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Ryan Greene

Democratic candidate for U.S. House Ryan Greene talks during an August press conference in front of Charlie T’s Pizzeria as owner Charlie Tyrrel looks on. Greene came under some scrutiny this week after he suggested he wasn’t sure whether he’d vote for Hillary Clinton for president.

Ryan Greene, the Democrat running for Wyoming’s only U.S. House seat, raised eyebrows last week when he told a reporter that he didn’t know whether he was going to vote for his party’s presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, or Republican Donald Trump.

“Neither one has earned my vote,” Greene is quoted as saying in an Associated Press story. “I don’t think a candidate should just get your vote by default. They should earn it.”

Some Democrats questioned whether Greene was pandering to conservative voters — since he’ll need their support if he’s to win Wyoming’s only House seat — while abandoning voters in his own party.

During a Monday interview with the Star-Tribune, Greene said he’ll vote for Clinton. The candidate accused the AP of getting the story wrong.

“I do not agree with her on every issue,” the Rock Springs welder said. “I don’t like her stances on guns and energy, but she is the only one that can do the job. There are four living former U.S. presidents. None of them are backing Trump. And that says a lot about this race.”

Greene is in a tough spot. He needs Republicans to vote for him, but GOP members in Wyoming dislike Clinton.

A poll commissioned by Greene’s campaign in early September found Clinton has a 74 percent unfavorable rating in the Cowboy State. While most of his base will vote for her, Democratic support will not be enough to win the race against Republican Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has collected more than 10 times as much money as Greene and is competing in one of the nation’s reddest states.

Longtime Wyoming political observer Marguerite Herman said she’s noticed Republicans have toned down their message when seeking votes from Democrats, and Democrats have done the same to appeal to conservatives this campaign season.

“I’m not surprised a candidate in a race that leans heavily toward one party is making an effort to look very nonpartisan — not easily labeled, not easily pigeonholed — so that everyone will take a look at him,” she said.

Cheney’s campaign manager, Bill Novotny, seized on Greene’s backing of Clinton.

“After he caucused for Bernie Sanders, who wants to end fracking and kill the fossil fuel industry, it is no surprise Ryan Greene would be supporting Hillary Clinton,” Novotny said in an email. “Clinton, whose conduct as Secretary of State put the security of our nation at risk, has vowed to continue the devastating policies of Barack Obama, including putting our coal miners out of work, violating our Second Amendment rights and appointing liberal judges to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Since the AP story, Democrats are mixed on the issue. Some understand Greene’s tricky political reality. Others think it was disingenuous to not publicly support his party’s presidential candidate.

However, Greene is unlikely to lose many Democratic voters on Nov. 8, as most find Cheney unpalatable.

Former U.S. House candidate Charlie Hardy, whom Greene defeated in the Democratic primary, said he was concerned that someone would inform the Trump campaign that a Democrat in Wyoming was hesitant to back Clinton.

He was afraid Trump “would mention it nationwide that there was a Democratic candidate who is thinking about voting for him,” said Hardy, of Cheyenne.

Hardy believes Greene wavered in his support of Clinton, and he shouldn’t have.

“In any case, a lot of damage has been done to the Democratic Party,” said Hardy, who added that some disgruntled Democrats said they will write his name on the ballot.

Democrat Sam Rise Roberson of Pinedale was initially surprised by Greene’s comments. But she’s sympathetic to Greene’s balancing act.

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“I know that Wyoming is a really difficult state to run in as a Democrat for a statewide seat,” she said. “You’re trying as best as you can to make sure the people who vote don’t have a reason to dismiss you from the outset.”

But Greene, if he wins, wouldn’t just represent “conservatives who have fallen away from the party because of their presidential candidate,” she said. “He’s also representing me and other Democrats in the state.”

Lander Democrat Amy Rathke said the quote in the AP story didn’t rattle her support for Greene.

“I can hear a quote like that, but it doesn’t jive with my experience of talking to Ryan in person,” she said. “While I do think he’s running as a centrist Democrat, he is a Wyoming Democrat. None of my experiences with Ryan Greene equate with any of the (statements) by Trump.”

Greene never asked for a correction or clarification from the AP. He said he was busy campaigning.

“Something was lost in translation,” Greene said. “That’s all that it amounts to.”

But the AP further quoted Greene as saying Clinton and Trump have to move beyond an “insult war” and provide “details, details, details” on tax policies and how they will create jobs.

The AP story was written by a longtime Wyoming journalist. His editor, Joe Danborn, said the story speaks for itself.

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Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock

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