Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) is outraising her Donald Trump-backed opponent, Harriet Hageman, by a four-to-one margin. Campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission this week revealed a record-breaking $2.05-million haul by the congresswoman in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Cheney’s campaign declined to comment on how it plans to spend those dollars. But that volume of money won’t simply equate to an onslaught of radio ads or yard signs, according to several sources with experience running campaigns in Wyoming. Experts say it means having the ability to efficiently travel the state and to hone advertisements and other messaging with expensive, high-quality polling and scrupulous opponent research.
Not just billboards
Without a major media market, Wyoming is a unique landscape to run a political campaign. It’s not unusual, for example, to see advertisements for Wyoming candidates show up on televisions in Montana, Utah and Colorado. It also means smaller markets play a larger role here than they do in more populous states.
“She’ll be able to flood every radio market that she wants to with advertisements,” Jim King, a professor of political science at the University of Wyoming, told WyoFile. King also pointed to travel. In Wyoming, “having lots of money means you fly from market to market, rather than having to do the drive from Cheyenne to Casper,” King said. During the most recent gubernatorial race, Republican primary candidate Foster Friess used his private plane to cover a lot of ground in a large geographical state. King said Cheney’s fundraising could afford her similar means of travel.
But before voters hear radio ads or planes take to the air, they’re likely to be the subjects of granular polling and intense research, Chris Boswell said. Boswell served as chief of staff for Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, and spent a decade in Wyoming’s House of Representatives. The kind of polling he pointed to is “not the usual ham-handed stuff,” he said.
“But insightful, directed polling to determine what voters are paying attention to, what they care about in their lives, what they worry about,” he said. From there, Boswell said, messaging can be developed for numerous, distinct, very specific audiences.
Several others with campaign experience in Wyoming echoed this point. They asked not to be named because they’re actively involved in political consulting, although not with any candidates in Wyoming’s congressional race. These consultants said effective polling and targeted messaging is expensive, rising into the hundreds of thousands — especially when it involves opponent research.
In this particular race, experts said, that’s bound to include Cheney’s campaign taking a fine-toothed comb to Hageman’s 30 years as a trial attorney, a long paper trail of cases, affidavits and arguments made before a court. Again, experts said, that type of research is expensive since it requires not just subject-matter knowledge, but also political savvy to extrapolate what might be compelling for voters.
Being able to afford that kind of research early on in a race, one source said, is “invaluable.”
According to Cheney’s FEC filing, the campaign spent around $214,000 on various types of consulting in the fourth quarter, including “political strategy consulting” and “campaign consulting.” It also spent about $195,000 on digital marketing and advertising during that same quarter.
“Every dollar means more opportunities,” King said in regard to advertising. However, King also said there will be “a point of diminishing returns.”
Meaning, voters grow tired of hearing ads or seeing political signs. One source told WyoFile that this kind of fatigue can also apply to polling. For example, call one particular voter one too many times and a candidate can lose their vote. Having a dedicated team or the kind of sophisticated database that prevents redundant campaign calls can make a huge difference, the source said. That is, if a campaign can afford it.