Liz Cheney has many of the things one might hope to have when launching a campaign for Congress in a state as red as Wyoming.
As a Fox News contributor and author, she built a national profile she could use to leverage support from conservative donors. She has past, though unsuccessful, experience running for office. And she has a last name that is still revered in parts of the Republican electorate because of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served a decade in the same seat.
But as she made her campaign official on Monday for the Republican nomination for Wyoming’s at-large seat – an open race following the announcement by Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis, R-Wyo., that she would not run again – those credentials will be put to the test as she seeks a second statewide office in as many election cycles.
Bill Novotny, her campaign manager, said Cheney is "taking nothing for granted." On Monday, she launched her campaign in Gillette and will be in five other towns by the end of the week, including the state's two densest population centers, Cheyenne and Casper.
"The travel isn't going to let up. Liz is prepared to run an aggressive, issue-oriented campaign from now through November," he said.
In a video released as she was announcing her candidacy, Cheney made her case and the tone of her campaign clear.
“It’s not enough for Wyoming to just send a Republican to Washington. We need a proven conservative who will defend the Constitution. We need a fighter with a record of standing up against the liberal establishment,” she said. “Wyoming only has one voice in the U.S. House of Representatives. At this perilous moment, we must make sure it is the strongest voice possible.”
Campaigning in Wyoming is not like campaigning in a typical congressional district. The seat covers the entire state – 98,000-square miles of wide-open land that is home to a population of just more than 584,000. It is one of the largest states with one of the smallest populations, and aside from the two large towns, most of that population is dispersed across its 23 counties.
To truly advertise on television statewide, a candidate would have to buy time in Denver, Salt Lake City, Rapid City, S.D., and Billings, Mont. – in addition to Cheyenne and Casper. When Gov. Matt Mead won his Republican primary and was elected in 2010, he spent big on television – and did so with Novotny at the helm of his campaign.
"She’s the clear front runner and will be real tough to beat," said one Wyoming Republican operative, who noted she will nonetheless have to campaign against the large field of eight other Republican candidates already in the race.
Republicans there told Roll Call that one of them, state Rep. Tim Stubson – the Wyoming House speaker pro tempore who has represented Casper in the state legislature since 2010 – is likely the leading contender to challenge her, possibly lobbing a claim that she moved back to Jackson from Northern Virginia in 2012 simply to run for office.
That time, she led an unsuccessful campaign against incumbent Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., in 2013 that barely lasted a few days into 2014. Even though she dropped the bid, the campaign strained her relationships with some there, and she has spent considerable time since trying to rebuild good will. Along with her father, Cheney has appeared at Republican gatherings to raise support for local party groups, a joint ticket that draws attention, big crowds and donations, a local Republican said.
According to her campaign, local Republicans are supporting her. When she made her announcement Monday, she cited the support of 150 community leaders from all 23 counties, country leaders and local officials who can advocate to their social circles on her behalf.
In 2012, the last presidential election year, about half of the 218,000 registered voters turned out for the primary election, or about a quarter of the voting-age population, according to the Wyoming secretary of state. In 2014, the percentage of registered voters who showed up for the primary dropped to 46 percent.
“We’re excited in Wyoming to have so many great candidates for Congress,” said Matt Micheli, chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party. “We trust voters to get to know their candidates and make that decision, and we will work hard to elect the Republican candidate.”