Cubin Missing Crisis

Absences in 107th Congress Fuel Challengers

Posted June 25, 2004 at 6:39pm

Republican Barbara Cubin faces unprecedented intraparty opposition in her bid for a sixth term to Wyoming’s lone House seat, yet neither she nor GOP officials seem concerned.

While it is “pretty unusual” for Cubin to have four primary challengers — a fifth dropped out last week because of a death in his family — “it is not a product of unhappiness with her in Wyoming,” insisted Cubin campaign manager Katie Legerski.

Likening the Congresswoman’s competitors to “restless ponies” padlocked in a corral, Legerski said up-and-coming Republican politicians are frustrated with a lack of opportunity at the federal level.

“There has been no movement in quite some time,” she said. “They are restless; they want to get out there and run.”

The last time one of the Equality State’s three Congressional spots came open was in 1996, when now-Sen. Michael Enzi (R) bested 11 opponents to succeed retiring Sen. Alan Simpson (R).

“It’s a lot but it’s not unusual,” former Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R), who retired in 1994, said about Cubin’s abundance of challengers.

“It happens in Wyoming; I had them, [Vice President] Dick Cheney had them [when he was Wyoming’s House Member], Simpson had them,” he said. “They’re trying to get from under the moss.”

Jim Willox, chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party, said he views the active primary as good news for the GOP.

“It’s a sign of the party’s vibrancy,” he said. “Wyoming is a vastly Republican state,” and the five-person primary “represents a large pool of ideas and interest in serving the people of Wyoming.”

Under Wyoming law, the state parties cannot endorse a candidate in the primary.

Despite such assurances from the party hierarchy, at least two of Cubin’s challengers, state Sen. Cale Case and attorney Bruce Asay, are considered quite credible, and both say they are gunning for her because she is “out of touch” with voters back home.

Cubin “started out great,” Case said, but then she became “part of the pork-barrel politics” that have set the GOP adrift.

Asay’s disappointment with Cubin is less philosophical and more nuts and bolts.

“She’s not visiting communities, she’s not attending to constituents when they visit Washington, D.C.; she’s been neglectful,” he charged.

Furthermore “she’s not active, she’s reactive,” Asay said, accusing Cubin of not taking the lead in sponsoring legislation that is essential to Wyoming’s interests.

Finally, her voting record, both in attendance and on the issues, is not good, he said.

In the 107th Congress, Cubin missed 27 percent of all roll call votes, according to Congressional Quarterly, more than any other Member who returned for the 108th.

But during that time her husband was frequently in and out of the hospital with a serious illness. Her attendance has since improved.

Cubin’s conundrum goes deeper than missed votes, however, said Jim King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming.

“Cubin has never connected as well with the Wyoming electorate the way some other members of the delegation have,” he said.

“To some extent, the House Member gets overshadowed by the Senators,” but Cheney, for one, never had that problem when he served in the House, King said.

“If you haven’t established yourself as a proven votegetter, you are vulnerable” to internal challenges, King said.

Cubin won re-election with the highest percentage of her career in 2000 when she garnered almost 67 percent of the vote.

But in 2002, political novice Ron Akin (D) held her to just over 60 percent.

Ultimately though, King does not believe there is a “groundswell” growing against Cubin, and even if a majority of primary voters are dissatisfied with her, she is still favored to win because there are too many candidates splitting the opposition.

“There has been talk that either Case or Asay should drop out out to solidify the anti-Cubin vote,” King said.

That does not seem likely, however, as both men say they are the best person to be the party’s standard-bearer.

“I am the best candidate,” Case said. “I am the only one with [legislative] experience.”

Case said he is working on getting some of the candidates to drop out and support him. Besides Case and Asay, draftsman Jim Altebaumer and veterinarian Marvin “Trip” Applequist Jr. are seeking the GOP nomination.

Financially, Cubin is in great shape.

In the latest campaign finance reports, she had almost $245,000 in the bank. Asay had about $40,000, most of it his own money, and none of the other candidates has filed a report with the Federal Election Commission.

While a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee says the party is not at all worried about Cubin’s re-election, Wyoming Democrats see a glimmer of hope in her active primary.

“People on both sides are frustrated with her,” said Kyle DeBeer, executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party. “It’s a great year in Wyoming for Democrats.”

DeBeer predicted that Cubin “will have to spend money in the primary and will be bruised and battered from within her own party.”

Despite such optimism, Democrats do not appear to have any powerhouses running in their three-way primary. Wyoming has not sent a Democrat to Washington in 28 years.