Mark and Jennie Gordon

Mark Gordon and his wife Jennie have donated nearly $80,000 to Republican candidates, but a handful of contributions to Democrats dating back to the 1990s has raised some eyebrows.

Happy Monday! Welcome to all you 307 Politicsers. Is that the right term? Here’s a fun story about demonyms, the word for what you call people from a certain place, or affiliated with a certain group. When I was covering local government for the Star-Tribune, the City of Casper — home of Casperites — hired a new city manager from Gillette. What word, I wondered, should I use to refer to people from that city. A call to city hall was little help, with the friendly woman who answered the phone suggesting “Gillette resident,” which wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I ended up going with “Gilletter,” which my editor ended up vetoing. I checked again last week with the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which didn’t have an answer either. If any readers know the right demonym please let me know at arno.rosenfeld@trib.com. In the meantime, feel free to use my creation.Mark Gordon’s political contributions

According to most of the folks I spoke with for Sunday’s story on the Wyoming governor’s race, State Treasurer Mark Gordon leads the field. That makes sense insofar as he is the only statewide elected official in the race and generally respected and popular around the state. But party primaries are notoriously partisan affairs. Not only do only Republicans vote in the GOP primaries, but it’s usually the most committed, conservative voters who turn out.

Some states that are dominated by a single party, like California and its Democratic supermajority, use a so-called “top two” primary system where candidates from both parties appear on the primary ballot and two advance to the general election. Often that means two Democrats run against each other in the general election, but proponents say that makes far more sense than a Democrat who received 100,000 votes in the primary facing a Republican who received 5,000.

But Wyoming hasn’t gone that route and there are reasons to think it won’t (the system weakens party control, among other things). So we’re left with primaries dominated by party stalwarts and Gordon has not always been faithful to the party line. His donations to Democrats, including Gary Trauner in a Wyoming U.S. House seat and John Kerry for president, became an issue in his own House race against Cynthia Lummis 10 years ago.

Let’s clear up a couple of things up front. Gordon is, obviously, a Republican. He’s also donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and causes — far more than he has to Democrats. That said, it seemed counterintuitive that anyone who had donated to John Kerry would not be significantly handicapped in a statewide Wyoming race.

A PDF of Gordon’s past political contributions since the 1990s — made to both Republicans and Democrats — is apparently circulating in some GOP circles, but the people I spoke with for Sunday’s article were split on whether or not the donations to Democrats would pose a problem for Gordon.

“In the primary in Wyoming you’re dealing with a very solid conservative Republican base and I’m sure some of this stuff will come up and it could hurt him,” Bill Sniffin, a columnist and Republican himself, told me. “But I don’t think it could give him anything even close to a fatal blow.”

“In the general election it could almost be an asset.”

Others, like GOP consultant Liz Brimmer, said that past contributions to Democratic candidates would make Gordon stick out in the race — and not in a good way, perhaps working against the leg up he has as a candidate with significant name recognition in Wyoming.

“That’s an anomaly,” she said. “You’re running in a Republican primary in a very conservative, red state.”

Gordon has not donated to any Democrats since the 2008 run against Lummis and before that time he was contributing to a mix of candidates from both parties. His explanation during that race and since has been that he gave to Trauner and Kerry, among others during the early aughts, out of frustration with the D.C. establishment, generally and specifically with what he saw as a betrayal of conservative values during the Bush administration.

What appear to be more damning contributions — if you’re a party purist — came in the 1990s when Gordon contributed to Democratic governor Mike Sullivan in his race against Craig Thomas and Secretary of State Kathy Karpan in her Senate race against Republican and current U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi.

But it’s a little more complicated than that. Gordon donated to both Sullivan and Thomas — and both contributions were made following the general election in order to help the candidates retire campaign debt.

In the Senate race, Gordon donated equally to both Karpan and Enzi. A slightly strange move, perhaps, but one that makes it difficult to portray him as a closet Democrat or anti-Enzi politician. Spokeswoman Kristin Walker said that Gordon knew both individuals and supported their campaigns.

“Mark understands that races are expensive,” Walker said in an email. “And when he knows and respects someone, he has stepped up to help.”

Walker also pointed out that 90 percent of Gordon’s political donations have gone toward Republicans — at an amount totaling nearly $80,000 — and have included the state Republican party, the national Republican party, Enzi, John Barrasso, Mitt Romney and John McCain.

Mark and his wife Jennie “have done more to help elect Republicans than any other candidate in this race.”

There’s an irony in reporting on the horse race aspect of these donations — what impact they will have on who wins and loses — as opposed to what they suggest about Gordon’s policy positions. Voters tend to decry the nation’s current, hyperpartisan political climate and loath calculating politicians. Gordon’s willingness to donate to members of both parties bucks both of these trends, and yet it may nonetheless exist as a political liability.

But some don’t think so. Jimmy Orr, another longtime Republican consultant, said that the donation question is really water under the bridge. He points to the decision by the Republican Central Committee, “which is a very conservative group of people,” to shortlist Gordon for appointment as treasurer in 2012. By that point, news of the donations was public knowledge.

In other words, Orr said, if the donations were going sink Gordon’s political career, that would have already happened.

“The very conservative central committee in essence said, ‘No, we’re not worried about him at all,’ ... and if there were further concerns about Mark’s record then he wouldn’t have won (statewide reelection) overwhelmingly four years ago,” Orr said. “I think it will undoubtedly be brought up, but i think it will ring hollow just because it didn’t work when he ran before or was vetted by the Republican Party.”

“Something signaled to them, ‘No, Mark’s fine.’”

If the donations become a moot issue, it’s hard to see any obvious weaknesses in Gordon’s candidacy — though I’m sure his opponents will be proposing all sorts of possible faults as the campaign unfolds.

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.

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