SUBLETTE COUNTY—Retired trucker Kent Profit already knew he supported Wyoming House candidate and La Barge oilman Mike Schmid when he came out to Marbleton Park for brats and drinks.

The Big Piney denizen was particularly fond of how Schmid traveled to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021 to join a crowd of protesters who gathered in support of voted-out former President Donald Trump. That gathering infamously went sideways — Schmid said he did not take part in the violence — but nevertheless, Profit just liked that he was there. 

“He went down there to the cotton-picking deal, and stood up,” Profit said. 

Toni David, who stood nearby cradling her Yorkshire terrier, Dolly, was equally appreciative of Schmid’s presence outside the U.S. Capitol on that historic day some 1,700 miles away. 

“I’m proud of the fact that Mike was there,” David said. 

Big Piney resident Toni David, pictured with her dog, Dolly, was once an Albert Sommers supporter, but intends to vote for Mike Schmid during the Aug. 16, 2022 Republican primary election. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Schmid didn’t mention Jan. 6 when he gave brief remarks to about 15 family members, friends and townsfolk gathered at the park in support of his run against District 20’s incumbent Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale). But Schmid’s participation in the rally at the Capitol that led into a violent attack says a lot about the Republican faction he identifies with. It’s a camp of conservatives, aligned with Trump, who have appeal with some residents of Sublette County, a sparsely populated high desert region bounded by the Wind and Wyoming ranges. 

Exactly who dominates and what defines the Wyoming GOP is in flux, but  there’s a wing of the political right, who fashion themselves as the “true conservatives,” that includes the 20 or so members of the Wyoming House Freedom Caucus and the “six pack” conservative members of the Wyoming Senate. The Tuesday Republican primary will determine whether or not the statehouse tilts more or less in their favor, and whether the Legislature’s Republican establishment is still able to easily out-muscle the smaller, though growing, far-right faction.  

Sommers — the current House Majority Floor Leader who’s likely to be the next Speaker of the House — is facing his first challenger in a primary since being elected a decade ago. The fourth-generation cattleman door-knocked in a Pinedale-area subdivision while Schmid picnicked, and says he saw the primary election challenge coming as soon as Legislature’s 2022 budget session adjourned.

“I thought a group was going to come after me,” Sommers said. “The group is the extreme far right, that’s how I wish to name it. Mike [Schmid] appears to have aligned himself with those [politicians].” 

‘Real test’

In Wyoming, the test of Trump and candidates the former president has endorsed starts with the U.S. House of Representatives race, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is being challenged by Trump’s hand-picked proxy, Harriet Hageman.     

“This is the real test of Trump,” former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson told WyoFile in February

Despite raising record-breaking funds for a Wyoming congressional campaign, Cheney faces an uphill battle. Polling data suggests the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney trails by more than 20 percentage points in the race, though some analyses suggest the window is still open for a Cheney victory. 

The Trump-aligned candidates versus GOP establishment dynamic trickles down the ballot partly because the former president, who has rallied in Wyoming, has weighed in on statewide races via endorsements of the most hard-lined candidates: incumbent Curt Meier for state treasurer, Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) for secretary of state and Brian Schroeder for superintendent of public instruction. The same endorsements haven’t materialized for Wyoming legislative races, though oftentimes candidates for the House and Senate have staked a claim in one of the two camps. 

Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper) on the Wyoming Senate floor, February 2022. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

In Natrona County’s Senate District 29, Casper businessman Bob Ide has assumed the role of the Trump candidate who’s challenging incumbent Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper), who’s been in office since 2007. 

Like Schmid, and Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne, Ide was in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021. Photos and video show him close to the Capitol during the insurrection. Ide did not respond to WyoFile’s request for an interview, but he branded himself a “true conservative” who vowed to “NEVER” vote in favor of any new taxes or fees, according to his campaign website. 

When it comes to Trump’s claim the election was stolen, Perkins, who’s an attorney, has stood behind determinations of judges from around the country, including judges Trump appointed who later dismissed his allegations of elections fraud.

“I think that when the votes were counted, President Biden had more electoral votes than President Trump,” Perkins said. “Were there irregularities, sure, but I’m still waiting for the hard evidence.” 

Perkins doesn’t make much of how he and others are portrayed by more extreme challengers.

“These folks always say that they’re more conservative, and I just don’t buy that,” he said. “The biggest difference I’ve seen between myself and Bob Ide is that Bob believes that we shouldn’t be taking federal money. That’s an easy thing to say.”

The reality, the Joint Appropriations Committee co-chair said, is that Wyoming wouldn’t have the ability to upkeep its roads and keep the lights on in its hospitals without federal funds. In the current budget cycle, the Legislature appropriated nearly $2 billion of federal funding. 

Big money

Relatively big money is pouring into the Perkins-Ide race. The incumbent has raised $58,850, the most of all legislative candidates, according to his filings with the Wyoming Secretary of State. Ide, meanwhile, has cobbled together the second-most funds of all the candidates running for a legislative seat, with $56,220. 

As a general rule this campaign cycle, incumbents are getting support from traditional places. Sommers, for example, has taken in donations from the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and Perkins has received donations from the Wyoming Mining Association.  

Republican candidate Mike Schmid joked that he shouldn’t have cooked so many bratwursts at a poorly attended gathering in Marbleton on Aug. 10, 2020 in support of his campaign for Wyoming House District 20. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Schmid and Ide, meanwhile, were both recipients of donations from the Brophys, a wealthy Jackson family that has backed anti-establishment Republicans

In Wyoming’s northeast corner, incumbent Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) has raised the third-most money of all Wyoming legislative candidates. His challengers include Rep. Bill Fortner (R-Gillette) and Roger Connett, the former Crook County Republican Party chairman. 

“They’re trying to out-conservative me, that’s the game they’re all playing,” Driskill said. “It’s an interesting deal, because I was Trump before they were Trump.” 

Driskill described the so-called “six pack” of far-right senators who are looking to add to their ranks as ineffective and “bitter.”

“They talk about the establishment and the insider’s club, and there’s no such thing,” Driskill said. “The truth is, if you want to be an insider in the Wyoming Legislature, you actually learn how to work with the rest of your colleagues … You better figure out how to get the respect of at least 15 other people.” 

“They’re trying to out-conservative me, that’s the game they’re all playing. It’s an interesting deal, because I was Trump before they were Trump.”

Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower)

Fortner, who had a falling out with the House Freedom Caucus, is looking to switch from the House to the Senate. Driskill described his opponent as a do-nothing Wyoming politician. That could be because Fortner was allied with the Freedom Caucus that didn’t have the clout it needed to push its agenda, which included bills banning critical race theory in public schools or preventing day-of crossover voting. Fortner did not respond to requests for an interview. 

Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) in the Wyoming State Capitol. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

“What Representative Fortner has done is vote no on virtually everything under the sun,” Driskill said. “Voting no on everything doesn’t make you conservative, it makes you contrarian. You’re just opposed. Our job in the Legislature is to fix problems, not to be a bomb thrower.” 

Yet, for the likes of Connett, one of his other challengers, Driskill’s track record in the Legislature is that of a moderate — despite his proclamation of Trumpiness. Connett didn’t want to take shots at his fellow candidates, but thinks the incumbent senator is part of the problem in a Legislature that’s “geared toward a national social justice agenda” rather than the “conservative values of the people of Northeast Wyoming,” he said. 

“We have, for the most part, a pretty conservative state — certainly this corner of the state is conservative,” Connett said. “And we don’t perceive our Legislature being the same way.”

Down-ballot effect

In Sen. Larry Hicks’ (R-Baggs) view, it’s hard to say which way the Legislature will swing as a result of Tuesday’s primary. Hicks faces no challengers this cycle, though he was targeted by a far-right gun group last legislative session and anticipated having to fight for his seat. 

“I think you’re going to see one place where Democrats may make any inroads and another place where the moderate Republicans make inroads and another place where the more conservative branch of the Republican Party is making inroads,” Hicks said. “I think we’re going to end up with a mixed-bag of results.”

Hicks predicted that some establishment lawmakers will keep their seats as a result of left-leaning voters changing their registration and crossing over. They might be doing it to vote for Cheney, he said, but there’s bound to be a down-ballot effect.

Those crossover voters, Hicks said, could give a boost to inclubents like Sens. R.J. Kost (R-Powell) and Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston). Rep. Dan Laursen (R-Powell) and R. Ray Peterson are challenging Kost, while Rep. Bob Wharff (R-Evanston) is looking to unseat Schuler. 

The outcomes of those elections — like Schmid’s race with Sommers — will provide some insight into whether Trump’s influence on Wyoming politics is abating, stagnate or still ramping up. 

Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) at his home outside of Pinedale on Aug. 9, 2022. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

At the Marbleton picnic, David, with the Yorkie, explained how Sommers was once her guy. Her longtime representative lost her vote partly because she liked Schmid. Another reason, she said, is she hadn’t heard Sommers vocally disapprove of Cheney, who’s staked her own political career on standing up to Trump. 

“I haven’t heard, to this day, whether [Sommers] supports Cheney,” David said. “That’s an important item for me.” 

Later that night at his family’s historic homestead, Sommers offered his views. 

“I’m not going to condemn anybody,” he said. “Rumor ran around that I support Liz Cheney. I’m not saying who I’m voting for, but I’m not voting for Liz Cheney.” 

Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming's natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures...

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  1. Shmid, Ide and Eathorne appear to have been in Washington on January 6, 2021 to help overthrow a fair and free election. Apparently they idolize the habitually lying, boasting, bullying preening narcissist and degenerate of Mar-a-lago who leads their cult. Not being charged or convicted does not mean they are innocent of a crime: it only means they were not charged and that others actions that day were worse. In my opinion they are all anti-American scum.

  2. These people are so messed up that if this tilt continues, Wyoming and many other red states will have no Government left. I guess that is what a lot of people actually want, total chaos.

  3. Charles, well spoken. I was one of the first Trump proponents and the only one in my county’s GOP central committee and a true follower until I realized that his mouth and his Twitter was hurting us more than helping. I back Liz Cheney 100% and cannot see Wyoming sending a Harriet to represent us in DC.

  4. Anti everything means no progress.
    Leaning so far right just tips you over, no balance at all.
    Wyoming is not problem free and arguing about how right-wing or anti fed one is prepares WY for nothing going forward.
    If the Jan 6 insurrection is a badge of courage then we the citizens of Wyo are in deeper trouble here then Trump is with the law.

  5. I forgot to add, please Democrats, do not interfere with the primaries in hopes of nominating a candidate who might be easier to beat. You might not like the eventual outcome!

  6. Surprisingly we in Wyoming are suffering from the same problem that some big cities are experiencing. Big money supporting unqualified political candidates who are aligned with very the narrow views of the purse holders. Does any one really think Wyoming elections were fraudulent? That is just as stupid as prosecutors who think criminals should be released because they are persecuted people. Let’s please vote for qualified people for our public offices.

  7. With recent developments and the fact it is growing clearer by the day that Trump has many misdeeds that he will have to answer for it will be interesting to see what happens on Tuesday. Wyoming is in the spotlight but it has one thing that saves it from being a complete den of fools and conspiracy loving people who no longer believe in the Constitution and the rule of law in the person do Liz Cheney. Donald Trump is done and his ilk are being exposed as the leaders of a cult that is neither moral or as patriotic as they claim.

  8. Not too sure how Wyoming is a big test of whether Trump is a supposed ‘king maker.’ Any test has to apply nationwide or to those red states that are marginally red. Wyoming is so red this is a “test” where Trump’s already been given the answers.

    1. Ruben, I agree! Why is he meddling in our State? I understand his Liz effort but why Secretary of State?

    2. I agree completely with you. A test of Trump’s influence would come in a place that could go either way- not in a Trump stronghold such as the stifling political backwaters of Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas or Wyoming.