Wyoming Democratic Party chairman Joe Barbuto looks at a report on the party’s finances during the party’s state central committee meeting in Saratoga on Saturday, July 31, 2021. (Nick Reynolds/WyoFile)

The 2020 elections weren’t fruitful for Wyoming Democrats.

Republican candidates dominated the returns in districts across the state, swallowing opposition candidates in statehouse races Democratic leadership believed to be competitive.

Historically blue districts in Sweetwater County flipped to the GOP for the first time in a generation. A Cheyenne seat occupied by LGBTQ activist Sara Burlingame fell to Republicans for the first time in decades. A trending-blue House district in Lander held by Republican Lloyd Larsen was easily retained by the longtime representative. 

The party saw some gains on election night 2020.  A majority of Albany County voters cast ballots for Joe Biden, and Trey Sherwood successfully flipped the once-red House District 14. Down-ballot Democrats won 48 of the 85 races they competed in around the states, and Republicans spent more money to keep their seats than they ever have, according to campaign finance data.

Top-line numbers, however, seemed to indicate an already outnumbered party in further decline. With a midterm election on the horizon in 2022, Democrats are looking to change that. The state party is approaching next year’s elections with renewed energy, Chairman Joe Barbuto told party leaders at its summer state central committee meeting in Saratoga last week.

“We certainly see a lot of pickup opportunities in Albany County, Laramie County, Fremont County and Sweetwater County, winning some of those seats back,” Barbuto said in an interview. “But really, we will compete anywhere and everywhere.”

The roadmap

Wyoming Democrats’ will approach the 2022 campaigns in much the same way they have since Barbuto took the reins in early 2017, Barbuto said.

Though newly seated Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison has urged state and county parties to run candidates for every seat possible, the brunt of the Wyoming Democratic Party’s resources, Barbuto said, should be focused on recruiting a handful of strong candidates in districts where Democrats are mathematically competitive. In less-competitive counties, Barbuto stressed focusing on building a bench of candidates for later and community engagement through increased turnout or filling every available party precinct seat.

“In a lot of places, we know that it’s like pushing water uphill,” Barbuto told committee members. “…If your only goal in the election is to win — and yes, that’s the ultimate goal — but if that’s your only goal, then there’s a good chance on election night of disappointment.”

The party anticipates entering the 2022 election cycle better funded than past years. 

Fundraising has improved for candidates and the party alike — the WDP reported $365,000 in total contributions in 2020, according to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office. The Democratic National Committee has also pledged an additional $60,000 per year to red-state Democratic Party committees this cycle as part of its “50-state strategy,” bringing the party’s total monthly income from the DNC to $15,000 per month. That money comes without strings attached, Barbuto said.

Wyoming Democratic Party executive director Sarah Hunt addresses attendees during the party’s state central committee meeting in Saratoga on Saturday, July 31, 2021. (Nick Reynolds/WyoFile)

From a messaging standpoint, the party’s success next year nationally will depend largely on its ability to avoid polarizing issues advanced by Democrats in more urban districts, party leaders acknowledged. According to polling data, Wyoming, whose voters supported Trump more than any other state, will likely require different tactics than those employed in more urban districts.

While President Joe Biden’s agenda remains widely popular, according to most national polls, even the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – the campaign arm of the DNC – has acknowledged Democrats face an uphill battle in down-ballot races without a messaging reboot. In recent months, Barbuto said the DNC has begun to involve members of rural, red states in a greater capacity than they once did. 

“I’ve definitely seen an improvement in the DNC in the time I’ve been there,” Barbuto told committee members last week. Heading into 2022, the party will largely tailor its message to be unique to Wyoming voters, according to Barbuto and WDP Communications Director Nina Hebert. 

While some aspects of national messaging will be incorporated, Hebert said, the Wyoming Democrats’ communications platform will likely focus primarily on bipartisan policies that can expand the party’s appeal to more conservative voters. Key tenets of that plan include old standbys like the conservation of public lands, working class measures like Medicaid expansion and economic diversification, and the argument that Republicans have failed to pursue policies that benefit Wyoming’s middle class.

“There are certainly going to be people who are not pleased with some of the messaging from the national party,” Barbuto said. “And that’s OK. They probably weren’t going to vote for Democrats anyhow, right? But we can have our own messaging that really focuses on people, and what their needs actually are in Wyoming right now, because there are a lot of people being left behind.”

Other opportunities

Democrats expect to face other challenges as well.

Redistricting will take place in 2022, in which the lines of Wyoming’s legislative districts are redrawn to reflect changes in population and demographics over the last decade. 

The Wyoming Republican Party is expected to pursue its own redistricting plan in the Wyoming Legislature ahead of next winter’s session in an effort to redraw the lines in its favor. Democrats are expected to launch their own counter effort.

Though the redistricting committee is primarily comprised of senior lawmakers who are less susceptible to party pressure, committee chair Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) said he anticipates a number of challenges from hardline conservatives and newer lawmakers elected during the conservative populist wave of 2020.

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“They will follow the party,” Zwonitzer wrote in a text message. “I think the majority of the redistricting committee believes partisanship should not come into play when drawing communities of interest.”

Democrats could benefit from prolonged infighting within the Republican Party, which has sought to purify its ranks of those it deems to be Republicans in name only, or “RINOs.” Rep. John Romero-Martinez (R-Cheyenne), for example, expects to receive a primary challenge for supporting medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion, despite his support of conservative policies like school choice and abortion restrictions, he told WyoFile. 

And in Sweetwater County, Democratic chairwoman Meghan Jensen said Republicans in local office have begun to show an openness to tax increases that have long been anathema to conservatives, a sign that the conservative base is shifting away from the state’s anti-tax, far-right.

Should moderate Republicans lose primaries, Barbuto said, he hopes to present a contrasting message in head-to-head races that will benefit Democrats.“They’ll continue to scare people,” he said of the Republican party’s messaging, “and we’ll continue to try and inspire hope.”

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  1. I do think that if Democrats improve their messaging and support popular ideas like infrastructure, healthcare, social security and conduct a pretty aggressive voter turnout campaign they can win this state in future. The main problem why the democrats can’t win in rural states is due to their lack of outreach to the rural communities, and if they can fix that, not only they can win Wyoming but also the Appalachian states, like WV, KY, TN etc. We must not forget that if a state like Vermont which has voted Republican for the most time in the history of presidential elections can have a so called “communist” Bernie Sanders as their senator (Which btw is also the most popular) so can Wyoming, Also it’s certain that Republican margins in our state are going to decline no matter what, because the next generations are going to be liberal and heavily democratic leaning.

  2. If “Democrats” don’t get progressive, rather than being Republican Lite, as they became after Reagan became prezudint (lite beer will get you plenty drunk), they will be history, and deservedly so. If they are so in love with the nonsense of the “bipartisanship” hokum that they always bellow ever-so-sanctimoniously, then let them merge with the fascists, thereby making room for a truly grassroots-supported progressive party that would throw the both of them to the vultures (probably causing the poor birds to choke to death). Pelosi (and Durbin) would make a first-class fascist. It’s what she’s good at.

  3. Not sure I would call being .5% away from a 49.9% approval rates as “widely popular.” The media continues to give Uncle Joe a free pass. If the media was truly doing their job, there would be a much higher scrutiny of Obama 2.0 not having accomplished anything since the inauguration – outside of the open borders.

    The Democrats in this country are fighting for the hearts and minds by continuing to give away money, unemployment, free rent, student loans forgiven, free, free. Socialism does not work, it just creates generations of people dependent on the government. Hopefully one of the WyoFile reporters can take a look at why Wyoming unlikely to ever shift to the left – outside of transplanted Californian’s overwhelming the conservatives in this state. With the movement towards socialism at the national level, Democrats will never get any traction in Wyoming.

    If the democratic platform is so great, why are people fleeing blue states to come to red states?

    1. How about fewer dead people (except of course in the red states that care more about owning libs than they do about the health of their children, alas Wyoming is one of them)

    2. Socialism in certain categories works very well. The U.S. spends far more on healthcare than every other developed country, yet ranks below seven other countries. By the way, there’s lots of socialism for the wealthy. I see oil companies and agriculture received millions of dollars. Ranchers and farmers have always been on the public dole. I see president Biden got the senate to pass the infrastructure bill. That’s better than Donny dumb—, who promised an infrastructure bill for the 4 terrible years that he was in power. He was successful at killing over half a million Americans by lying. The only thing he cared about was himself.

    3. “Fleeing blue states to come to red states” meanwhile Wyoming saw the worst population growth in the region. Just to the south, Colorado has had enormous population growth and is often cited as one of the most desirable places to move to, in fact many of Wyoming’s young people are moving there. People often talk about moving to Texas from California to flee taxes except its all a façade. The average middle-class tax payer has a higher tax burden in Texas than they do in California: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-05-19/wait-california-has-lower-middle-class-taxes-than-texas. California is also still the largest business incubator in the world, where the most high tech companies are founded.

      I don’t think any serious Wyoming Democrat is proposing socialism unless you believe having any government service is socialism. In that case, should we privatize the fire department? Have to whip out a credit card before your house fire can be put out. Also, if you want to be loose with the term socialism than you should look at Wyoming. The average tax payer does not pay anything close to their burden on the state. We are propped up by coal and oil, as well as the Federal Government. Wyoming is also home to some of the people most dependent on the government, ranchers. Ranchers receive huge benefits through subsidized water and subsidized grazing on public lands. Many of them would not be able to continue ranching without these subsidies. I don’t think most of us want to see the end of the era of the American rancher, which highlights why the government can be used for good. Quit crying out about socialism and start looking at the individual policy to determine if it is a good idea or not.

    4. Many moved here for the scenery (rapidly disappearing due to the effects of eco-terrorists) and the lower population. Plus, places like CA got too crowded from all the young, intelligent Wyomingians who moved there to escape Wyoming fascism and to make a decent living.

  4. It is good to see change at the top of the DNC that seemingly understands that fighting for the hearts and minds has to occur in all States, especially red ones like Wyoming. It seems clear to me that western state Democrats are the ones fighting for the soul of the Constitution, while Republicans are embracing a lawless demi-god. Any rational Republican and Independent can clearly see these values on display through the character of the people running for office to our philosophy about what would make America better as expressed in the WyoDems platform.

  5. The most significant issue in American politics right now: Every single Republican is a liar or is complicit in Trump’s Big Lie by remaining a Republican. THAT issue alone should defeat every single one of them. Truth matters. Right matters.

    1. Saying every single republican is to blame for chrumps lies is using too broad of a brush. There are still Republicans that have enough decency and integrity to call chrump for what he is. Unfortunately, those sensible Republicans are overshadowed by the loud, obnoxious, dishonest, and non-thinking chrump minions.

      Slowly, you are seeing more Republicans speak out against chrump, but it hasn’t been fast enough.