The Wyoming Republican Party on Tuesday evening settled on state Sen. John Barrasso, former state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis and ex-Justice Department attorney Tom Sansonetti as its top three choices to replace the late Sen. Craig Thomas (R). Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) now has five days to select Thomas’ successor from among them.
In three rounds of secret-ballot voting, the 71-member state GOP central committee pared a field of 30 applicants down to three, in the process rebuffing state Rep. Colin Simpson, the son of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) The three finalists have indicated their intention to stand for election in 2008 if chosen by Freudenthal to replace Thomas, who lost his bout with leukemia on June 4.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee is confident it will hold the seat regardless of who Freudenthal selects.
“Wyoming voters have overwhelmingly supported Republicans in past presidential years,” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said. “We feel very good about our chances to hold the seat come November 2008.”
Thomas’ death — and the state law for replacing him that allows his successor to serve only until the next regularly scheduled general election — could liven up the political landscape next year in Republican-leaning Wyoming.
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is running for a third term and is unlikely to face much competition. But with Thomas’ seat unexpectedly open — the late Senator handily won a third term in 2006 — Democrats are looking for a possible and previously completely unavailable pickup opportunity.
Internet entrepreneur Gary Trauner (D), who came close to defeating Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) last year in the race for Wyoming’s at-large House seat and as such already has a statewide race under his belt, is considering a run for Thomas’ seat.
State Sen. Mike Massie (D) and 2002 gubernatorial primary candidate Paul Hickey (D), are two potential candidates who, like Trauner, were not interested in challenging Enzi but are pondering a run for Thomas’ seat.
“There are several good Democratic candidates who have expressed interest in running,” said one knowledgeable Democratic strategist. “As this process shakes out over the next few weeks, this seat could go from being a Republican lock to at least competitive.”
In the first round of voting Tuesday by the state GOP central committee — which occurred after all applicants were permitted to deliver opening remarks lasting two minutes — the field was whittled down to 10. Those 10 were offered the opportunity to deliver nominating speeches — or to have one made on their behalf — after which an in-depth question-and-answer session with committee members ensued.
Five candidates emerged from that process, led in order of votes received by Sansonetti, a former Thomas aide, Barrasso, former state Rep. Ron Micheli, Lummis and just-resigned U.S. Attorney Matt Mead, who beat out former legislator Randall Luthi in a tie-breaker for the fifth spot in the third and final round of voting. Mead, the grandson of a former Senator and governor, has been positioning himself to run for federal office and might seek Wyoming’s House seat.
The five candidates whose hopes died in the second round included Luthi; rancher Frank Moore; attorney Paul Kruse; attorney and 2004 Congressional candidate Bruce Asay; and Simpson, the Majority Floor Leader of the Wyoming House of Representatives.
Simpson’s loss leaves him immediately available to run for the House in 2008, which was his original intention before Thomas’ Senate seat opened up. Simpson said in a recent interview that he had informed Cubin in May of his plans to run for the House regardless of whether she runs for re-election, although it was unclear at press time what effect Tuesday’s loss would have on his political future.
Cubin said recently in a prepared statement that she would publicize her 2008 plans at the “appropriate time.”
When a Senator vacates his office prematurely, Wyoming law mandates that the political party of the departed lawmaker has 15 days to nominate three possible replacements, with the governor choosing a successor from among them within five days.