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All Three Federal Seats Up Before Wyoming Voters in ’08

What would happen if all three of Wyoming’s statewide federal offices were up for election at one time? Who would run? Where would the candidates come from?

Equality State voters are about to find out. [IMGCAP(1)]

In a rare occurrence, Wyoming’s two Senate seats and its lone, at-large House seat are up for election next year — and Republicans and Democrats who sense political opportunity are examining whether to run for one of the three seats.

The deep GOP bench in Republican-stronghold Wyoming was on full display last month, as several Republicans angled to win an appointment to replace the late Sen. Craig Thomas (R), who died June 4 after a seven-month bout with leukemia.

Fred Parady, the chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party and a former Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives, said the GOP’s strength in the Equality State runs deep, from local government officials at the bottom through its hold on most statewide offices at the top.

“I’m not knocking any other group, but numbers-wise we have a great bench,” Parady said Monday. “We just have a lot of places from which to draw strength.”

Those individuals who make up the Democratic bench — however thin it is — are taking a look at challenging newly appointed Sen. John Barrasso (R), who intends to run in the November 2008 special election to fill the remainder of Thomas’ third term.

Members of the Democratic farm team include 2006 House candidate Gary Trauner, 2002 gubernatorial candidate Paul Hickey, state Sen. Mike Massie and former state Rep. Patrick Hacker.

Popular Gov. Dave Freudenthal — the most obvious potential Democratic candidate for federal office — has already spurned the entreaties of Washington, D.C., Democrats, who tried to recruit him to challenge two-term Sen. Mike Enzi (R), whose regular term is up next year.

Wyoming Democrats, contending Freudenthal has no interest in giving up executive authority in Cheyenne for a job as a legislator on Capitol Hill, say he isn’t likely to change his mind now that Thomas’ seat has unexpectedly opened

up. Freudenthal will be term-limited in 2010.

Democratic operatives familiar with Wyoming acknowledge privately that their party’s bench in the state is weak sans Freudenthal. But Bill Luckett, the chief spokesman for the Wyoming Democratic Party, argued otherwise.

“We have a strong bench,” Luckett said. “We’ve got quite a few statewide leaders, legislative leaders and state government department heads who are fantastic leaders and respected by a large bulk of Wyoming’s people.”

Republicans have lost two straight gubernatorial elections, with the state GOP enduring a series of intraparty squabbles in recent years. But the party still controls much of the state politically, including both chambers of the Legislature and all statewide offices other than the governorship, as well as the three federal elected seats.

Rep. Barbara Cubin (R), who narrowly escaped a challenge last year from Trauner, might be the GOP’s weakest link in the Equality State. Cubin has yet to announce her plans for 2008 and might be vulnerable next year should Trauner, an Internet entrepreneur, decide to challenge her again.

If the Congresswoman retires, there are at least a handful of viable Republicans who likely would consider running for Wyoming’s statewide, at-large seat. If she doesn’t, a similar number of Republicans might nevertheless decide to challenge her in the primary.

Either way, the GOP is loaded with potential candidates who have the ability to run a strong statewide race, including Parady, who lost the 2006 Republican primary for state treasurer to Joe Meyer, who went on to win the post in the general election. Meyer at the time was the incumbent secretary of state.

Three Republicans who already have proved their ability to win a statewide race also would have to be considered viable for federal office should they ever choose to move up, including Wyoming Secretary of State Max Maxfield; state Auditor Rita Meyer; and state Superintendent for Public Instruction Jim McBride.

Some of Wyoming’s politically viable Republicans sought the appointment to replace Thomas, ultimately losing out to Barrasso.

Among them are state Rep. Colin Simpson, the Majority Floor Leader of the Wyoming House of Representatives and son of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.); Matt Mead, who just resigned as Wyoming’s U.S. attorney; former state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis; and former state GOP Chairman Tom Sansonetti.

Mead and Simpson have declined to rule out challenging Cubin in the primary, but Lummis and Sansonetti have. Similarly, Mead and Simpson have declined to rule out challenging Barrasso in the 2008 special election to fill out the remainder of Thomas’ term, although Sansonetti has.

Lummis has said she also is considering challenging Barrasso.

Barrasso, who per Wyoming law was appointed by Freudenthal, was one of three Republicans nominated by the state GOP Central Committee to replace Thomas.

In addition to Lummis, Mead, Sansonetti and Simpson, the other Republicans who finished in the top 10 in voting by the state GOP Central Committee — and are thought of as solid potential House or Senate candidates sometime in the future — include attorneys Bruce Asay and Paul Kruse, as well as former state Reps. Randall Luthi, Ron Micheli and Frank Moore.

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