by state Rep. Jim Roscoe, I-Wilson.

Laramie was another area of Democratic support that experienced continuing success. Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie, held her house seat, winning with a larger margin than in 2020. Democrat candidate Ken Chestek was able to easily retain the seat held by retiring representative Cathy Connolly and Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, ran unopposed in both the primary and general elections. Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, also easily beat his Republican opponent, Diana Seabeck.

Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, was the lone exception, easily holding off Democratic challenger Merav Ben-David in his rural Laramie district. 

None of the highly conservative candidates running for the Albany County School District 1 board were elected.

The rest of Wyoming, however, was a sea of slightly deepening red. 

Seeing Red

Republicans gained four seats in the Wyoming Legislature while Democrats lost two of its nine seats.

Rep. Andi LeBeau, D-Ethete, the only Democrat legislator outside of Albany and Teton counties, lost her reelection bid. The three Democrats running in statewide races were not competitive, and Democrats weren’t competitive in any Legislature races outside of Teton, Albany and Laramie counties.

Cheyenne Democrats were singing the blues election night as they failed to pick up any seats for the second election in a row, despite matching or beating most of their Republican opponents for campaign fundraising.

Rising Tide Of The Red Sea

Wyoming has slowly become more Republican over the last 20 years. As recently as 2011, there was a Democratic governor in office, and in the 1970s, Wyoming was simultaneously represented by Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate.

America’s urban areas have become Democratic over the last few decades, while rural areas – making up the vast majority of Wyoming – have become more Republican. Suburban areas, which Wyoming mostly lacks, are often political battlegrounds. 

Founding father Thomas Jefferson was highly critical of cities, expressing a desire for America to be a nation of small family farms. He referred to cities as “pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man,” and warned that with too many cities, America would have the same corruption problems as he saw in Europe.

Dems Lose Touch

Jim Byrd, a former Democratic state legislator from Cheyenne, said members of his party in Wyoming have lost sight of local issues, focusing more on national talking points espoused by the Democratic National Committee.

“The Democrats keep embracing issues that people in Wyoming don’t care about,” Byrd said. “They’re more concerned about what is being said through these national media channels.”

The prevalence of partisan cable television and internet news has made it easy for modern audiences to avoid perspectives that disagree with their pre-held convictions on politics. Many media sources on both sides of the political aisle vilify the party that runs opposite to their bias. 

During the Wyoming Democratic Party’s state convention in June, the party addressed a smattering of local and national issues. The party passed resolutions calling for abolishing the electoral college, supporting “common sense” gun laws, full legalization of marijuana, abolishment of super PACs, federal management of all federal lands, creation of a statewide recycling program and freedom of reproductive choice.

Byrd said his party has also not been bold enough to counter the Republican Party’s portrayal of Democrats and is failing to make strong enough connections with constituents when campaigning. He said the party can solve these issues by developing a deeper field of candidates at all levels.

“The Democrats have never developed a bench,” he said. “It’s those local offices you really have to be tuned in with the people living there. Make people find out you’re a living, breathing person and not a person with horns on.”

Political Migrants

Hicks said he only expects political polarization to continue nationally and in the Cowboy State, with the bulk of voters already represented by the far fringes of their respective parties.

With the influx of remote working opportunities unlikely to wane, there has never been a time in modern history where it has been so easy to live wherever one wants. This flexibility and the COVID-19 pandemic led to unprecedented migrations of people moving to areas that align with their political beliefs.

“You’re seeing people migrate for political reasons; tribalism is alive and well,” Hicks said.

Florida, a true swing state as recently as 2016, reelected staunchly conservative Gov. Ron DeSantis by 19% of the vote Tuesday.

“You’re seeing all these refugees who moved down there from the Northeast,” Hicks said.

In Wyoming, most transplants have been Republican in recent years who see the state as a land of unwavering conservatism. In recent years, many have run for political offices, accusing their Republican opponents, often longtime residents, of not being conservative enough.

This year’s primary elections magnified the fissures within the state GOP. The more moderate and conservative wings of the party both supported Independent and write-in candidates in the general election, after their preferred candidates lost in the primary. Not one of these write-ins won in the general election.

“The people hard-slapped that down,” Hicks said. “Some of these county parties are vilifying the will of the people.”

Hicks said he views divisive factionalism as damaging for the Republican Party, just as it has been for the Democratic Party in other parts of the country.

“It’s extremely destructive to have,” he said. “The majority of people are drifting toward the center and it’s the polar extremes that are driving that.”

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