Wyoming’s senior U.S. senator, Mike Enzi, prefers to stay out of the spotlight, but Liz Cheney’s announcement that she plans to run for his Senate seat has thrust the three-term incumbent into election mode 13 months before the primary.
“Wyoming people don’t like long campaigns,” Enzi said in a press release Thursday.
The comment is a jab at Cheney’s announcement on Tuesday, but in an era when candidates who collect the most money tend to win elections, Enzi will have to start campaigning earlier than he expected to if he wants to raise enough cash to compete with Cheney’s expected fundraising prowess.
Cheney has equipped herself with a longstanding player in the GOP fundraising establishment.
One of her closest aides is Kara Ahern, a veteran campaign cash collector who worked on President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign and with the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential election.
In Enzi’s last re-election run, the senator collected $1.6 million for his campaign. The nation’s politicos are expecting that number to more than double during the race against Cheney.
But for Enzi backers, the size of his campaign coffers matters least in the race.
Service to Wyoming matters most for Enzi, said Liz Brimmer, a political consultant in Jackson. How much money he raises won’t matter, she said.
Unlike Cheney, she said, Enzi has been a mayor, volunteer, business owner and lawmaker who has made a lifelong commitment to the people of Wyoming.
“There’s a high standard of what Wyoming voters expect from elected people,” she said.
The senator is still tasked with serving the people of Wyoming during what is shaping up to be one of the most high-profile primary races in the nation.
“I’m ready to start another run, and right now my job is to serve Wyoming people,” he said. “I will continue to concentrate full time on the job folks already elected me to do. … We are facing many critical issues this year including the train wreck that is Obamacare, a deficit that must be brought under control, a misguided energy policy and an attack on our Second Amendment rights to name a few.”
In the past year, the senator has consistently voted for or authored bills that would protect the Second Amendment and the state’s energy industry. He gave the weekly GOP address last week and said the Affordable Care Act needs to be repealed because more than 150 new agencies and boards haven’t been able to figure out how to make the 20,000-page law work.
Pundits from all over the state are worrying that the contest between the senior senator and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney will cause a rift among Republicans in the state. Cheney is expected to portray herself as the more conservative candidate, even though Enzi has been ranked as one of the most right-leaning senators in Congress. Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson told the New York Times that a race between the two would be a “disaster” and the head of the political science department the University of Wyoming, James King, said that the primary race will cause a split in the party.
But Enzi is confident that his longtime base will continue to back him.
“I believe many who have helped me get elected before will help again,” he said. “I appreciate the many calls and emails my family and I have received in the last few days. So many people are telling us they remain committed to me and will do whatever they can to see that I can continue to faithfully represent them.”
Enzi’s biggest advantage is that he was born and raised in Wyoming. Cheney is already facing accusations that she is a carpetbagger who moved to Wyoming just to win a seat in the Senate.
Cheney branded the label as grist for people who don’t want to talk about political “substance.”
“I’m committed to running a campaign based on issues and substance,” Cheney said Thursday. “Wyoming is a special place where democracy is done the way it should be: person-to-person, one vote at a time. That is the kind of campaign I am running.”
Brimmer said Cheney’s early announcement will give her time to re-acclimate to Wyoming after years living out of state.
“Wyoming welcomes new people,” she said, “but they don’t traditionally elect them to higher offices.”