Wyoming’s doctor coasted to an easy victory Tuesday, defending his U.S. Senate seat despite months of attack ads from a well-funded challenger.
With more than 91 percent of Wyoming precincts reporting, the incumbent roped in a strong lead. The senator garnered 65 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.
“Bobbi (Barrasso’s wife) and I are truly grateful for the support of so many Wyoming voters this primary campaign,” he said in a statement. “I want to thank everyone who helped and stood with us.
“As we have seen, elections make a real difference,” he said. “The last two years I have worked to force real change in the federal government. Taxes are now lower, regulations that unfairly targeted our state are being reversed, and we have remade our highest courts.”
Barrasso’s most well-financed challenger, Dave Dodson, followed with 29 percent, or nearly 7,000 votes, according to unofficial counts.
"Thirty thousand Wyomingites took a battering ram to the system, and while we did not bring down the wall night, we made some big cracks," he said in a text message. "I'm not done, and I know the people that voted for change aren't either."
Incumbent races aren’t always as heated as the one that played out in recent weeks between Barrasso and the former independent Dodson, but the Jackson businessman has been strongly critical of the man Wyoming has kept in Washington for 11 years.
Barrasso has a firm foundation in Wyoming, insiders note. He previously served in the state senate and had not had a strong challenger until this election.
The front-runner among Barrasso’s challengers, Dodson, was a political newcomer. The Jackson businessman has headed an energy firm and trucking company. He’s run on the promise to shake up the incumbent’s complacency.
Dodson’s campaign has been aggressive in criticizing Barrasso, who is sometimes called “Wyoming’s doctor” due to his medical background, for not doing more to alleviate Wyoming’s high-priced health care. The senator, like much of Washington, was failing in his job, Dodson argued in an Aug. 1 debate.
It’s a message that resonated with some voters.
At Casper College, Casper resident Randy Farley said he had flipped from supporting Barrasso the last time he ran to Dodson, saying he was “a little more straightforward” than Barrasso — “sticking to the facts rather than sticking to the opinions.”
“I have nothing against Barrasso, short of when he started slinging mud,” he said. “There was also the fact he didn’t show up for any of the debates that set me to the point. I’m a strict term limits guy, and I think he’s served his time and it’s time to move on.”
Other challengers included John Holtz, a former judge, Roque De La Fuente and Anthony Van Risseghem, a sales associate at Home Depot. He would have been the youngest member of the U.S. Senate if elected at 33 years old.
Charly Hardy, a former Roman Catholic priest who’s fought for a delegation seat twice before, stepped out of the race at the 11th hour.
Barrasso, a firm party loyalist, meanwhile, has taken every opportunity to point out his successes, particularly those from the last year and a half, such as the Republican tax overhaul, confirmation of judges and regulatory rollback. Barrasso certainly has pulled Wyoming into Washington this session; a host of Wyomingites from the state’s environmental regulators to Gov. Matt Mead have sat before Congress at Barrasso’s invitation.
Dodson attempted to pressure Barrasso into a debate after the sitting senator did not attend one hosted by the Star-Tribune and Wyoming Public Media on Aug. 1 in Casper. Barrasso noted at the time that he was serving in the Senate, so he could not attend. Dodson capitalized on Barrasso’s absence that night and followed with an ad and social media campaign needling the senator for a face-off.
In an interview with the Casper Star-Tribune, Barrasso said he was not aware of Dodson’s blitz.
“I don’t follow him on social media,” Barrasso said.
In addition to his experience, the senator leaned heavily on what many conservatives in Wyoming see as a much improved climate since President Donald Trump’s election.
Wyomingites are happy with the direction of the country, Barrasso said in an interview with the Star-Tribune.
“There is a confidence and optimism all around the state,” he said. “I’m going to continue to listen to the people.”
Barrasso will face Democrat Gary Trauner in the general election.
Nick Reynolds contributed to this report.