This week Wyoming’s senior senator, Mike Enzi, was surprised to learn he’ll be facing off against Liz Cheney in what’s expected to be one of the most heated Republican primaries in the nation. Matt Laslo reports from Washington that right now, the Republican Party is wrapping its arms around Enzi.
MATT LASLO: It's been some time since a Cheney has been on the ballot in Wyoming. But in 20-14 voters get to decide whether they want the former vice president's daughter, Liz, to represent them or whether they want to give Senator Mike Enzi a fourth term in Washington. In her YouTube announcement video Cheney subtly tried to tie Enzi to President Obama.
LIZ CHENEY “Instead of cutting deals with the president’s liberal allies, we should be opposing them every step of the way. We can stop President Obama’s policies, including those that are hurting Wyoming most. We can roll back the power of the federal government. We can lower taxes. We can stop the infringement of the EPA and other federal agencies on Wyoming’s agriculture and energy producers.”
LASLO: That announcement - and not so hidden jab - were a surprise to many, especially to Enzi who had to fend off a swarm of reporters at the Capitol before agreeing to talk to Wyoming Public Radio.
MIKE ENZI: “It’s kind of interesting that about thirty minutes after I put out a release saying I intend to run, that she put out one saying she was running.”
LASLO: Enzi says Cheney lied to him before tossing her hat in the ring.
ENZI: “She said that if I ran she wasn’t going to run, but obviously that wasn’t correct.”
LASLO: Cheney said this week that Enzi is mistaken. Personal dispute aside, Cheney's plunge into the race also shocked Republicans in Washington. Wyoming’s two other federal lawmakers are firmly behind Enzi. Senator John Barrasso says he admires Cheney but that he couldn’t disagree with her decision more.
JOHN BARASSO: “I have great respect for the entire Cheney family for the Vice President, for Lynn and for Liz. I think Liz has a fantastic future. She’s very solid. I think this is the wrong race at the wrong time.”
LASLO: Like Barrasso other Republicans in D-C are also voicing praise for Cheney. Here's Arizona’s John McCain.
JOHN MCCAIN: “I like her very much, I think she’s a very fine person and I think she’s done an excellent job."
LASLO: As for who McCain will back? He says there isn’t even a question of whether he and his colleagues will get behind Enzi.
MCCAIN: “I think you’re going to see the entire Republican conference rally around him because of the respect and appreciation we have for him and that has nothing to do with who challenges him.”
LASLO: Others are a little punchier while defending their longtime friend. Here’s Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts.
PAT ROBERTS: “I think that probably Liz Cheney, who I respect as an articulate participant on Fox News, she should have stayed in that job.”
LASLO: Roberts says Cheney’s skills as an analyst won’t translate well in the austere Senate.
ROBERTS: “I mean you can make speeches all you want on Fox News, but make the same speeches on the floor of the Senate and you’ll never get an amendment passed.”
LASLO: If Cheney wins she’ll likely join the ranks of senators like libertarian Rand Paul and other freshmen who are shaking up the dusty Senate. Even so, Paul says Cheney doesn’t have his support.
RAND PAUL: “I don’t have anything really to say about Liz Cheney so much as that I will be supporting Senator Enzi and I’ve told him I’ll do anything I can do to help.”
LASLO: Cheney is well known in D-C, partly because until recently she lived just outside the city. She’s also helped many new senators win their races, including Arizona Republican Jeff Flake. So does Flake feel indebted to Cheney?
Jeff FLAKE: “No. I’m glad and I’m sure she won’t ask me or others to get involved. It’s just two good Republicans.”
LASLO: It’s not just Republicans coming to Enzi’s aid. Washington State Democrat Patty Murray has sat across the negotiating table from Enzi and says she has great respect for him even though she rarely sees eye to eye with the conservative.
PATTY MURRAY: “Mike Enzi is, is, what I would call, I don’t want to say something good and put him in danger.”
LASLO: Murray’s not too far off. At a press conference this week Cheney offered a glimpse into her strategy in the race: paint Enzi as a part of the Washington political class that's frustrating so many people in the state.
CHENEY: “Right now what I see out of Washington is an awful lot of going along to get along.”
LASLO: Enzi is known as a work horse. His quiet demeanor makes him stand apart from all the show horses in the Capitol. But because he’s old school and likes to forge compromises he’s now opened himself up to a challenge from the far right. But Enzi says the barbs and accusations aren’t going to change him.
ENZI: “I won’t be doing anything different than I’ve been doing. Getting the opinions of the Wyoming people and traveling Wyoming and doing my job out here.”
LASLO: A big question now is fundraising. Cheney is well connected nationally and she’s expected to tap into her father’s expansive fundraising network. That means big money could come pouring into Wyoming. Enzi is an accountant but he readily admits that doesn’t mean he’s good at soliciting donations.
ENZI: “Money raising has always been a problem for me.”
LASLO: Enzi is going to get some help from the national party though. Kansas Senator Jerry Moran runs the campaign program for Senate Republicans. He says their group is already planning to open up the checkbook for Enzi.
JERRY MORAN: “We’ll see how this race develops. Every state will have its own features, but our support will be there for Mike.”
LASLO: The Wyoming Republican primary for the Senate seat is now shaping up to be one of the most watched, and possibly one of the most bitter races in the nation. That means Wyoming is going to attract a lot of national attention and lots of campaign cash.
LASLO: For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Matt Laslo in Washington.