Wyoming went big for Romney, GOP increased dominance at home
By Gregory Nickerson, with contributions from Dustin Bleizeffer and Ron Feemster
When the polls closed Tuesday night, Wyoming voters gave modest increases to the Republican Party in the state legislature while strongly supporting Mitt Romney and pledging three electoral votes in his unsuccessful run for president.
Barack Obama lost ground in the Cowboy State compared to his 2008 performance. According to leaders in the state legislature, the significance of Obama’s reelection to revolves around federal policies on healthcare and the use of domestic energy and coal.
Though Obama made a decisive showing in the Electoral College on November 6, his share of the ballots came to about 28 percent in Wyoming. That represents a 5-point decline from the 33 percent of the Wyoming vote he won in 2008.
Some speculate that Obama lost ground in Wyoming due to the slow recovery of the economy and the unpopularity of his stances on healthcare and energy among Wyoming voters.
“The perception is that the nation isn’t moving in the direction, or fast enough in the direction it should,” said Senate Minority Leader John Hastert (D-Green River).
Even so, “Democrats are pleased to have the president have an opportunity to see if he can fulfill his promises in the second term, and get some bipartisan support and get the nation moving to where people think it ought to be,” Hastert said.
Four years ago, Obama won in only two Wyoming counties; the traditional liberal strongholds of Albany County, home of the University of Wyoming, and the wealthy recreation hub of Teton County. But this year Obama’s campaign lost by 406 votes in Albany County, where Romney captured 7,851 ballots. Obama maintained his dominance in Teton County, winning 6,211 to 4,858 after a massive turnout caused voting officials to run out of ballots.
Obama’s weak statewide showing balanced with Romney earning 69 percent of the vote, making Wyoming the second reddest state in the presidential election this year. Wyoming’s support for Romney came behind only Utah, where the majority-Mormon population contributed 72.3 percent of its votes to the Republican.
Romney’s showing represents a gain on the 65 percent of the vote earned by Republican John McCain in 2008. In that year, the Equality State ranked second in the nation for the proportion of Republican presidential votes, just behind Oklahoma.
In Wyoming’s Congressional elections, incumbent Republicans won by a landslide in races never judged to be competitive.
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) earned 76 percent of the vote compared to 22 percent for challenger Tim Chestnut (D). Country Party candidate Joel Otto earned 2.4 percent of the vote.
However, neither Sen. Barrasso nor Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) stand to gain chairmanship positions as they might have anticipated. Just a few months ago, both U.S. senators sounded confident while speaking to a Casper crowd, and speculated what was in store if Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate.
“If we have a Republican president, Republican vice president — you’ll recall that the vice president gets to break the tie on those leadership votes — and I’ll get to be a chairman of Health, Education, Workplace Safety, Training and Pensions. And that’s a pretty big bite of the apple,” Enzi said while addressing Petroleum Association of Wyoming members in August.
At the same event, Barrasso said he’d likely gain a chairmanship, too. But Democrats not only retained control of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, they picked up a couple of seats (53-45 and two independents). At least one of the Republican Senate candidates that Wyoming’s delegation stumped for during the election lost on Tuesday; Rep. Rick Berg in North Dakota.
In the race for U.S House, U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R) netted 69 percent of the ballots, compared to 24 percent for challenger Chris Henrichsen (D). Minority party candidates accounted for 7 percent of the vote.
Henrichsen’s loss by 45 percent fell far short of the 10-point loss Gary Trauner (D) made in his 2008 race against Lummis.
Henrichsen ran his campaign on a $25,000 budget, and noted in an interview with Wyoming Public Radio that some of the party’s major donors gave to out-of-state campaigns this year.
Wyoming Senate Minority Leader John Hastert explained that within Democratic Party leadership, the executive committee “felt like this wasn’t a year to put resources into national campaigns where we haven’t been at all successful in quite some time.”
“The executive committee … wanted to put resources into the [state] legislative races. That didn’t work well, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying,” Hastert added.
The Republican Congressional victories extend the party’s longstanding dominance in Wyoming’s delegation, which hasn’t included a Democrat since the retirement of Rep. Teno Roncalio in 1978.
|President||Percent (approx.)||Votes (Preliminary)|
|Gary Johnson (L)||2.1%||5,282|
|Virgil Goode (CONST)||.56%||1,394|
|John Barrasso (R)||76%||183,652|
|Tim Chestnut (D)||22%||52,456|
|Cynthia Lummis (R)||69%||164,976|
|Chris Henrichsen (D)||24%||57,000|
|David Brubaker (L)||3.4%||8,286|
|Daniel Cummings (CONST)||2%||4,915|
|Don Wills (Country)||1.5%||3,741|
Democrats lost two seats in the House this year. Sen. Hastert said voters in his part of the state have concerns over President Obama’s policies, particularly the Affordable Care Act. “Some of the legislative candidates caught the backlash of that,” he said.
In House District 22, which covers parts of Sublette, Lincoln, and Teton counties, the seat vacated by Jim Roscoe (D-Wilson) went to Marti Halverson (R-Etna). She defeated Bill Winney, an Independent, in the general election.
Republicans went head to head with Democrats in only two senate races. Republican challenger Curtis Albrecht lost by 241 votes to incumbent Sen. Floyd Esquibel (D-Cheyenne). Jim Anderson (R-Casper) defeated Democrat Kim Holloway to take over the seat lost by Kit Jennings (R-Casper) in the primary.
On balance, Hastert thought the Democrats performed well in the state, despite the loss of two seats in the house. “We had some outstanding individuals running some really quality races addressing the issues, and people got out and worked very hard and we’re very proud of the kind of things that the Democrats did,” Hastert said.
In HD30, Patrick Goggles, a Native American resident of Ethete and the minority leader of the House, won re-election by 26 votes over Jim Allen, a Republican rancher whom many tribal leaders felt was not sufficiently committed to maintaining tribal sovereignty.
Allen carried the six precincts whose voters live primarily outside the Wind River Indian Reservation, including heavily Native Luthy, with a 69 percent majority. Goggles won three larger precincts within the reservation with 73 percent of the vote. Both campaigns worked hard to turn out voters.
“Both campaigns had a strategy to get people to the polls,” Goggles said. “They did it their way. We did it ours. We proved to be 26 votes better.” Allen did not return repeated calls for comment.
Going into the 2013 legislative session, the party balance in the Wyoming House of Representatives will be 52 Republicans and eight Democrats. The Senate will maintain its ratio of 26 Republicans and four Democrats.
In both houses of the legislature, “It goes without saying that (minority Democrats) have to work across the aisle with our Republican colleagues, and everybody has the best interest of Wyoming at heart,” Hastert said.
House Majority Leader Rep. Tom Lubnau (R-Gillette) said the gains made by Republicans this year represent a continuing erosion of Democratic power in the state. He noted that Republicans have made gains in the state legislature since railroad worker unions began declining along the Union Pacific Railroad in the southern part of the state in the 1960s. He said Republican power seemed to climb with energy booms in Campbell County in the 1970s, and in southwest Wyoming and Sublette County in the last decade.
“The non-existence of a Democratic alternative will cause the legislature to move things more to the right because there is no countervailing force to draw things back to the middle,” said Lubnau.
Nonetheless, Lubnau doesn’t think the Tea Party or the efforts of CROW to weed out “Republicans in Name Only” made a mark on state legislative races. “I don’t know if those groups have a lot of effect. They make for headlines, I guess,” he said. “By and large I don’t see the House as having moved further one way or the other. It’s a conservative body and I expect it to stay so.”
If special interest groups typically don’t help get local candidates elected, they can sometimes hurt a candidate’s chances. Rep. Lubnau thought negative ads run against Rep. Bunky Loucks (R-Casper) by Cheyenne-based political action committee Citizens for a Better Wyoming probably damaged prospects for Democratic candidate Mike Gilmore. The ads ran without the approval of Gilmore, who lost the race.
“Wyoming has a traditionally bad reaction to negative campaigning. When you’re representing a district, there’s a chance you know 4,000 of them personally. When somebody talks bad about a friend, that doesn’t have a good effect,” Lubnau said.
Behind the minimal two-seat gain in the Republican majority in the Wyoming House is the fact that 38 out of the 60 races this year were uncontested. Thirty-five Republican candidates and three Democrats ran without opponents.
In the 15 Wyoming Senate races this year, nine Republicans and one Democrat ran uncontested.
In a twist that will likely lead to confusion in the future, Wyoming elected two men named Jim Anderson to the Wyoming Senate. Newcomer Jim Anderson (R-Casper) of Senate District 28 joins incumbent and Senate President Jim Anderson (R-Glenrock) of District 2 in Platte and Converse County.
The Affordable Care Act
In a press conference the morning after the election, Gov. Matt Mead (R) noted that the reelection of President Obama means that the Affordable Care Act will be fully implemented by 2014. The legislature is still studying the fiscal impact of the expansion of Medicare under the ACA, and it is possible that increased flow of federal dollars could offset some of the costs that Wyoming currently pays for healthcare, Gov. Mead said.
The stalled plans for setting up a state-run healthcare exchange may lead to Wyoming operating under a federal healthcare exchange at first, and later creating its own state exchange. Mead said the state had trouble getting together with other states to set up an exchange because of our small population and relatively large proportion of people in poor health.
Wyoming’s passage of constitutional Amendment A to give competent adults in the state the right to make their own healthcare decisions was aimed directly at opposing the Affordable Care Act. Gov. Mead said he expects the amendment to lead to “legal wrangling” and lawsuits in the future despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the law to be constitutional.
In separate comments made over the phone to WyoFile, Sen. Hastert said he attended a conference at Johns Hopkins University about Affordable Care Act that made him optimistic about the bill. “I don’t think it’s as bad as people think, if people give it a chance I think they are going to be pleasantly surprised,” he said.
— WyoFile reporter Gregory Nickerson is a University of Wyoming-trained historian and writer from Big Horn. He has worked on documentary films in Nicaragua, Yellowstone, and Philadelphia, and held jobs as a museum curator and hunting guide.
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