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Republican battle? Liz Cheney undecided on Wyoming Senate race, Lummis running

Four-term Republican Sen. Mike Enzi is retiring, leaving the seat open — with a potential contested primary in the offing.
Image: Liz Cheney
Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Liz Cheney speaks during a press conference with House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, right, and Republican Whip Rep. Steve Scalise at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 17, 2019.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — While Liz Cheney considers whether to run for an open U.S. Senate seat, the race so far has only one well-known candidate: Cynthia Lummis, a fellow Republican and one of only three women to hold Wyoming's lone U.S. House seat.

The 1976 Miss Frontier — who used horse-riding skills to become a top ambassador for the famous Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo — Lummis went on to a political career that included 14 years in the Wyoming Legislature, two terms as state treasurer and four terms as congresswoman.

Recently she’s had the ear of President Donald Trump, discussing best livestock-grazing practices on public lands in the U.S. West while interviewing in person, twice, for Interior secretary, a job she didn’t get.

“I raised the issue of how important it is, that grazing is a very, very important enhancement to plant and soil quality,” Lummis said in a recent Associated Press interview. “What’s fun is, he let me explain it to him. And he seemed interested.”

She marveled at how a girl nervous about showing cattle in 4-H competitions would grow up to talk to the president in the Oval Office.

Few would try to beat Lummis, 65, and her long political experience, but those who might include Cheney, who plans to announce in early 2020 whether she will run for Senate.

Cheney has risen quickly to the third-highest GOP leadership position in the U.S. House since her election to Wyoming’s lone House seat in 2016, 38 years after her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, got that job.

Barbara Cubin became Wyoming's first congresswoman in 1995. No woman has been elected to the U.S. Senate in Wyoming.

It was Lummis who cleared Liz Cheney’s way to office by stepping down from Congress to attend to her family’s ranching and other businesses interests following her husband’s death in 2014.

“There was a lot — a lot — of unfinished business I was trying to attend to in Washington during my last term,” Lummis said. “It was a challenge. It was also exhausting.”

her father, Doran Lummis, died in May at 91.

Her father encouraged her to run for the open seat, she said.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to run for that Senate seat,’” Lummis said. “I looked at it carefully, and decided the timing was right.”

A former member of the fiscally conservative Freedom Caucus in the House, Lummis said another big motivation is to try to reduce the federal deficit.

“I was a fiscal hawk. I will be a fiscal hawk, in an environment where fiscal hawks are getting fewer and fewer, quite frankly,” Lummis said.

She said she would also advocate for more state and local involvement in decisions affecting public lands in the West and promote energy development on those lands.

Lummis announced her campaign in July. So far, the only other candidates are geologist Mark Armstrong and Wyoming Army National Guard veteran Joshua Wheeler, both little-known Republicans.

Lummis said she’s enjoyed the past several months of low-pressure campaigning. She’s taken time to catch up with old friends from the Wyoming Legislature, soak in hot springs in the resort town of Thermopolis and visit her farm in western Wyoming's Star Valley.

While Cheney could be the favorite due to her profile, Lummis too will have a solid base of supporters in Wyoming, said University of Wyoming political science professor Jim King.

“With Lummis, we already have a big name in there,” King said Thursday.

Other potential big-name Republican candidates include investor and national GOP donor Foster Friess, who said in a recent email he overcame scant name recognition in 2018 to finish a strong second in a six-way gubernatorial primary.

“Last time around, we entered the race with 119 days to go — so it wouldn’t surprise anyone if my decision comes later,” Friess wrote.

Former Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican who left office in early 2019, won’t be in the mix, saying he’s content with looking after his southeastern Wyoming ranch.

Lummis seemed undaunted by potentially facing Friess or Cheney, noting she has beaten better-funded opponents before. She added she would concentrate less on State Department and national defense issues than Cheney does.

“My focus is very much more Wyoming and domestic American focus — natural resource-oriented, of course. Those are the issues I know and love,” Lummis said.

Cheney declined to even hint at her future plans in a recent news conference, but spokesman Jeremy Adler said in an email Wyomingites are “deeply patriotic” and want to strengthen national defense, support U.S. troops and care for veterans.

“Our delegation in Washington is small, and anyone who can’t — or won’t — handle national security and foreign policy issues won’t be able to effectively represent the people of Wyoming in the House or Senate,” Adler wrote.