Wyoming, Meet Liz Cheney
In a video message released July 16 on the Internet, Liz Cheney made clear to the world what many had suspected: She is running for United States Senate. Her opponent is veteran Republican Senator Mike Enzi. The date for the Wyoming senate primary is August 19, 2014, just 13 months from now.
The race has sent a jolt through Wyoming’s GOP, leaving many voters weighing Enzi’s solid conservative record against the potential of a woman best known for her connection to her father, former Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney.
Liz Cheney may come from Wyoming’s most famous political family, but she’s making her first introductions to Wyomingites in what early signs indicate may be a difficult campaign. The first poll on the race shows Enzi ahead of Cheney with 55 percent support compared to her 21 percent.
That doesn’t discourage the challenger. “I’m not surprised to be behind,” Cheney told WyoFile. “I think that’s where you start when you are a challenger, and I’m dedicated to spending the next many months here working around the state talking to voters face to face about the issues. I’m excited to be in the race.”
Grassroots support for Enzi has appeared on social media, such as the Facebook page Wyomingites for Mike, which is not endorsed by the Enzi campaign. “We can’t allow individuals to think they can just roll in to Wyoming and buy themselves a spot at the table in DC,” one post read.
Over the next 13 months, Wyoming’s Republican primary voters will have plenty of time to mull over whether they will prefer a younger newcomer with nationwide name recognition, or the seasoned and familiar Senator they first elected in 1996. Whether Democrats will put forward a competitive challenger for the general election remains to be seen.
Cheney filmed her announcement in front of a green pasture at her home in Wilson. The six minute speech laid out her policy goals to fight against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, increase domestic energy production, push back against Obamacare, and ensure the strength of America’s military.
Nowhere did the candidate mention Enzi, whose announcement earlier on Tuesday that he would seek reelection seemingly gave the green light for Liz Cheney’s campaign kickoff.
Some have seen Cheney’s move as ill-timed. Rather than waiting another six years (or more) for Enzi to retire, she’s challenging him on his home turf.
ABC news and others have questioned whether Cheney’s campaign will go “too negative, too soon.” Last week Cheney commented that Enzi was “confused” in thinking that she said she wouldn’t run if he did. Some read her remark as an attack on Enzi’s age. He is 69, while she will celebrate her 47th birthday later this month.
Wyoming politicians U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (both Republicans) quickly threw their support behind Enzi. Gov. Matt Mead, also a Republican, maintained a diplomatic stance that expressed his loyalty to both candidates.
“Senator Enzi does an incredible job. I count him as a friend, as I do the entire Cheney family,” the governor said.
The term “carpetbagger” came up repeatedly in the first few days of the race. By definition, a carpetbagger is someone who runs for election in an area where he or she has no local connections.
Cheney’s Twitter account says she arrived in “God’s Country” July 5, 2012, meaning that she’s been living in the state for about a year. The only other time Cheney lived as a resident of Wyoming was for a year or two as a child in the 1970s. However, she regularly visited both sets of her grandparents in Casper each summer and during the holidays.
Liz Cheney was born shortly after her parents moved from Wyoming to Madison, Wis., for graduate school in 1966. From reading Dick Cheney’s biography, it’s evident that the family lived in places like Annandale, Va., and Bethesda, Md., from 1968-1977 while he was working his way up into the position of Chief of Staff under President Gerald Ford.
Less than a year after Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter, Dick Cheney moved the family to Casper, Wyo., with plans to make a run for office.
His opportunity came late in 1977, when U.S. Rep. Teno Roncalio (a Democrat) announced during a University of Wyoming football game that he would not seek reelection. By December, Cheney had announced his candidacy for that seat. He won handily in November 1978, taking the family back to Washington D.C.
Liz Cheney emphasized that her departure from Wyoming was not of her doing. “When we left when I was 12 it was because my father was elected to represent the people of Wyoming,” Cheney said in an interview on the Cheyenne CBS station. “I tell people it’s not like I woke up one morning and said, ‘Hey, let’s relocate.’”
Cheney lived in suburban Virginia as a teenager. After graduating from high school in McLean, Va., in 1984, she attended Colorado College where she wrote a senior thesis on how presidential powers change during wartime.
In her 20s Cheney attended law school in Chicago, and worked on international finance projects in Eastern Europe, living for a time in Budapest and Warsaw. Through the late 1980s and 1990s she worked for the U.S. State Department, USAID, Armitage Associates, White & Case Law Firm, and the International Finance Corporation.
While that work kept Liz Cheney away from Wyoming much of the time, she has been coming to Jackson Hole, Wyo., since the 1990s to vacation with her parents.
Liz Cheney relocated from the beltway suburb to Wilson, Wyo., last summer, almost immediately raising speculation that the move was politically motivated.
Meanwhile, her husband, Philip Perry, is still a partner working at the powerful D.C. law and lobbying firm Latham & Watkins. The couple still owns their seven-bedroom house in McLean, Va., just 14 miles from the capitol. Dick and Lynne Cheney also still own a home in McLean.
While Cheney and Perry’s careers and ambitions revolve around D.C., their kids are settling into Wilson. Four of Cheney’s five children enrolled at Teton County public schools this year, and at least one daughter has taken up barrel racing. Another daughter has made a speech at the Wyoming Boys State convention.
Good morning from Wilson, Wyoming. Global warming? Not so much. pic.twitter.com/PMckkJfysE
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) May 1, 2013
Cheney has held volunteer positions in Wyoming for several years. She serves on the International Board of Advisors at the University of Wyoming, and volunteers for Rivers of Recovery, a Wyoming organization that promotes fly-fishing to rehabilitate veterans.
Since moving to Wyoming, Cheney has stepped up her activities to build political momentum across the state. She has made numerous appearances at county Republican dinners and energy industry events during the past year.
While Cheney’s education and career kept her away from the Cowboy State for 34 years, the carpetbagger charge may not turn voters off. She’s already shown on television that she will brush off that term by explaining that her ancestors came here in 1907, and that Wyoming has “always” been her home.
“The bottom line is what are your roots, what are you values, what do you believe in, and where is your heart? And my heart always been in Wyoming,” Cheney told WyoFile.
Over the next 12 months the campaign will work hard to make Wyoming more familiar with Liz Cheney. The candidate’s Twitter account already cultivates her Wyoming image with photos of trout, moose, and the state flag.
Cheney sounds like a local, too: “This is our state and our country, and we don’t have to accept what Washington DC has been doing to us,” she said in the campaign announcement.
Great day yesterday fishing the South Fork of the Snake River w/my dad! Caught this beautiful Brown Trout. pic.twitter.com/YAt0kbEu
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) July 31, 2012
Like father like daughter
Liz Cheney’s short time as a resident in Wyoming is balanced by the fact that everyone knows her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who is arguably the most powerful politician ever to come out of this state.
Without the Cheney connection, Liz Cheney’s resume might not appeal to Wyoming voters. She is a longtime resident of “Back East,” a D.C.-based Fox News commentator, a former U.S. State Department official, an international lawyer, and a campaign aide married to a high-powered Washington attorney and industry lobbyist.
To date, Liz Cheney’s most notable leadership roles involved two stints as a high-ranking official working at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, which was responsible for policy and goodwill missions in the Middle East during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
From 2002-2004, and again from 2005-2007, Cheney oversaw the spending of budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars intended to promote pro-American political, educational, and economic reforms in the Middle East.
Cheney left the State Department to work on Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign in 2007. Then in 2009 she founded the non-profit group Keep America Safe, which advocated for neo-conservative foreign policy and a strong American military. The group’s website was taken down without explanation in the weeks before she announced her candidacy for the Senate seat.
By all accounts, Cheney has a close relationship with her parents, through whom she has received extensive political education and experience. She first hit the campaign trail with Dick Cheney when she was 11. During her father’s first campaign for Vice President in 2000, she served as both a campaign aide and adviser.
In recent years she has worked to maintain her father’s legacy by co-writing his biography In My Time. In January 2012 she became a commentator for Fox News, months before buying property in Wilson, Wyo.
Cheney’s political goals are not mysterious or ill-defined. Like her father, she is a strong critic of President Obama on topics ranging from foreign policy to domestic energy production. She’s made an effort to decry Obama’s “war on coal,” which will likely emerge as a key message of her campaign.
“It’s time for new leadership in Washington because I think we need to take this fight to Obama in a way that we haven’t,” she told WyoFile.
Obama’s “climate change” policy=using phony science to kill real jobs. This is a war on coal, a war on jobs, a war on American families.
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) June 25, 2013
Running against Obama — and Enzi, too
Cheney’s campaign announcement made clear her opposition against the Obama administration, but didn’t mention Enzi, a former mayor of Gillette whose conservative credentials have earned him broad popularity in the state.
Enzi won his last election in 2008 with 76 percent of the vote, beating Democrat Chris Rothfuss, an engineer and lecturer from the University of Wyoming.
Enzi has Wyoming roots and a locally developed reputation. After graduating from Sheridan High School in 1962, he went on to study accounting and earned a Master’s Degree in retail marketing at the University of Denver.
In 1969, Enzi moved to Gillette to open a family shoe store. He was elected mayor of Gillette at age 30 during a time when the coal industry boomed and the city doubled in size. He then served in the state legislature as a representative and senator from 1987 to 1996.
Enzi has few critics in Wyoming. The only hint of scandal he’s been associated with comes through his son Brad Enzi’s association with Colorado-based North American Power Group and that company’s failed Two Elk power plant and carbon sequestration projects in northeast Wyoming. WyoFile has reported extensively on these topics, and there is no apparent link to Sen. Mike Enzi and any dealings of North American Power Group.
WyoFile reported that the company received nearly $10 million in U.S. Department of Energy stimulus funds for the Two Elk carbon characterization study, then the DOE suspended the project. It is now under investigation by a fraud specialist at the U.S. Department of Justice.
WyoFile has also reported that Enzi’s position has provided employment for his daughter-in-law Danielle Enzi, whom he paid more than $70,000 as a campaign fund-raising consultant in 2010-2011.
Those issues have yet to capture the attention of the majority of Wyoming voters.
Enzi is the kind of politician Wyoming voters identify with, precisely because he comes off as humble and unassuming. He has the air of a man who just does his job, and rarely seeks out the spotlight from media outlets.
Casper attorney and state representative Tim Stubson (R-Casper) thinks that’s a good thing. “Part of the reason Senator Enzi gets so much done, is that he gets that level of trust, because he is not doing it in a race to the spotlight,” Stubson said.
“It’s because of his low-key background that he gets things done, and it should not be mistaken for lack of aggressiveness on Wyoming issues,” Stubson added.
Enzi’s senate biography states that he has passed 39 bills through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee since 2005, a record his office considers “productive.” He served as chairman of the committee during the Bush presidency, during which 15 committee bills were signed into law. He also serves on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and is a senior member on the Senate Budget Committee.
Enzi has seldom appeared on TV, has not fundraised to the same extent as many other senators, or lived a lavish life. In 2010, campaign finance records showed his net worth was between $440,067 and $1,878,000.
Sen. Enzi’s biggest asset may be the three-story Washington D.C. home he bought in 1997 for $360,000, and which D.C. tax authorities valued at $874,000 in 2008.
But in the era of politicians as TV commentators, Enzi faces the threat of being inconspicuous, opening him up to a challenge from the younger, media-savvy Cheney.
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 22, 2012
If she were to win, Cheney would likely join Senator John Barrasso as a frequent guest on Fox News, giving Wyoming one of the most visible congressional delegations in the country, and one with a strong partisan flavor.
“Instead of cutting deals with the president’s liberal allies, we should be opposing them every step of the way,” Cheney said in her announcement.
Enzi, for his own part, has publicly denounced the need for compromise in the usual sense. At the state legislature earlier this year, he said, “Compromise means I give up half of what I believe in and you give up half of what you believe in, and we wind up with something that nobody believes in. What we need to do is find that common ground.”
Will Wyoming vote for a conservative Republican who will stand out on the national scene? Or does Wyoming want a conservative Republican whose demeanor and background resembles the average voter he represents?
So far, Enzi’s 34-point lead in polling shows most Wyoming voters prefer the politician they’ve known for the better part of 40 years.
Though both candidates will highlight their policy differences, they both come from the same side of the spectrum.
That’s led some to wonder why Liz Cheney would take the step of running against a well-liked incumbent like Enzi.
“There’s not significant disagreement on many major issues,” Rep. Stubson said. “Why would you run against someone who’s been very effective, other than to satisfy some personal ambition?”
— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. Originally from Big Horn, he holds an MA in history from the University of Wyoming and currently lives in Laramie. Contact him at email@example.com.
If you enjoyed this story and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.