Liz Cheney, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said on Sunday she has the unique experience and expertise to serve Wyoming in Congress.
Cheney, 49, spoke exclusively to the Casper Star-Tribune while traveling from her home in Wilson to Gillette, where her campaign was expected to formally launch Monday.
The Republican joins a field of 10 other candidates seeking Wyoming’s only U.S. House seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis.
Cheney left her job as a contributor to Fox news last week. She also resigned from her position with the Alliance for a Strong America, an organization she started with her father which advocates for an aggressive U.S. foreign policy.
She confronted the allegations that she’s not firmly established in Wyoming, having spent much of her life outside the state. Those criticisms followed her in her abbreviated campaign against U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi in 2014, and have already resurfaced in the dawn of her House campaign.
“My family’s been here for four generations,” she said. “My husband and I are proud and blessed to be raising the fifth generation here now. The values that are instilled in you as part of a family that’s been here for over 100 years is part of what drives me.”
She described those values as grit, self-reliance and determination.
On the campaign trail, Cheney said she will focus on agriculture, domestic security and energy. She will touch on other issues important to Wyoming Republicans, such as the Second Amendment and expanding federal bureaucracy, she said.
Before she officially kicked off her campaign, Cheney announced she would decline contributions from political action committees, which can give up to $5,000 in primary and general elections and are formed by people with similar business and ideological interests.
“I am going to be very much focused on the substance of this race,” she said. “I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people talking about the process, talking about all kinds of things, making all sorts of speculations.”
Cheney said she raised money from across Wyoming during the six months she challenged U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi in 2013. She dropped out of the race because of a family health matter, but has since said the family is strong and moving forward.
Cheney faces two Republicans in the state Legislature: Sen. Leland Christensen, from Alta, a town also located in wealthy Teton County, and Rep. Tim Stubson, the third-ranking Republican in the House.
Six other Republicans are in the race for U.S. House thus far: Darek Farmer, a stay-at-home father and former oil field worker from Guernsey; Mike Konsmo, a professor at Northwest College; Paul Paad; a Casper resident and lobbyist at the state Legislature for a motorcycle enthusiast group; Rex Rammell, a Gillette veterinarian who has run for state and federal offices in Idaho; Jason Senteney, a state corrections officer who sought the office in 2014; and Charlie Tyrrel, owner of Charlie T’s pizzeria in Casper.
Richard Grayson, a Democrat who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and the Phoenix area, is also running, as is independent John Meena, a database administrator and accountant for the state.
Some Wyoming Republicans are critical that Cheney is launching her campaign in Wyoming’s coal country, including Annaliese Wiederspahn, daughter of Lummis, who holds the House seat.
“You can’t champion coal in Wyoming when you (ran against) Sen. Enzi, who is Gillette’s hometown hero and the No. 1 coal advocate in the U.S. Senate,” said Weiderspahn, who is Christensen’s campaign chairwoman. “That’s where I struggle.”
Wiederspahn is among a voice of critics who charge Cheney hasn’t lived in Wyoming long enough, or hasn’t fully ingrained herself in the state when she’s lived here.
“I grew up in Wyoming,” Wiederspahn said. “I don’t know them well because they were in D.C.”
Cheney was born in Madison, Wisconsin. In Wyoming, young Cheney lived in Casper, attending fifth and sixth grades at Park Elementary and seventh grade at Dean Morgan Junior High. Then the family moved to the Washington area as her father began his work in Congress and serving under various presidents.
She graduated from Colorado College in 1988, and the University of Chicago’s law school in 1996. She has worked in the U.S. State Department under both Bush presidencies, including as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs when her father was vice president.
Cheney and her husband, attorney Phil Perry, purchased a house in Wilson in May 2012.
Cheney will enter the race with name recognition, since she’s the daughter of the former vice president, but Wyoming voters will have expectations for her, Wiederspahn said.
“They expect every candidate to stand on their own two feet,” she said. “The truth is Liz Cheney has been on her own two feet in the state of Virginia for 40 years.”
Wyoming only has one seat in the U.S. House, and Wiederspahn said Wyoming needs to send an authentic voice.
“It’s a huge honor to get to represent the people of Wyoming,” she said. “My mom always felt it was the greatest privilege. I think you have to work for it. I don’t know if (Cheney’s) put the work on the ground in Wyoming.”
As for Lummis, she is not endorsing anyone in the primary.
“Rep. Lummis welcomes all the candidates for Wyoming’s lone Congressional seat in the House, looks forward to supporting the Republican nominee, and will help whomever Wyoming elects to transition in Washington next January,” her spokesman, Joe Spiering, said in an email Sunday.
Responding to criticisms of how well she knows Wyoming, Cheney said:
“You know, I’m raising my kids in Wilson, Wyoming, and I have one daughter in college and four kids there. My time is very much taken up with things like hockey games, and hockey tournaments, and our daughter who is in the high school rodeo team, and traveling the state with her. And I have another daughter who is on the state championship soccer team. So being a mom to four kids, there’s nothing that gets you more engaged and involved in your community than that.”
Obama and beyond
Cheney on Sunday connected issues such as energy policy, the Second Amendment and families out of work to President Obama.
It’s time “to get the federal government out of our lives and put it back into the kind of position it ought to be in,” she said. “And that involves both this whole series of domestic issues that I’m focused on, as well as restoring America’s strength internationally.”
She also addressed Wyoming’s dependence on the coal industry.
“When you’re talking about, for example, how do we end the war on coal, you’ve got to have the ability to put together a national coalition to do that, to be able to convey to people it’s not just Wyoming that’s suffering here, but it’s the whole country,” she said. “It’s anybody who appreciates electricity. … We’ve got to have somebody in Washington who’s willing to stand up and lead on those issues.”
Cheney and her father recently wrote “Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America,” which reviews seven decades of U.S. leadership in the world and outlines a set of foreign policy expectations for the next president.
Cheney hasn’t thrown support behind any of the GOP contenders for the White House, instead saying she is focused on her race.
In December, Dick Cheney spoke against Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. He said it violated religious freedom, an important part of U.S. history.
The younger Cheney believes the U.S should stop Syrian refugees from entering the country.
“The White House and the State Department continue to tell us that we’re vetting all the Syrian refugees who are coming in,” she said. “You know, that is just a lie. They cannot be vetted. I think our focus needs to be on the direct threat we are facing now has to with the Syrian refugee inflow. And the need to secure our border. We do not know who is coming in.”
On Monday in Gillette, Cheney plans to meet with people affected by the downturn in the coal industry, visit the Campbell County Senior Center and talk to community and local GOP leadership. She will meet with her Campbell County campaign organizers at Jordans Western Dining, owned by Jordan Fischer, who had worked for the George W. Bush administration.
There won’t be any big parties, she said.
“I’m really very focused on what’s happened in Campbell County and the impact of the nearly last eight years on the coal industry,” she said. “So it’s focused on substance, focused on issues, focused on the substance of the crisis that the county and the state are facing.”
The rest of the week she plans to travel across Wyoming, visit local organizers and answer questions.
She’ll be in Cheyenne when the state Legislature begins a roughly 20-day session during which lawmakers will discuss a future with hundreds of millions of dollars less in the state’s coffers.
“But my focus is on the issues that Wyoming’s representative in Washington will be faced with,” she said.
Learning from her father
Cheney said she learned about elections in Wyoming when she campaigned as a child across the state with her father, starting in 1978, when he ran for Congress.
Dick Cheney served in the same House seat she is seeking, from 1979 to 1989, when he was named President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of defense.
“I believe strongly in the way Wyoming elections are fought and won: That is, every single voter matters, every single vote counts, and you have to earn every single vote,” she said. “The way you do that in Wyoming is face to face with people. That is how I’m going to be spending my time between now and the primary. And then the primary and the general.”
Wyoming, with only 584,000 residents, is small enough that people have the opportunity to meet in person and “take the measure of a candidate,” she said.
Cheney said her father is staying out of her race.
“He has been extremely supportive and he’s obviously a man of tremendous and wise counsel, but this is my race,” she said. “And I’m going to run it as my race.”