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Why It Didn’t Work for Liz Cheney

Liz Cheney cited family health concerns as her reason for dropping out of the Wyoming Senate race, but her exit Monday came after months of struggling to gain traction in a Republican primary challenge to Sen. Michael B. Enzi.

Nearly six months after announcing her first bid for public office, the campaign of the former State Department official and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney had grabbed more headlines for causing intrafamily drama than for offering a decisive argument for her candidacy.

Cheney would have had another eight months to argue her case, but among the many reasons her campaign hadn’t erupted with support already was the fact that Wyoming voters simply still like Enzi. Now it will never be known whether she could have overcome that.

“It was never about people not liking Liz or the Cheney family,” said Joe Milczewski, a former campaign manager for the other Wyoming senator, Republican John Barrasso. “But voters like Sen. Enzi, they’ve pulled the lever for him two or three times before, and nobody likes to have to pick between two friends.”

With a revered last name in Wyoming thanks to her father, a six-term congressman from the state and two-term vice president, the Cheney team was undoubtedly optimistic that she could outraise the once-puttering Enzi fundraising operation.

Wyoming GOP insiders long suspected her strategy was to push Enzi out of the race by announcing early and overwhelming the three-term incumbent with dominant fundraising. Cheney had collected about $1 million by the end of September. However, by late fall the scant polling on the race failed to show a deep cut into Enzi’s lead, and the spate of distractions continued. The public blowout with her sister over gay marriage captured national headlines and placed the focus on Cheney’s authenticity rather than where she wanted it: on her criticism of the incumbent.

Meanwhile, Enzi had coalesced support among fellow senators and had significantly improved his own financial position. Unfortunately for Cheney, her challenge came after two cycles of primary troubles for Republican incumbents, who have perhaps learned a few lessons from others’ past preparation mistakes.

Brian Walsh, an adviser to the National Republican Senatorial Committee — which backs Enzi and all incumbents — called Enzi “a consistent conservative who has never lost touch with his state.” Enzi should now cruise to re-election.

“I suspect you will see this same narrative play out in every other challenger-versus-incumbent primary this year as well,” Walsh said. “No one is going to get caught off guard in the way that other senators were in past years.”

In a statement on Monday, Cheney said she dropped out because of “serious health issues” with her children. While this ends her hopes for 2014, few expect this to be the last test of Cheney’s political ambition in a state where she has deep family roots but just moved back to in 2012.

“Lots of people I talk to are saying two things,” Milczewski said. “They’re glad this campaign is over, and they hope Liz sticks around and throws her hat in the ring again someday.”

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