Rep. Barbara Cubin’s (R) decision to retire from the House next year could trigger a crowded and contentious scramble to replace her among Republicans in GOP-leaning Wyoming.
Three Republicans had announced for the state’s at-large seat even before Cubin publicized her retirement plans on Saturday. With the Congresswoman out of the way, GOP insiders say at least four more Republicans are likely to enter the Aug. 19 primary.
Internet entrepreneur Gary Trauner (D), who fell 1,012 votes short of ousting Cubin in 2006, is running again for the Democrats, although Republicans appear confident he will be soundly defeated with someone other than Cubin as their nominee.
“Democrats are in for a Rocky Mountain uphill climb if they think they can win in a state like Wyoming in a presidential election year,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said Wednesday. “If Gary Trauner couldn’t pull it off in ’06, then he is in for a disappointment in ’08.”
Open seats normally are troubling for the party of the incumbent. But Cubin won re-election last year with just 48 percent of the vote and was seen as particularly weak politically heading into 2008 — especially in a rematch with Trauner.
Although popular Gov. Dave Freudenthal is a Democrat serving in his second term, Wyoming remains fertile ground for the GOP. The Congressional delegation is exclusively Republican, with the GOP controlling the state Legislature and holding most state constitutional offices.
For that reason, several Republicans are angling to replace Cubin in the House.
Among those Republicans viewed as “likely” candidates by GOP insiders are former two-term state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis; attorney and former state GOP Chairman Tom Sansonetti; state Sen. Cale Case and attorney Bruce Asay — both of whom challenged Cubin in the 2004 primary.
Lummis, Sansonetti and Asay are seen as the frontrunners, should they run.
Additionally, Republicans viewed as “possible” candidates by party insiders include 2006 state auditor candidate Bruce Brown; former state Rep. Randall Luthi; and state Rep. Colin Simpson, the majority floor leader of the Wyoming House of Representatives who also is the son of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.).
The three Republicans already running are businessman Kenn Gilchrist; motivational speaker Swede Nelson; and retired Navy officer Bill Winney, who challenged Cubin in the 2006 GOP primary and won 40 percent of the vote in that effort.
Former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead (R) is not running, sources say. Mead resigned as U.S. attorney for Wyoming in June to seek Freudenthal’s appointment as the late Sen. Craig Thomas’ (R) replacement, and after failing in that effort had left the door open to a 2008 House bid.
One Republican based in Wyoming said Asay, Case, Lummis and Sansonetti are best positioned to win the GOP nomination among all of those that are either running or mentioned as a possible candidates.
“They have either run for the House before or were in the top three for the Senate” during the jockeying to replace Thomas, this Republican said.
In accordance with Wyoming law, the 71-member state GOP Central Committee in successive rounds of voting selected three individuals to be considered by Freudenthal as Thomas’ replacement after Thomas died of leukemia on June 4.
Lummis and Sansonetti were among the three finalists, although Freudenthal ultimately chose now-Sen. John Barrasso (R) as the late Senator’s successor. Asay and Case also sought to replace Thomas in that process.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Sansonetti said he would decide whether to run by some time in January.
Sansonetti said he was more keen on serving in the Senate, but noted that he was familiar with how the House works and capable of doing the job. Sansonetti’s chief concerns include determining how he feels about serving in the minority should Republicans fail to take back the House in 2008.
Sansonetti, now an attorney based in Cheyenne, served as Thomas’ first chief of staff when the late Senator served in the House — and also ran his first House campaign. He said he would take the next few months to consult with other Wyoming Republicans, among them Lummis, about a potential bid.
“Cynthia and I are cut from same cloth,” Sansonetti said. “It wouldn’t be good for both of us to run and split the [conservative] vote and let a moderate slip in.”
Even with Cubin off of the 2008 ballot, Democrats remain optimistic about Trauner’s chances. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had viewed Wyoming’s at-large seat as a potential target, and Cubin’s retirement has not changed its view.
Sansonetti said the state’s late August primary could be problematic for Republicans as the GOP nominee will emerge just 77 days before Election Day.
Trauner does not have a primary opponent, enabling him to campaign free of attacks between now and the primary, all the while husbanding his resources for the general election. Meanwhile, the potential size of the Republican candidate field, and the feeling that the party’s nominee should have the upper hand in the general election suggests the race for the GOP nomination could be a slugfest.
“We expect this to be a competitive race in 2008,” DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell said. “Gary Trauner has proven to be a formidable candidate whose positions and priorities fit in well with the state.”