Will Freedom Caucus Primary Wins In Idaho & South Dakota Spill Over To Wyoming?

Although the Freedom Caucus picked up victories in both Idaho and South Dakota, political pundits in Wyoming disagree over the significance. Some believe it's an inevitable trend while others aren't so sure.

Leo Wolfson

June 26, 20245 min read

The Wyoming House meets during the 2024 legislative session at the state Capitol in Cheyenne.
The Wyoming House meets during the 2024 legislative session at the state Capitol in Cheyenne. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

If the results of Republican primary elections in Idaho and South Dakota are any predictor, the upcoming Republican Primary could be a big win for the Wyoming Freedom Caucus.

Like Wyoming, these two border states are overwhelmingly Republican, with the result of most races determined on primary election night.

Earlier this month in Idaho, members of the highly conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation picked up eight seats in that state’s legislature, according to the group.

In South Dakota, 14 incumbent Republican legislators lost, including lawmakers who had spent 26 and 14 years in the body respectively.

According to South Dakota Searchlight, the president of the South Dakota Freedom Caucus, who believes the South Dakota Republican Party is being run by politicians not as conservative as the party’s base of support, considered the night an election victory. This viewpoint also aligns with the general perspective of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus members and their thoughts about the majority of Republicans in the Wyoming House.

Similar Or Not?

Aside from Wyoming, South Dakota and Idaho are some of the most politically red states in the country. Both states have enacted similar legislation banning transgender care for minors and most forms of abortion.

Searchlight reports that many successful candidates were able to capitalize on opposition to a carbon dioxide pipeline transport project being proposed in the state. Gov. Mark Gordon has supported similar carbon capture-type efforts in Wyoming, which have drawn a cool response from most members of the Freedom Caucus.

Jack Speight, a former Wyoming Republican Party chairman and chief of staff for former Gov. Stan Hathaway, believes the Wyoming primary will be a boon for the Freedom Caucus, but doesn’t believe it’s because Wyoming follows in lockstep with Idaho or South Dakota politically. He sees the Cowboy State more as marching to the beat of its own drummer.

Speight believes a swing to the Freedom Caucus wing may be more emblematic of a local trend within the Wyoming Republican Party.

“I’m afraid that may be the future of Wyoming,” he said. “Extremists are taking up extreme issues and policies and that is not the direction I would like to see the state of Wyoming go.”

Speight said he believes these policies will be counterproductive with keeping young adults in Wyoming.

Matt Micheli, a more recent former state GOP chair, disagrees with Speight and believes the jury is still out when it comes to the upcoming election. Micheli said he has faith that Wyoming may remain a last bastion for less partisan political decision-making among voters. He mentioned how most Wyoming lawmakers are usually easy to get a hold of and talk with at various local events about their platform.

“Wyoming is one of the last places or the last place on Earth where you get to know your elected officials personally,” Micheli said.

Green River attorney Lenore Perry, who supported U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman’s 2022 campaign, believes Freedom Caucus candidates are more closely adhering to the tenets of the U.S. Constitution with their lawmaking.

“There are a few Constitution-minded individualists here,” she said. “Whether the constitutional originalists will prevail all depends on whether people realize what that really means.”

The Freedom Caucus holds about 26 seats currently in the Wyoming House. To take a majority of the Republican seats in the chamber, the caucus would have to gain at least six seats, assuming Democrats don’t pick up any in the general election. The division is blurrier but closer in the Senate, where a gain of just a few seats could give farther right senators the majority.

What Will The Voters Say?

Perry was less committed about her faith in the majority of Wyoming voters sharing her viewpoint.

“Wyoming is not the conservative state people perceive it to be,” she said.

During the 2022 primary election in Wyoming, 182,232 ballots were cast, a record number for a primary election making up 31% of the Wyoming population.

Many people are now predicting low turnout for the 2024 general election nationwide based on lack of enthusiasm for the two main candidates.

Incumbent Effect

Idaho’s elections may have been more of a rejection of incumbent candidates as a whole rather than just Republicans not seen as conservative enough.

Almost all of the 87 Republicans in office in the state were on the ballot, according to ProPublica. Of the 47 who faced challengers, 15 lost their seats. About 23% of the Freedom Foundation’s worst-graded lawmakers lost reelection races, while 30% of its best-graded favorites also lost.

In Wyoming, 61 of the 77 legislators up for reelection to their respective seats are running again. This does not count the three state representatives who are running for the state Senate.

Speight said he’s encouraged by how many legislators are running for reelection in Wyoming as there was rampant turnover in 2022.

“I feel sorry for good legislators having to work with the crazies,” Speight said.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter