Forget the jockeying of the 2016 Republican wannabes. Put aside the splits within the House GOP. It's all about Wyoming right now.
That's because Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, announced on Tuesday that she will primary Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi in 2014. Cheney's decision immediately turns the Wyoming race into the highest profile intraparty fight on the ballot heading into next year.
The race has it all. A high profile national name who recently moved to the state with a clear desire to run for elected office. An incumbent senator who has weighed retirement in the past. Did we mention Liz Cheney is running? And that her dad is perhaps the most divisive politician (or ex-politician) in the country?
While it's beyond question that Wyoming is set to get more national attention than it has since a guy named Dick Cheney emerged out of the state and into Congress, it's less clear what Liz Cheney's rationale is for running.
Unlike other past intraparty fights in places like Utah, Indiana and Alaska where Senate Republican incumbents lost to more conservative challengers, it seems unlikely that Cheney will gain much traction by casting Enzi as insufficiently conservative. Enzi was the 8th most conservative senator in 2012, according to National Journal's vote ratings and has a 93 lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. (Enzi's Heritage Action score is a slightly less robust 67, the lowest of the state's three federal representatives.)
The direction Cheney seems to be headed is to cast the race as a generation battle. "I think that part of the problem in Washington today is seniority," she told the Associated Press Tuesday. "I don't see seniority as a plus, frankly."
Cheney is 46, Enzi is 69. While that clearly puts them in different generations, it's not nearly the same sort of generational choice that Newark Mayor Cory Booker, 44, was seeking to set up when he challenged then New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who was 89 years old at the time. (Lautenberg passed away in June.)
The truth of the matter is that Liz Cheney is running because she wants to be in elected office and this is her best chance to get there in the near term. (In case you need proof of that fact, remember that Liz Cheney bought a home in Wyoming last year after spending many years in Virginia.)
Despite lacking a clear contrast — other than age (kind of) — Cheney represents a major problem for Enzi. Her candidacy has drawn (and will continue to draw) massive amounts of media attention due to her last name. And she will almost certainly outraise the incumbent who told reporters Tuesday afternoon that "money raising’s always been a problem for me." Enzi had less than a half million dollars in the bank as of the end of June.
"Generally I would say that an incumbent with a solid record and without scandal would be safe, but usually that incumbent isn't going up against someone with a name like that," said one veteran Republican strategist. The source expressed some level of surprise about the Cheney candidacy but added, "She isn't the kind of person to wander off on a wild goose chase. I suspect she has research that shows it is doable."
Regardless of the final outcome, Liz Cheney's ambition has turned Wyoming from a forgotten race to a centerpiece of the 2014 election cycle overnight.
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