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Tourism Debate

Taylor Haynes, a Republican candidate for Wyoming governor, speaks during a June debate at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper. Also participating were Republicans Foster Friess, Sam Galeotos, Mark Gordon and Harriet Hageman, and Democrat Mary Throne.

State Treasurer Mark Gordon, Cheyenne businessman Sam Galeotos and natural resources attorney Harriet Hageman are the leading half of the packed Republican gubernatorial primary field, according to a mid-June survey conducted by University of Wyoming pollsters.

By far the largest percentage of the survey respondents — 35 percent — remained undecided with their votes, leaving the GOP’s nomination up for grabs as the campaign enters a six-week sprint to primary day, Aug. 21.

The poll — commissioned by Wyoming Public Media and Wyoming PBS — measured candidates’ name recognition and voters’ current preference for party nominee. It also asked which of the six Republican primary candidates respondents would most prefer to see in a debate.

The survey was of registered Republican voters. The results of the poll were used to structure a debate to be hosted and broadcasted by the two public media organizations in Cheyenne on Thursday. The three leading candidates will debate first, at 7 p.m., while candidates Foster Friess, Bill Dahlin and Dr. Taylor Haynes will face off afterwards.

Separately, the survey showed that a majority of Republican voters support paying more taxes to support public education. Thought they focused on the gubernatorial candidates, pollsters also asked Republican voters how strongly they supported or opposed an increase in their taxes to support Wyoming’s K-12 education needs.

Forty-nine percent of respondents supported the increase, while 38 percent opposed it and 13 percent neither opposed nor supported. The finding bolsters a hotly-debated Wyoming Education Association poll from last summer that showed more than two-thirds of registered voters in the state are willing to pay more in taxes to support public education.

None of the Republican candidates have expressed support for increased taxes, however, preferring to discuss increased transparency and continuing the budget trimming of the last few years.

The poll, conducted over two days from June 18-20, put Galeotos slightly ahead of Gordon when respondents were asked about name recognition. It gave Gordon a more significant lead when respondents were asked who they would vote for if they had to choose the next day. In that hypothetical scenario, Gordon led the field with 19 percent of the votes from the 596 survey respondents. Galeotos took 14 percent.

Galeotos’ lead on name recognition indicates the tech businessman has made strides against Gordon, who was presumed the frontrunner earlier this year largely because of his known name. Gordon has served as Wyoming’s state treasurer since 2012 and ran a statewide campaign against former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis in 2008. Galeotos has never entered a political campaign in the state before, but has seasoned Wyoming political veterans backing his run.

When the candidates take the debate stage Thursday, it will have been three weeks since the poll was conducted. Friess scored 57 percent name recognition and was trailed only by Sheridan businessman Dahlin, who only had 21 percent recognition. But Friess has been blanketing airwaves, print newspapers and social media with campaign ads in an attempt to increase recognition among voters who may not be familiar with the Jackson philanthropist, despite his renowned business success and high-profile role in national conservative politics.

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Hageman trailed the two men in the “vote tomorrow” question, with only 11 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for her at that time. Hageman is seen as likely to split more conservative votes with perennial candidate and professed constitutionalist Haynes, who got 10 percent of the responses.

A recent WyoFile report noted that Haynes’ residency status in Wyoming is under question and is being investigated by Albany County District Attorney Peggy Trent. Depending on that investigation’s resolution, it could boost Hageman’s slice of the conservative voter pie. Trent declined to comment on the status of the investigation Monday.

Hageman’s strong position comes despite her seeming lack of a television presence. The majority of television ad buys are coming from Friess, Galeotos and Gordon, according to Federal Communications Commissions filings. In Cheyenne and Casper, two of the state’s largest television markets that are likely high in the mind of a vote-counting campaign manager, it does not appear Hageman, Dahlin or Haynes have purchased television spots. Hageman has a strong presence on social media, however.

In what is perhaps a nod to the power of campaign advertising, the candidate who declared his campaign the earliest was the least recognizable, according to the survey. Dahlin, a political novice, created his campaign committee last July and since then has been crisscrossing the state in an RV with his name and face emblazoned on the side, according to his social media accounts. In a debate in Sheridan on June 27, Dahlin said he is deliberately keeping his spending down because he felt it was hypocritical to campaign on fiscal responsibility but spend large amounts of money on advertisements.

Only 9 percent of survey respondents said Dahlin was among the top three candidates they would like to see in a debate, while only 1 percent said they’d vote for him. When asked how favorable their opinion of the candidate was, 53 percent said they were indifferent, while 24 percent said they either didn’t know or weren’t sure.

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