National group eyeing Buchanan as Cheney replacement

Rep. Liz Cheney during a House Republican Leadership press conference in April 2021. (Screenshot)

By Nick Reynolds, WyoFile

UPDATE: Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith announced Friday his intention to run for U.S. Congress against Rep. Liz Cheney. 

A Washington D.C. political action committee looking to oust Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from Congress appears to have courted Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan ahead of the 2022 Republican primary elections.

The organization, Club for Growth, confirmed to the Casper Star-Tribune Wednesday it had been shopping for candidates to replace Cheney in late March, meeting with several prospective individuals in Wyoming and D.C. Wyoming State Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper), who has launched his own campaign against Cheney, was among them, he confirmed to the newspaper.

That revelation came on the heels of poll results commissioned by the PAC showing Cheney’s net favorability at -36% in Wyoming. The pollster, WPA Intelligence, did not release the full results of the April 21 poll, nor did it list the questions survey takers asked. However, the results were quickly put to work disparaging Cheney, who has been in the organization’s crosshairs for her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump.

“Liz Cheney is a RINO who can no longer be trusted in helping lead Republicans’ conservative economic agenda,” the organization said in an Thursday email blast to members promoting the poll. “That’s why Club for Growth Action has already gone out to Wyoming, meeting with prospective challengers so we can say goodbye to Cheney for good.”

One Wyoming resident who was polled said the questions seemed heavily slanted toward Buchanan as well as candidates like Darin Smith, a Cheyenne attorney who finished in fourth place in the 2016 campaign.

“Whoever commissioned the polls were pushing Ed Buchanan,” Wendy Owens, a Gillette resident contacted by the pollsters on April 21, told WyoFile.

Club for Growth did not respond to an email requesting comment, nor did Buchanan’s office. Cheney’s office declined to comment.

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Outside involvement

National groups have gotten involved in Wyoming politics before. In 2019, the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity led a targeted digital advertising campaign urging Sen. Mike Enzi, for example, to support of efforts to limit President Donald Trump’s tariff authority.

However, the active shopping for primary candidates is an unprecedented step, former Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Matt Micheli said.

“I don’t think it’s ever happened,” he said. “I don’t think any national players have ever cared about or put in any effort at all. Typically those guys stay out of primaries, and then there’s no reason for them to get involved in the general because Republicans always win.”

Micheli questioned the efficacy of such interventions.

Former Laramie County GOP Chairman, Darin Smith, at a Conservative Corner meeting in Cheyenne in April 2021. Smith has been floated as a possible challenger to Rep. Liz Cheney. (Nick Reynolds)

“In the last 40 years, I’ve never heard of a national group coming in and dumping money in a way that actually moves the needle,” he said.

But Wyoming’s congressional race has taken on an unprecedented national profile, Micheli said. Club for Growth’s involvement comes as Cheney faces immense blowback from members of her own conference in Washington D.C. for her continued criticism of Trump.

Observers say that the race is less about Cheney’s political ideology than it is about her rift with the former president. An effort is afoot to oust Cheney from her House Republican Conference chair role — a position that makes her the third highest ranking Republican in the House — with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a former moderate who has come to embrace Trump. VoteView — an analytics platform maintained by the University of California at Los Angeles — found Stefanik to be 98% more liberal than other Republicans, while another analysis by the non-partisan Lugar Center recently rated Cheney as the 421st most (or the 17th-least bipartisan) member of last Congress. Only 12 other Republicans scored lower.

The voting records have not discouraged Trump — who has endorsed Stefanik for the role — from making inroads in Wyoming to replace Cheney. His former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has begun to take an active role in the state’s politics by establishing fundraising channels here through his Save America PAC with an eye on consolidating support behind a single candidate.

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“We are absolutely neutral at this point,” Jeff Wallack, a Sheridan resident who is working with Lewandowski as a third party affiliate of Save America, said in an interview with WyoFile last month. “I’m not talking to anybody who has any vested interest or has donated money to candidates. I’m neutral until such a time that we properly vet the candidate, and then we’ll pass on a recommendation and hopefully, the [former] president will make a decision [on who to support].”

Wyoming GOP Secretary and a staffer for Sen. Anthony Bouchard, April Poley, questioning the state party’s role in the 2022 Republican Primaries in this May 6, 2021 post. (Screenshot/Facebook)

Jockeying for position

Meanwhile, the jockeying for position to replace Cheney has continued. On Thursday, CNN floated several new names — including former Bureau of Land Management acting director William Perry Pendley and Smith — as prospective candidates, while some in Bouchard’s camp have accused the Wyoming Republican Party leadership of coaxing Smith into running.

Smith, who announced his campaign in a Friday statement to the Cowboy State Daily, denied those rumors.

“A lot of people have called me,” Smith said Thursday. “I can’t keep them all straight. But a lot of people have called me interested in what’s going to happen. But nobody has asked me to get into this. No Trump-world people, no Republican dignitaries, have asked me to get into this race.”

Ultimately, who Wyoming sends to the U.S. House of Representatives will be up to Wyoming voters, Micheli said, not special interest groups.

“Money alone won’t do much,” he said. “In Wyoming, we expect to meet our candidates and look them in the eye. That is how we make our decisions. It is a long way from Lusk to Lyman, but every voter in both those towns and every town in between expects to shake your hand.”

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify Americans for Prosperity’s stance on presidential tariff authority. 

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