The Cheney family feud over same-sex marriage is unlikely to have a lasting, adverse effect on Liz Cheney’s bid for Senate in Wyoming.
After moving her family to the state last year, the larger concern for Cheney is proving her Wyoming roots and making a rational case for the need to replace Sen. Michael B. Enzi, whom Cheney is challenging in the GOP primary.
To be sure, Cheney’s squabble with her sister, who is a lesbian, adds another distraction in an already uphill primary challenge. But in this small state where handshakes go a long way and campaigns usually kick off late, there is still plenty of time before the Aug. 19 primary.
“If the vote were today, everybody knows which way it would go,” said Joe Milczewski, a former campaign manager for Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “But the vote’s not today. We’re still nine months to Election Day.”
Cheney’s comments about her opposition to same-sex marriage on “Fox News Sunday” led to a public airing of grievances by her sister, Mary Cheney, and Mary’s wife, Heather Poe, including in an interview with The New York Times.
Vice President Dick Cheney, surely aware of a pro-Enzi super PAC ad targeting his daughter last month for waffling on same-sex marriage, released a statement Monday arguing that Liz Cheney “has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage” and her position shouldn’t be distorted.
The kerfuffle could undoubtedly play into the hands of Enzi allies who question Cheney’s authenticity. But Republican insiders said this week that even if there were any lingering doubt about her position, it’s hardly an issue that moves votes.
“It gets a lot of attention and sucks up a lot of oxygen in the media, but people don’t really vote on it out here,” Milczewski said.
Several state legislators said Wyoming voters are far more interested in hearing Cheney’s argument for why she’ll be a stronger voice for them on Capitol Hill. Since there is little difference between the two candidates on the issues, that’s essentially the argument for Cheney’s candidacy.
Cheney is fighting for the same voters who have sent Enzi to the Senate three times. In the Senate, he has voted with Republicans more than 90 percent of the time in the past 10 years. While he’s shown willingness to compromise, that’s not necessarily a death knell in Wyoming, unlike in some other red states.
“Ms. Cheney, when she started out, criticized [Enzi] for being willing to compromise with the Democrats,” Republican state Sen. Charles Scott said. “A lot of people out here thought, ‘Jeez, the problem with Washington is they won’t compromise when they need to.’”
Cheney launched her bid this summer, just a year after moving her family to the state. Even before announcing, she tirelessly worked the statewide circuit of Chamber of Commerce events and Lincoln Day dinners.
By all accounts, she has been well-received. Even skeptical Enzi supporters, who still believe he’ll win, say Cheney has impressed them.
“I don’t think [same-sex marriage] will have as much resonance in Wyoming as her stance on how we approach our relationship with the federal government,” said state Sen. John Schiffer, a supporter of and former colleague of Enzi. “If I could say one thing, Liz Cheney has approached that in a manner that people out here — it rings a bell with them.”
But she’s also gained some unwanted attention in her effort to establish a presence in Wyoming. That includes purchasing a state fishing license before having lived in the state for a full year, as required.
State Sen. Cale Case, who is so far neutral in the race, said Cheney packed his Rotary Club last week in Lander, Wyo., and effectively used humor to diffuse some of her baggage.
“Probably by the time the election happens, the fishing license and the residency will seem pretty old,” Case said. “Even if she wasn’t a resident then, by the time this election occurs in August of next year, she’ll have been here for that long. It just kind of wears itself out.”
The word “articulate” surfaced during several interviews about Cheney with Wyoming Republicans who had seen her speak. But there is also an evident “comfort” with Enzi.
“They’re both pretty conservative,” Milczewski said. “So I guess the argument is over who’s going to be the most forceful advocate for what the people of Wyoming want.”
That’s been the argument in the two most recent television ads released by the campaigns. Cheney used her impressive first quarter of fundraising to launch a 60-second TV ad last week that highlights her Wyoming roots. Cheney says in the ad that “it’s time for a new generation of Wyoming leaders to step up to the plate.”
Meanwhile, the pro-Enzi super PAC Wyoming’s Own launched a TV ad this week that both highlighted Enzi’s opposition to Obamacare — including a clip of him on the Senate floor in 2010 arguing that the law won’t allow people to keep their insurance plans — and took a veiled shot at Cheney’s recent move to the state.
“Mike Enzi,” the ad’s announcer says. “Trusted. Conservative. Wyoming’s own.”