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Weeklong Senate Race Looms

The Wyoming Republican Party on Monday jump-started what could be a furious weeklong campaign to succeed the late Sen. Craig Thomas (R), which will culminate on June 19 with a multi-round, secret-ballot vote by the state GOP central committee.

The names of the three candidates selected by the 71-member committee at an open meeting next Tuesday will be forwarded to Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D), who is charged by state law with making the final choice. But until the June 19 meeting, Wyoming GOP Chairman Fred Parady predicted committee members would be barraged by those seeking to replace Thomas.

“I would expect a series of calls to be made to members of the central committee,” Parady said during a news conference Monday at party headquarters in Casper. “They’re going to be very popular for the next 10 days.”

Intense as the jockeying for the Senate vacancy is expected to be, it is just one part of a three-piece puzzle affecting Wyoming politics in 2008, with the re-election races of Sen. Mike Enzi (R) and Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) also coming into play. Some of the candidates bidding for the Senate opening also could be factors in the other two races in 2008.

Colin Simpson (R), the Majority Floor Leader of the Wyoming House of Representatives and the son of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) wants to succeed Thomas and might be one of the individuals calling GOP leaders about the vacancy.

Matt Mead, who resigned last week as the state’s U.S. attorney to make himself eligible to replace Thomas, said in an interview Monday that he also is a candidate, adding that he is going to visit with as many central committee members as he can between now and June 19. Mead’s grandfather served Wyoming as a Senator and governor.

Simpson, an attorney from Cody, which happens to be where Thomas hailed from, said in an interview that he informed Cubin in late May — before Thomas died — that he planned to run for Wyoming’s lone House seat in 2008 regardless of her plans. Cubin last year barely defeated Internet entrepreneur Gary Trauner (D), leaving herself vulnerable to a primary or general election challenge should she seek an eighth term.

Simpson was interested in running for Senate in 2006 had Thomas called it quits — declining to run only after the Senator told him in a private meeting that he planned to seek a third term then — and is now angling to be on the final list of three that will be submitted to Freudenthal. Simpson said he has a good working relationship with the governor.

Simpson did not preclude returning his focus back to launching a bid for the House should he fail in his quest to succeed Thomas.

“There are quite a few options open, now,” he said.

Before Thomas died, Mead also had been leaning toward running for the House seat — and was eventually going to resign his position as U.S. attorney to do so anyway, according to a Wyoming-based GOP operative. If Cubin runs for re-election, which she told Simpson she planned on doing, Mead could prove a formidable challenger if he doesn’t succeed Thomas and redirects his sights on the House.

“All of my plans are up in the air now,” Mead said.

Cubin spokeswoman Alison McGuire said Monday her boss was inclined to announce her 2008 plans early next year, as it is her normal practice to wait until the beginning of an election year to reveal her political intentions — though she added that the Congresswoman is raising money.

Thomas’ death early last week from leukemia sets up an interesting election cycle in the Republican-leaning Equality State.

Enzi is running for a third term and did not look to face serious competition. But Wyoming in 2008 will now find itself subject to two Senate races and a contest for the at-large House seat — all three of which are statewide campaigns.

Freudenthal, who is quite popular and could give Enzi a tough challenge, had spurned the entreaties of top Senate Democrats and declined to run for Senate in the middle of his second gubernatorial term, sources say. But the opening of Thomas’ seat — his replacement only serves through the end of 2008 — could change the political calculus of several prospective candidates.

Freudenthal spokeswoman Cara Eastwood confirmed that her boss has no plans to run for Senate next year but declined to answer questions regarding how hard and fast that decision is. One knowledgeable Democratic operative based in Wyoming said running for Senate is just not something Freudenthal is interested in — at least not right now.

This operative said any Democrat would have a hard time running for Senate next year — whether against Enzi or Thomas’ successor, particularly because it is a presidential year. But the Democrat said Trauner is positioned to beat Cubin, should she run for re-election and win the GOP primary.

“He will beat her next year if that’s what it comes down to,” this operative said.

Trauner, who was eying another House run — he lost to Cubin in this past cycle by 1 point and held her to 48 percent of the vote — is now considering running for Thomas’ Senate seat in 2008, depending on who emerges as his successor.

But other Democrats also are interested in running for the Senate, including state Sen. Mike Massie and lawyer Paul Hickey, another son of a former Senator and governor who lost the 2002 gubernatorial primary to Freudenthal. Democratic operatives in Washington, D.C., are particularly intrigued by Massie and Hickey.

The Wyoming Democratic operative predicted that both Massie and Hickey would have a difficult time against Thomas’ successor, especially if that individual turns out to be Simpson or Mead. Massie, who is interested in running, would make a good candidate and run a good campaign, this operative said.

Hickey, whose interest is unknown, did not return a phone call late last week requesting comment.

Parady will shepherd the selection process for Thomas’ successor and announced he will neither run to succeed Thomas nor vote for his prospective replacements. State law empowers the incumbent party of a Senator who vacates his office midterm for any reason to submit a list of three prospective replacements to the governor, who then chooses a successor from among those.

Per the blueprint unveiled by the state GOP on Monday, any registered Republican who lives in Wyoming and is eligible to serve as a Senator can run for the position. Interested individuals must fill out a two-page application and submit it with a résumé and cover letter to the state GOP no later than 5 p.m. Mountain time on Thursday.

Wyoming Republicans are trying to arrange a candidate forum that would take place on Sunday, with the meeting of the state central committee when the voting will happen set for Tuesday. Each of the 71 GOP committee members will fill out their secret ballots with the three candidates they want to be forwarded to the governor, with as many rounds of voting held as is necessary to pare the field down to three winners.

If the field is large, there will be initial rounds held to slice the number of candidates down to eight, at which point each candidate will have an extended opportunity to deliver prepared remarks and participate in a question-and-answer session with the committee. Candidates also will be allowed to have a third-party individual offer a nominating speech on their behalf.

Every applicant who qualifies as a candidate to be voted on in next Tuesday’s meeting will have an opportunity to make their case to the committee before the field is thinned to eight.

“We’re going to be open, comprehensive and fair,” Parady said.

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