Liz Cheney withdrew from the 2014 Wyoming U.S. Senate Republican primary race Monday, a decision that raises questions about the future of the Cheney name in Wyoming politics and leaves three-term Sen. Mike Enzi with few roadblocks to re-election.
The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney attributed family health issues as the reason for her departure.
“Serious health issues have recently arisen in our family, and under the circumstances, I have decided to discontinue my campaign,” Liz Cheney said in a media release issued early Monday morning. “My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and their health and well being will always be my overriding priority.”
Cheney didn't hold a press conference and made no other announcements on Monday, exiting the race just as quickly as she entered it on July 17.
One of Cheney’s five children has type 1 diabetes. Cheney had canceled campaign events in the past month, most recently an event in Uinta County, because of family health issues, according to the Uinta County Herald.
Cheney’s campaign faced both political and internal hurdles during her six-month span as Enzi’s contender. But the news of her family’s health concerns had Cheney’s supporters and detractors sending her their blessings.
Cheney’s announcement to run against Enzi sparked a feud between her family and former Wyoming U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson. Simpson and Dick Cheney worked and campaigned together for more than 40 years, but when Simpson began stumping for Enzi it caused a blowup between the two families.
Simpson refused to sign a football for one of Cheney’s children at a fundraiser. Cheney’s mother, Lynne, told Simpson to “shut up.”
The two families will begin to rebuild their longtime friendship, Simpson said Monday.
“It was a beautiful friendship, and I am sure it will be restored,” he said.
Simpson said he spoke with Liz Cheney on Monday. She told him she was dropping out of the race because it was a “mom thing.”
Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., backed Enzi since the race began, but offered her support to the Cheney family on Monday.
“I respect Liz Cheney’s decision to discontinue her campaign and wish her and her family all the best,” Lummis said.
Cheney spent a lot of time defending missteps during her campaign, leaving her critics to talk less about her policies and more about her personal life. She paid a $220 fine for registering as a 10-year resident of Wyoming on an in-state fishing license only three months after moving to Wyoming from Virginia in May 2012.
Cheney and her sister Mary, a lesbian who's married to longtime partner Heather Poe, got into a tiff after the candidate renounced gay marriage during an appearance on Fox News.
Mary Cheney wrote: "'Liz — this isn't just an issue on which we disagree, you're just wrong — and on the wrong side of history."
Despite her father’s longstanding ties in Wyoming, political pundits questioned the potency of Cheney’s political capital in the state.
Enzi had more than 20 state lawmakers and a cache of high-profile businessmen who signed up to work on his county-by-county leadership team along with past and current members of the Wyoming congressional delegation.
Cheney had a list of some well-known volunteers on her county campaign committees, but only one state lawmaker: Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse.
It was evident from the available public polling that the Cheney campaign was behind in the race, Wyoming-based political strategist Bill Novotny said.
“Winning an election against an incumbent is never easy,” Novotny said. “They were certainly finding it more challenging than they once thought it would be.”
Enzi had a 34 percent lead over Cheney days after the race began on July 17. Another poll conducted days later showed a majority of Wyomingites thought Cheney should run for the Senate in Virginia. A November poll had Enzi with a 52-point lead over Cheney. Cheney said the last poll’s results were skewed because it was paid for by the American Principles Fund, a super PAC that supported Enzi and produced commercials that bashed Cheney.
“She doesn’t strike me as the type of person who would bow out because the numbers are bad,” Wyoming-based political strategist Joe Milczewski said. “She needed 500 out of 500 things to fall the right way in order for her to win the election. Whether it was now or six months from now, it was probably going to end up the same way.”
Cheney’s strongest suit in the campaign was fundraising, leaving many to guess what she will do with the money in her campaign coffers. She raised more than $1 million in her first four months as a candidate. Until her sudden departure, political observers expected her to raise a similar figure in the past four months. The Federal Election Commission will release the next round of fundraising reports in eight days.
What Cheney does with the money will be a telling sign about her future in politics.
Any donor that contributed to her campaign on behalf of the general election will receive a refund. But the money donated to her on behalf of the primary can be used in a number of ways.
She can keep the cash in her war chest for future elections, donate it to a nonprofit of her choice or start a political action committee to advocate for her causes, according to the FEC.
It would be interesting to see Cheney throw her hat in the ring in a future election, but politicos around the state are glad the race is over, Milczewski said.
“I never heard people say they didn’t like Liz Cheney,” he said. “It was the fact that they know and like Enzi and wanted to keep voting for him.”
No other formidable opponent has stepped up to challenge Enzi to this point. Enzi's peers gave him high-fives on the Senate floor Monday. The super PAC created for Enzi, Wyoming's Own, will shut its doors, PAC co-founder Bill Cubin said.
“We have tremendous respect for Liz’s decision,” Enzi said in a media release. “She and her entire family are in our thoughts and prayers.”