Sen. Craig Thomas

After a Quiet Farewell, Finding a Successor

By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

It would be hard to point to a senator who was less conspicuous than Craig Thomas of Wyoming. His funeral will even take place on Saturday, causing little disruption to the Senate schedule.

Thomas, who died of leukemia on Monday at age 74, had a political career that didn't jump out -- but mostly for the right reasons. He was never implicated in any scandal. He was polite and friendly to a fault. He was loyal to his colleagues and to his party. His wife, Susan, was a frequent visitor to the Capitol, always beaming at her husband's side.

"He even timed his chemotherapy so he didn't have to miss votes," said Mike Enzi, Wyoming's junior Republican senator and a close friend.

The process of picking a successor to Thomas also is expected to unfold smoothly. Although Gov. Dave Freudenthal is a Democrat, state election law requires him to pick a GOP replacement from a slate of three candidates provided by the Republican State Central Committee. The names must be submitted to Freudenthal within two weeks, and he will have five days to make his choice.

The replacement senator will keep the seat until the next general election, in November 2008, and the winner of that contest will serve the remainder of Thomas's six-year term, which started in January.

Despite Freudenthal's popularity, Democrats privately hold low expectations for capturing Thomas's seat in 2008. For one, the governor insists he is not interested in running, and the list of prominent Democrats does not run much longer than his name.

Democrats say the best-case scenario would be the appointment of ultra-conservative Rep. Barbara Cubin (R), who won reelection last year by 1,012 votes. The move would also open up the state's at-large House seat. But Cubin told reporters this week that she isn't interested.

A vacant Senate seat in a tiny, insular state presents a rare opportunity indeed, and not surprisingly, the list of potential Republican successors is lengthy. Names that are circulating include Lynne Cheney, whose husband served as a congressman from Wyoming before becoming vice president; state House Majority Floor Leader Colin Simpson, the son of former senator Alan K. Simpson; and two of Thomas's three sons, Greg and Patrick.

When senators paid tribute to Thomas on the floor this week, they pointed to his deep Western roots -- he often campaigned on horseback -- and also his basic decency. "A lot of us ride horses in parades," said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). "He was a real cowboy and such a great guy."

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