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Wyoming’s congressional delegates faced challengers in live debate

By Gregory Nickerson

Wyoming’s congressional incumbents held their own in a debate against challengers last night, displaying the practiced manner of Washington veterans while responding to criticisms from Democratic challengers and largely getting a pass from minority party candidates.

Most of the candidates expressed conservative philosophies, perhaps best stated by two-term Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis in a comment about FEMA’s response to Hurricane Sandy: “The role of the federal government is to be strong, but limited, severely limited.”

The candidates discussed Social Security, the Affordable Health Care Act, the role of government and the proper size of the military, among other issues, during the debate Thursday night hosted and moderated by Wyoming PBS, Wyoming Public Media, and the Wyoming Business Report.

Incumbent U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R), faced his challengers Tim Chestnut (D), and Country Party candidate Joel Otto. The field for Wyoming’s U.S. House seat includes U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R) who faced challengers Chris Henrichsen (D), Country Party candidate Don Wills, Constitution Party candidate Daniel Cummings, and Libertarian Richard Brubaker.

Most of the candidates questioned the scientific evidence  that mankind is influencing climate change, though several noted the earth seems to be in a warming trend. Senate candidate Joel Otto (Country Party) said he believes increased solar activity causes the warming. Sen. Barrasso doubted the wisdom of the U.S. limiting CO2 emissions, saying it could jeopardize the domestic economy. He asserted that countries like China and India generate so many emissions that a cap on U.S. CO2, “would make no difference on global emissions.”

Senate candidate Tim Chestnut (D) had concerns about the amount of money Sen. Barrasso has spent on his campaign, saying much of the Republican’s funds came from Political Action Committees (PACs) and special interests. Information on Sen. Barrasso’s campaign fundraising is available here.

Sen. Barrasso responded to Chestnut by saying over 2,200 Wyoming residents contributed to his campaign. “I’m going to represent the people. So many of the PACs are made up of people who live and work in Wyoming.”

In the debate for U.S. House, Rep. Cynthia Lummis invoked Paul Ryan’s budget plan several times, saying he has the best ideas for reforming Medicare and reducing the deficit. In her closing remarks Rep. Lummis urged voters to cast their ballots for the Romney-Ryan ticket, Sen. Barrasso, and herself. She said the Republican candidates offered a choice for growth and opportunity that contrasts with a path that would turn the U.S. into a, “European social democracy.”

House candidate Chris Henrichsen (D) criticized the Wyoming delegation’s handling of the loss of Abandoned Mine Lands money. “My first priority when I get to Washington D.C. is to get that money back. I think the delegation should have made it a bigger priority.” He argued the delegation focused too much on partisan causes and electing presidential candidates instead of tending to issues that directly affect Wyoming.

Rep. Lummis (R) defended the delegation’s actions, saying representatives from other states “cannibalized” the money in the dead of night on a committee that none of the Wyoming delegation served on. She took great offense when chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), did not answer her calls on the issue.

Constitution Party candidate Daniel Cummings said the delegation didn’t mishandle the AML funds. Country Party candidate Don Wills agreed, saying, “The delegation didn’t do anything wrong. It’s how Washington works.” Both argued that Wyoming would have been better off seeking a state-based solution for reclaiming abandoned mines.

In contrast to recent national debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the Wyoming candidates respected 30-second and 45-second time limits for their responses. The debates moved along at a rapid-fire pace for more than two hours. Moderators included Bob Beck from Wyoming Public Media, M.J. Clark from the Wyoming Business Report, and host Richard Ager from Wyoming PBS.

WyoFile added to the conversation by contributing questions to the moderators. WyoFile’s Dustin Bleizeffer and Gregory Nickerson also posted to twitter throughout the debate here.

Footage of the debates is available at the Wyoming PBS website.

— 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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Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on

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