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Gray opponents fail to find independent secretary of state challenger

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Election day in Casper

People vote on Aug. 16 at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo fairgrounds in Casper. The deadline to qualify as an independent candidate in the November election passed Monday without a challenger for Republican secretary of state nominee Chuck Gray. 

After a last ditch effort that had moderate Republicans scrambling to find an independent challenger to run against Wyoming’s election-skeptic Republican nominee for secretary of state, no independent candidate filed a petition by the Monday deadline.

Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler told the Star-Tribune that only candidates for state House and Senate seats submitted sufficient petitions to be put on the ballot.

A group of traditional, moderate-leaning Republicans and some Democrats were attempting to find an independent challenger against Donald Trump-endorsed Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, who recently won the Republican nomination for secretary of state. They had between the Aug. 16 primary and 5 p.m. Monday to do so.

Organizers had to gather more than 5,400 signatures to get an independent on the ballot.

Gray ultimately beat Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, by roughly 9 points, or 13,000 votes, in the Republican primary. He does not have a Democratic challenger.

Gray prevailed as a 2020 presidential election skeptic, saying that there was more fraud than the margin of votes between Biden and Trump. He pushed to ban ballot drop boxes, which have become a target after the movie “2,000 Mules” was released, a film that alleges — with insufficient evidence — that widespread voter fraud occurred in the 2020 presidential election. The lawmaker also sponsored numerous showings of the movie throughout Wyoming while on the campaign trail.

Nethercott said there was “no objective evidence” to prove that the 2020 election was stolen for President Joe Biden, and she repeatedly emphasized her confidence in Wyoming’s elections. Court across the country have also repeatedly rejected claims of voter fraud in an amount that could have influenced the 2020 election.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, tried to convince former Republican representative Nathan Winters to run as an independent against Gray and went as far to circulate a petition, but Winters declined to run, explaining that it was important for the GOP to unite behind Gray.

Former Republican Rep. Tim Stubson said he got “15 or 20 calls, texts or emails asking” him to launch a campaign.

Richard Garrett, a longtime lobbyist, said last week that he talked to between 40 and 50 people about finding an independent challenger since Nethercott lost earlier in the month.

While most eyes were on the secretary of state’s office, a number of independent challengers did file their candidacies by the deadline.

Four state House candidates submitted petitions that have already had their signatures validated:

  • House District 4: Dan Brecht, who will face Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland;
  • House District 8: Brenda J. Lyttle, who will face Republican Dave Zwonitzer;
  • House District 22: Robert Strobel, who will face Republican Andrew Byron, who ran unopposed;
  • House District 54: Jeffery Martin, who will face Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, who also ran unopposed.

One candidate submitted a petition that has not yet been validated by the secretary of state’s office and one candidate submitted an already approved petition for Senate:

  • House District 5: Todd Peterson
  • Senate District 23: Patricia Junek

If approved, Peterson will face Republican Scott Smith, who beat incumbent Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle. Junek will face Former Speaker of the House Eric Barlow, who won the uncontested Republican primary. There are no Democratic candidates in any of the six races.

The general election is Nov. 8.

Follow state politics reporter Victoria Eavis on Twitter @Victoria_Eavis

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