Sen. Barrasso

Sen. John Barrasso heads to the Senate this summer on Capitol Hill in Washington.

AP

Not much is clear yet about the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Wyoming.

It’s early, and no one has officially announced a bid for the seat currently held by Republican John Barrasso.

But rumors are already beginning to swirl about people who might take a run at the seat. One is Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who has strong ties to the Trump administration, including being the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Another is philanthropist and conservative Christian political activist Foster Friess, who lives in Jackson.

There is no doubt that others will join that list in the coming months, which is great news. More challengers means more variety for voters and indicates that a wider range of issues will be discussed in the race. Competition makes for better candidates. That’s a positive for the Wyoming electorate.

But as those names stack up, Wyomingites should examine their choices and consider which candidates truly have the best interests of their state in mind. They should look for someone who loves and understands Wyoming and wants to serve in the Senate to make it better.

After all, the state’s political culture is worth preserving. In Wyoming, politics is often decided at the local level. That stands in direct contrast to what’s happening at the national level, where two factions of the Republican party are squaring off in Congress. Reports from Washington indicate that Steve Bannon, a former official in President Donald Trump’s administration and a conservative media entrepreneur, recruited both Prince and Friess to run against Barrasso, who is seen as an “establishment” Republican.

Establishment or not, Barrasso is a surgeon from Casper. He is steeped in Wyoming issues, and he holds the fourth-ranking position in the Senate as the chairman of the Republican Study Committee. He also serves on Senate panels that are relevant to our state and region, such as Environment and Public Works and Indian Affairs.

That’s clout and knowledge the state should think twice about trading for someone who doesn’t know our issues. Barrasso is also fairly popular – he’s been in office since 2007 and has a 56 percent approval rating among state voters.

We hope more candidates like him will consider joining the race to ensure that the state’s real interests are represented in Washington.

If this were truly about topics that matter in Wyoming, we’d be hearing about public lands and energy policy. Instead, potential candidates are talking about culture wars, which have never really taken hold in Wyoming. Battles over bathroom bills and border walls serve as a distraction for the real issues. The last thing our state needs is to become the site of a proxy war that’s being fought nationally between two factions of the GOP. It would fundamentally shift the ideological priorities that we have held for so long.

This seat matters. Wyoming has two seats in the Senate and one in the House. That delegation is tiny compared with other states. We cannot afford to lose one of those positions to an outsider. The person who holds that seat should be genuinely trying to make Wyoming a better place to live and work. The right candidate will have little time for or interest in proxy wars.

The slate of potential candidates will almost certainly broaden in the coming months, and each contender will carry a list of priorities. We’ll alert the field now: It will be clear to Wyoming voters which candidates want the best for the state and are running to improve it. Candidates without deep connections to the state and its issues have a steep learning curve, and they should start to learn now.

We welcome as many challengers as are interested in the seat. But the real ones – the best ones, and ultimately the winner – should be well-versed in Wyoming’s issues and challenges and be eager to solve them because they love our state. Wyoming voters deserve nothing less.

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