By Bob Benenson, CQ-Roll Call Senior Elections Analyst
March 5, 2010, 2 a.m.
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of the year and not seek a third term, ending any mystery about whether he would seek to overturn his state's two-term limit.
The decision by the popular Freudenthal -- a rare statewide Democratic officeholder in a Republican stronghold -- gives the GOP one of its clearest chances for a pickup in this year's round of gubernatorial elections. CQ Politics has changed its rating on the race to Safe Republican from Tossup in the wake of Freudenthal's announcement.
Even before Freudenthal stepped aside, Republicans already had a robust field for their Aug. 17 primary. Three have officially entered the contest: Matt Mead, who was appointed U.S. attorney for Wyoming by President George W. Bush in 2001 and served in that position until 2007; Rita C. Meyer, who was elected state auditor in 2006, was chief of staff to Gov. Jim Geringer from 1998 to 2002 and is a veteran of the Wyoming Air National Guard; and former state Rep. Ron Micheli, who served in Republican leadership positions during 16 years in the legislature and was director of the state department of agriculture from 1995-2003 during both of Geringer's terms as governor.
With the seat now open, the Republican field is expected to officially add another top-tier candidate: state Rep. Colin Simpson, the current state Speaker, who has an exploratory committee for a campaign for governor. His father is Alan K. Simpson, who represented Wyoming in the U.S. Senate from 1979 to 1997 and recently was named by President Barack Obama as the Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan commission that will examine and recommend ways to reduce the federal debt. His late grandfather, Milward L. Simpson, was a Wyoming governor (1955-59) and U.S. senator (1962-67).
Democrats, on the other hand, now have until the May 28 filing deadline to drum up a strong candidate for a contest that would be difficult in any year and may be more so in a national political environment that appears to favor Republicans.
At the moment, they have no candidate at all. Bill Luckett, the executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party, said in a phone interview that he had "no names to share at this time." He said there are Democrats who have been seriously considering entering the race if Freudenthal bowed out.
The previous Tossup rating was a placeholder for two contrasting scenarios, depending on what Freudenthal decided. A conservative Democrat who has maintained enviable approval ratings in an era of widespread voter dissatisfaction with public officials, Freudenthal would have been favored to win re-election had he run - even though a legal challenge to the term-limit law would have caused at least some controversy.
Few governors would have the political capital to even consider such a move, but few have the kind of public support that Freudenthal has enjoyed. And there is a precedent in the state that made it look likely that Freudenthal would have succeeded if he had sought the right to run for a third term: In 2004 two state representatives -- a Republican and a Democrat -- successfully challenged Wyoming's term limits on legislators.