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In Wyoming, Patience Is Key for Candidates

Anyone looking to run for Congress in Wyoming would be wise to internalize the phrase “Patience is a virtue.”

Ambitious Equality State politicians may have to wait until 2020, when Republican Sen. Michael B. Enzi might retire, to have any chance of getting elected to Congress.

Republican Sen. John Barrasso, who is up for re-election in 2018, is popular in the state, as is Republican Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis. And Enzi proved in 2014 how difficult it is to challenge an incumbent, even for a candidate with built-in name recognition.

“[Barrasso] has a ready infrastructure in the state at all times,” said Liz Brimmer, a former chief of staff to the late Republican Sen. Craig L. Thomas. “He won’t have to do so much organizing — he’s ready.”

Moreover, Wyoming Republicans see Barrasso, a former state senator appointed to his seat in 2007 after Thomas’ death, obtaining a leadership post if the GOP takes over the Senate in 2014. And they don’t think he’s going anywhere for some time.

“I think we’ll carry Sen. Barrasso out of the Senate chamber after he’s taken his last breath,” Wyoming GOP consultant Bill Cubin said. “He loves being a senator.”

The verdict is more split on whether Enzi, a 70-year-old former state senator first elected to the Senate in 1996, would want to remain in the chamber for another 12 years. Republican state Rep. Marti Halverson said Enzi “is a workhorse, and workhorses don’t like being out of the yolk.” Others aren’t so sure.

“I have a hard time seeing him running for re-election in 2020,” Cubin said. “I think this will be his last term.”

Brimmer said Lummis, a former state treasurer first elected to the House in 2008, would be “first in line” for Enzi’s seat, while noting there are other Wyoming politicians waiting in the wings.

Her favorites include: state House Majority Whip Tim Stubson, who has both “talent and patience,” the “dynamic and effective” Gov. Matt Mead and state Speaker Pro Tem Rosie Berger.

Cubin mentioned a few outside-the-box candidates, including Casper radio personality Brian Scott Gamroth; Ed Murray, a Cheyenne real estate developer who’s one of six Republican candidates this year for Wyoming secretary of State; and state legislator-turned-rancher Frank Moore. Cubin’s more conventional pick was state Treasurer Mark Gordon, who ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2008. (Cubin was a consultant for Lummis’ 2008 campaign).

Halverson would like to see someone like tea party darling and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Taylor Haynes or former state Auditor Rita Meyer, who lost the 2010 gubernatorial primary to Mead by some 700 votes, make a bid for Congress if given the opportunity.

One of the most intriguing questions in Wyoming politics is if Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has a future there. Before dropping out in January, Cheney’s primary challenge to Enzi puzzled many in the state because of Enzi’s unquestioned popularity and the fact that Cheney had only recently moved to the state from Virginia.

State Republicans expect her to run for office in the coming years, but they also have some pointed advice for her.

“If she stays in Wyoming, her prospects are unlimited,” Halverson said. “She made favorable impressions, and people would be perfectly willing to give her another chance on the condition that she stays in Wyoming and makes it her home.”

Cubin had an opposing view. “She has done real damage to herself in the last run,” he said. “If she truly moves back to Wyoming and gets involved in the Wyoming community … then she could be a viable candidate. But as it stands today, no way — she’s done nothing for this state and wanted voters to make her senator for it.”

Wyoming Democrats are also trying to build their bench, though doing so is easier said than done.

“It’s a difficult conversation to have with Democrats because it is such a one-party state in Wyoming,” said Robin Van Ausdall, executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party. “There are some people, if they started to really raise money, they could be competitive.”

Van Ausdall named businessman Gary Trauner, who nearly upset then-Rep. Barbara Cubin in 2006, as “someone who has potential.” She also mentioned state Senate Minority Floor Leader Chris Rothfuss and state House Minority Floor Leader Mary Throne as “really well received, effective state legislators.”

Former Wyoming Secretary of State Kathy Karpan spoke highly of Pete Gosar, the current chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party. Gosar is a former pilot, University of Wyoming football player and brother to Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.

“He’s trying to rebuild the party from the grass roots up and has a young, gung-ho staff,” Karpan said.

Karpan also holds in high regard geologist and rancher Gary Collins, who since 2007 has been the Northern Arapaho Tribal Liaison to the governor. “I have met Gary and have for one urged him to run for the U.S. House seat,” Karpan said.

Karpan, who lost to Enzi in the 1996 Senate race, echoed Van Ausdall’s views on the Democrats’ prospects in Wyoming. “Wyoming would vote for a Democrat, but it has to be a Democrat who’s built a following and established credentials,” she said. “You never know — hope springs eternal.”

Farm Team examines the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress. This was the year’s final installment.

The story originally misstated the year Rita Meyer lost to Matt Mead in a gubernatorial primary. It was 2010.