(Opinion) — I didn’t have a stopwatch handy, but I’d say it took me about 1.8 seconds to grasp the news that Rep. Cynthia Lummis is retiring before thinking that Liz Cheney is a sure bet to run for the seat.

The next few weeks will likely be filled with speculation by the media and political junkies about whether Cheney could win a congressional race in Wyoming. I’m going to walk out on a limb and say no.

I’m basing my prediction on two things: the disastrous six-month campaign she ran for the U.S. Senate in the second half of 2013, and the increasing unpopularity of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, with voters of all stripes. Believe it or not, there are more Republicans in the Equality State than you might think who are embarrassed that a neo-con who helped march us into war in Iraq and still advocates torturing prisoners of war reached the highest political office in Wyoming’s history.

Oh, and then there’s that important third factor: People from Wyoming like to vote for politicians who actually live here and want to represent them, and aren’t just looking for a way to get elected to Congress and carry on her daddy’s ultra-conservative political legacy.

I admit I was surprised by Lummis’ decision not to run for a fifth term, which has opened the door for Liz Cheney’s next foray into politics if she wants it. Although there’s been growing disenchantment among voters with some of her recent moves, particularly her alignment with the far-right House Freedom Caucus, as a Republican she still occupies one of the safest seats in Congress.

I can see why even with a GOP majority in the U.S. House the 61-year-old Lummis may want out of Washington, D.C., especially since she lost her deputy whip status in the Republican leadership after a confrontation with former Speaker John Boehner.

Lummis was clearly annoyed that any thought she had of succeeding Sen. Mike Enzi when he contemplated retirement two years ago was usurped by Cheney’s quick jump into the race. Lummis snidely suggested Cheney might want to run in Virginia instead, so it’s ironic her decision not to seek re-election now opens a path for Cheney.

There have long been rumors that Lummis would like to be governor. It’s unlikely incumbent Gov. Matt Mead will challenge state law by seeking a third term, so the office should be open in 2018. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Lummis in the political arena.

Meanwhile, Liz Cheney will have to make up her mind relatively soon if she’s going to get in next year’s House race. State Rep. Tim Stubson (R-Casper) announced his candidacy for the GOP House primary a few hours after Lummis made her decision public last Thursday. If Cheney wants to keep this race to a short list of hopefuls, she should ward off more competition as early as she can.

I don’t think Liz Cheney will be anywhere near as formidable a candidate as many initially considered her to be against Enzi. She made one big mistake right out of the gate by hinting at her intention to run before Enzi decided whether to seek a fourth Senate term. That didn’t sit well with Enzi or his supporters.

Looking back on her brief campaign, which ended when she dropped out due to family health issues, it was a series of mistakes that snowballed. All were seemingly avoidable, but Cheney ran into them head-on.

First was lying about her years of residency to illegally obtain an in-state fishing license. While political pundits back east couldn’t believe the misstep was even an issue, here in Wyoming people take their fishing privileges seriously. Cheney didn’t meet the requirement that a person must reside in Wyoming for a year to obtain an in-state fishing license. She tried to blame the poor guy who sold her a license for claiming on her application she was a 10-year resident. The violation cost her $220 and a ton of bad press.

An early poll showed Cheney 53 points behind Enzi. The gap may have narrowed, but her poor numbers created the impression Enzi was far too popular to lose.

In 2012 Liz Cheney bought a house in Jackson and called Wyoming her home, but that doesn’t change the fact she has spent most of her adult life in Virginia. She was born in Wisconsin, where her father was a congressional intern. The family moved to Wyoming and from age 12 Liz Cheney split time between Casper and McLean, Va., after her father was elected to Congress. She graduated from McLean High, Colorado College and the University of Chicago Law School.

The “carpetbagger” tag never went away and it will be back stronger than ever if she runs for the House. It’s an issue her primary opponents will surely exploit, but if she wins, the Democratic nominee would be crazy not to focus on such a weakness.

Dick Cheney held a major fundraiser for his daughter in D.C., which suggested her financial roots were planted far from Wyoming. It may have raised a lot of money, but she alienated voters who already questioned Liz Cheney’s commitment to Wyoming.

Then there was the fiasco at a reception in Cody. Lynne Cheney didn’t take kindly to the news that former Sen. Al Simpson was backing Enzi, his long-time friend, instead of her daughter. When she abruptly ended the conversation by telling Simpson to shut up, it made news coast-to-coast.

The conservative American Principles Fund ran TV commercials proclaiming Cheney “Wrong for Wyoming” because she supports same-sex marriage. She denied it, but previously she backed gay marriage. Her married lesbian sister Mary was not amused.

Shortly before she quit the contest there was a flap about her husband, Phil Perry, being registered to vote in both Virginia and Wyoming at the same time. Her campaign said it was an honest mistake, and that could be true, but it only reinforced the idea she isn’t one of us.

Last Friday I called Jim King, a University of Wyoming political science professor, to get his take on her chances.

King said Cheney would definitely have a better shot at winning an open congressional seat than she had against Enzi. Her biggest obstacle in 2014, he explained, was facing a popular incumbent who hadn’t lost touch with Wyoming and wasn’t embroiled in any kind of scandal that threatened his re-election. “She was always going to have an uphill battle,” he said.

But he acknowledged Cheney would still have to overcome the criticism that she’s only in Wyoming for her own political gain.

King said never holding elective office might also be a negative for Cheney. The Wyoming Legislature has been a fertile recruiting ground for congressional candidates in the past half-century, with one glaring exception: Dick Cheney, who won his initial try for public office when he ran for Congress in 1978.

Even though Wyoming Democrats are at a severe disadvantage with their low number of registered voters, King believes it’s possible for a member of the party to win if he or she runs a solid campaign. He noted other Democrats have come very close to knocking off GOP incumbents, including John Vinich against Sen. Malcolm Wallop in 1988 and Gary Trauner versus Rep. Barbara Cubin in 2006.

“But a Democrat will face significant challenges,” King said. “I doubt if the Democratic House Campaign Committee will think it’s worth putting any money into the race.”

Cheney might win a Republican primary whether it’s heavily contested or not, but she could face a tough time against someone who actually grew up in Wyoming and stayed. Folks here don’t believe in crowning political dynasties, and Liz Cheney’s problem would be compounded by her father, who left the vice presidency with the lowest approval rating for the office in history.

His daughter has co-written books with her dad that try to boost his political legacy, but the further removed the nation becomes from George W. Bush/Dick Cheney’s tattered administration, the lower he sinks in the public’s estimation.

If Liz Cheney is a candidate and she continues to be the political “clone” of her father that her sister Mary has called her, she does have a record to run on. It’s Dick Cheney’s, and it’s not a pretty sight.

An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated where Liz Cheney resided while growing up. —Ed

Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. This from a May 2006 Piece in Vanity FAIR by Todd Purdum:

    “Lynne’s father, Wayne, also worked for the government—for the Bureau of Reclamation—and her mother, the former Edna Loleta Lybyer, was a deputy sheriff. (A non-swimmer, she drowned at age 54 in enigmatic circumstances while walking her dog around a lake outside town one evening in 1973.) Mrs. Vincent’s law-enforcement job was largely clerical, but she carried a badge and “she knew everything there was to know about where we’d gone when we went out at night, what was happening in town,”

    1973 was when Dick Cheney was in the Nixon Administration. In August of 1974, Nixon resigned over the Watergate mess. Cheney was elected to Congress in 1978, and became a point man on the Iran Contra affair. leading up the Minority Report in the House that became very controversial. Only after ex Texas Senator, John Tower’s drinking and linked D C problems became an issue, was Cheney appointed to be Secretary of Defense, in March of 1989 for the Bush Administration( # 41). He had endeared himself to George Bush( # 41) on his carrying the water in the Iran Contra mess. In 1989, Liz Cheney had started working for the State Department. Until around 2013, Liz Cheney had spent little time in the State of Wyoming, beyond the Resort zones of Jackson Hole. Recently,(Nov 2015), AP reporting on Ex President’ Bush( # 41’s Book, “Destiny and Power” notes:”As vice president, Cheney “had his own empire there and marched to his own drummer,” the elder Bush said, adding: “He just became very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with. Liz rode on the empire created by her father, as she now has a non-profit, to leverage the beltway nexis ways. She does not appear as an active attorney on the State Bar of Wyoming, membership list.

    Jim Hagood
    Lakewood, Colorado

  2. Like, Lynne, I was a grad of U of Colo, Boulder. I enjoyed her book, “Blue Skies, No Fences”, and one of her favorite teachers she noted in her book, was that math teacher @ NCHS, who all felt lucky just to be in his class room(Mr W), he was such a great teacher. However, one thing that was very puzzling in her book, which appears to be ignored by the so called WYO Press. it was the mysterious death of her mom in Casper( reference Lynne’s book). It was claimed to be a drowning in a small lake while out walking her dog. How many were ever reported drowned in that pond, before, not much of a lake, and while walking a dog. Her mom worked at the Casper police Dept, when the mysterious incident happened.
    It was very shoddy and disgraceful, the way AL Simpson treated Lynne Cheney in Simpson’s pandering to Enzi. Mike Enzi was regarded as a fool by other Senators in describing his office operation as a “small business”. Also, i went to the same University as Enzi, George Washington University, as I was fortunate to get one of the most prestigious legal fellowships in America for a “LL’M( graduate degree in Law). Was Wyoming just saddled with a do nothing U S Senator, all talk no action. If civics is important in WYO, do any recall it was AL Simpson who made a mess of the 1986 Immigration bill, and Reagan said one of the biggest mistakes he ever made was signing that bill(the Simpson bill, which became the 1986 Act on immigration.
    See all in the news USA on immigration issues, and the recent appeal by the Obama Administration,
    of Federal Appeal Court rulings finding Obama acted illegally on his executive actions on immigration, a very important case now in the U S Supreme Court, where it will linger deep into the year 2016, and probably beyond November of 2016.
    Recent events in Paris were alarming to not only Europe, but to the very heartland of America. However,
    immigration is a # 1 tier issue in the USA, as is the debt crisis. Recall, the Former Joint Chief of Staff( U S Military, Admiral M), noted the biggest National Security issue facing America is its debt crisis.
    Dick Cheney never solved that, did he too craft 1986 immigration legislation, or sing on to it, that some may want to ignore in history. How is the history Departments at places in Wyoming, these days? Civics, generational responsibility, it is your State your Nation, so, hopefully voters/ citizens in Wyo do not remain passive in Wyoming.
    Recall, 2016, is(will be) the year of the non -politician. When Liz ran before, it was the year of the Enzi, — good old boys, led by old nasty talk but not much beneficial action to America– Al Simpson, the power freak. See President Bush( # 41), on the dirty deeds of the Duo, Dick Cheney and Rummy( Rumsfeld), to disservice the office of the President ( W), Mr mission accomplished, banners waving from an aircraft carrie landing. A recent Book by President Bush( # 41). Recall, Scooter Libby was side bar damage, as a result of the “fair game” antics of
    led by President Bush(W) VP Office. How many Veterans who had been front line Iraq felt that ruse was a disgrace.
    Did the war come home to Natrona County, the Racks killing incident, a shell shocked Vet, out drinking one snowy, Wyoming night. The good people in Wyoming better bring their civics to the table in 2016, Americans future is at stake.

    Jim Hagood

  3. Just to correct, it was Lynne’s Book, “Blue Skies”(not Liz’s). That was about Natrona County, not Teton.

    Jim Hagood

  4. Given that Liz got so many 100’s of million(to administer as an Assistant Secretary of State) on how to teach young Sunni men how to behave like right proper gentlemen,( the State Dept forays), and given that Alan Simpson gave her mom the back of his hand calling Lynne a liar, (google that spectacle), will this be a replay of Wyoming values via the beltway? Are Teton values, different than deep Wyoming values beyond resort borders? Since now Liz has been implanted on the selection Committee at the University of Wyoming to select its new President, after the debacle of Robert (Dr S), the issue of coal, ports, and rails will come up. Wait her turn
    Liz, will surely provide for a heated race, but since the 1970’s, no so called Democrat(party) candidate has won a federal position( U S) , as that Party has been held hostage to resort ways for some years. However, will Alan Simpson autograph anything that she can raise money for her venture(s)? At least, she got by her fishing permit follies, and Dick is still a hero in some blocks of East Casper, and ISIS will still be on the radar on T V’s, on many issues, as 2016 is the year of Cross ROADS in AMERICA.
    Why has the Democratic Party in Wyoming been a pathetic failure for over 45 years, on federal issues, are any going to figure that out?
    A Catholic Priest sure never cut it,( U S Senate race), and he seemed like a front for some show, just to say that Enzi had an opponent, like it was pretext that there is thin shade of Democracy in Wyoming. I read Liz’s book on blue Skies, and she recounts how her Families was real mad at Catholic Doctors. I will try and keep an open mind as to Ms Liz, but after all, she carrying her father’s very heavy luggage, and that issue will not fade, if she puts her Teton resort hat in the ring. But, then maybe she sees NCHS Dick as one to carry her luggage, given old FORD legacies.

    Jim Hagood

  5. Kerry,
    Just one correction….. Dick worked for Rep. Bill Steiger out of Wisconsin, I do not recall him working for anyone on the Hill that represented Michigan. Some folks here in Dubois say that Liz would be credible if she first put 3-4 years in as a city councilperson, school board director or a Teton County commissioner. No one doubts she has DC smarts. One thing for sure; it will interesting where the Primary campaign dough originates from….

    John Angst

  6. Kerry, Thank you for an excellent discussion, AND, I always admire your perspective,,, But alas, we have such short memories for the mistakes of the past.

    Chuck Harris