The bitter spat over same-sex marriage between the Cheney sisters that spilled over into the public arena over the weekend is further inflaming tensions in Wyoming, especially among longtime state observers who see some in the family as willing to do anything to win an election.
Chief among them is former Sen. Alan Simpson, a political heavyweight who is backing incumbent Mike Enzi over Liz Cheney in the state’s GOP Senate primary.
“You’re not even destroying friendships -- you’re destroying family relationships just because of this race,” Simpson told NBC. “It’s hard for all of us who know the Cheneys to see the things she’s doing to win this race. It’s almost like ‘I will do anything to win this race,’ because I cannot ever believe that there would be a breach between she and Mary.”
A split between the daughters of former Vice President Dick Cheney became news Monday after Mary Cheney and her wife, Heather Poe, took to social media to blast the elder sister for her continued opposition to gay marriage.
Their parents weighed in with a statement saying that they were “pained” by the public spat and said Liz has “always treated her sister and her sister's family with love and respect.” The Cheneys also warned that Liz Cheney’s “many kindnesses shouldn’t be used to distort her position on the issue,” a reference to TV ads running in the state hitting her as too soft on traditional marriage.
To Simpson, it’s another sad turn in Cowboy State politics that’s forced longtime friends of the Cheneys, including him, to choose sides in a short campaign that’s already put politics above all else – even family.
The former senator was at the center of one of the early controversies in the Cheney campaign. After learning Simpson and his wife, Ann, were backing Mike Enzi, Lynne Cheney confronted them about their loyalties after Simpson attempted to remove his signature from a football that he worried could be used to raise money for Liz’s campaign. According to Simpson, Lynne exploded at him, telling him to “shut your mouth” in talking about supporting Enzi.
Lynne Cheney denied the incident ever happened after Simpson’s daughter posted the account on Facebook. But the former senator told his side of the story in a letter to the Cody Enterprise, saying he hoped the incident wouldn’t affect his longtime friendship with Dick Cheney.
“That twisted comment is one damn bald-faced lie and I have had a belly full of it! I have never been called a liar before and it sure as hell won’t work this time,” Simpson wrote of Lynne Cheney’s denial of the incident.
Simpson told NBC that though he worried about the rest of the campaign to come for Wyoming's constituents -- who like both the Cheneys and the Enzis -- the characterizations the Cheneys were trying to spin about Enzi were wrong.
“It isn’t as if Mike Enzi were a left wing commie. … He has the backing of [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz and [Kentucky Sen. Rand] Paul. That must be a startling development for her,” Simpson said of Liz Cheney.
Cheney’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment by NBC.
In the four short months since she’s been officially against Enzi, the former vice president’s daughter campaign has been plagued with misstep after misstep even before the exposed family feud with her sister, from improperly applying for a fishing license to the tiff with Simpson—and there’s still nine months to go until August 2014.
Since she announced in July, little else has gone right for Cheney. She was always going to have to fight off carpetbagging charges after the former State Department official moved her family back to her home state in the past year, and her first ad touted her family’s deep roots in the state.
But it was one of her first controversies that underscored she might be a bit of a rookie after the Wyoming Star-Tribune showed she had improperly received a fishing license. Though she had just been a resident 72 days, she said she had lived there for a decade. Cheney blamed the fishing clerk -- though local GOP sources told NBC that West Bank Anglers, where she bought the license, was the top fly-fishing outlet in the state and would have spotted such an error.
Cheney lashed back out at the media for covering the $220 misdemeanor fine she paid stemming from the incident, lashing out at the Star-Tribune editor by name and declared that “newspapers are dying, and that’s not a bad thing.”
Cheney also said at a Tea Party event that terrorist “recruitment goes on through mosques.”
While she outraised Enzi, the incumbent stepped up his fundraising in the wake of the challenge and still has more cash on hand. Public and private polling have shown him with a 30-point lead over Cheney.
In such a close-knit state, to many observers it’s almost seemed like Liz Cheney -- and her family -- have been trying too hard to play up their family roots.
“It’s misstep after misstep and some of these missteps are soap opera episodes with the family squabbling,” said Bill Cubin, a Wyoming strategist and son of former Rep. Barbara Cubin. The younger Cubin is overseeing a state-based super PAC, Wyoming’s Own, that he says will begin airing TV and radio ads to boost Enzi very soon.
“Everybody just expected that, because they’re the Cheneys, that it would be this really airtight, super-professional laser-guided type campaign. Aside from posting a pretty decent fundraising number, the rest of it seems like a lot of unforced errors,” said one longtime GOP strategist in the state. “In life, your strength is generally also your weakness. ... For her, her strength is her family. Turns out the single biggest detriment has been themselves so far.”