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As candidates file, familiar battle lines form between Wyoming GOP factions

In some respects, Wyoming’s 2024 elections began more than a year ago, thanks to newly formed PACs and anonymous mailers. But the cycle officially starts now.

The Wyoming Capitol in the twilight during the opening days of the Legislature's 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

by Maggie Mullen, WyoFile

In a race largely reflective of the battle lines of Wyoming’s 2024 legislative elections, Republican Reps. Barry Crago and Mark Jennings will compete for Senate District 22. 

Crago and Jennings both serve in the House of Representatives and play prominent roles in the Wyoming Caucus and the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, respectively — the two factions of the Republican Party competing for control of the statehouse. Crago now represents the Buffalo area. Jennings’ district in Sheridan is a little further up the interstate. They’re vying for a Senate district that encompasses both communities and has been represented by the retiring Republican Sen. Dave Kinskey.

The two candidates were among the first to file last week when the candidate filing period opened Thursday, marking the official start of the election cycle.

Other notable, early filings included Speaker of the House Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale), who will compete against political newcomer Laura Taliaferro Pearson for Senate District 14, which encompasses a large swath of western Wyoming. Sen. Fred Baldwin (R-Kemmerer) is retiring from the seat after serving in the Legislature since 2015. 

On the other end of the state, three Republicans have already filed for Senate District 6, which ranges from Wheatland to Pine Bluffs and is currently represented by Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne), who had not filed by press time. And in the House, all three of Albany County’s Democratic lawmakers will face Republican challengers. 

In some respects, the election cycle unofficially began more than a year ago, when both the Wyoming Caucus — a group known for its fiscal conservatism, pro-business policies, small-government local-control ethos and an embrace of pragmatism over ideological rigidity — and the Freedom Caucus — a faction that’s gained attention for its uncompromising approach to politics, absolutist anti-abortion and pro-gun stances, embrace of national political talking points around election fraud, vaccines and immigration — formed political action committees. 

Rep. Mark Jennings (R-Sheridan) during the 2022 Legislative Budget session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Plus, anonymous mailers targeting Crago and Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper) began showing up in mailboxes as long ago as last fall, providing a preview of what some expect to be an expensive and ugly campaign season. 

In any case, candidates have until May 31 to file. 

In 2022, about a quarter of legislative races in Wyoming were decided by default, instead of voters, when 22 seats up for election lacked more than one candidate.

Filings 

Three weeks after Kinskey said he would not seek reelection, Crago announced on May 1 that he would run for the Senate seat after serving two terms in the House. Until Jennings filed on Friday, Crago was set to run unopposed. 

Jennings’ decision to run for the Senate is notable due to what he stood to likely gain in the event the Freedom Caucus takes the majority in the House. The last two terms — 2020 and 2022 — when lawmakers appointed new leadership, Jennings vied for the speakership. He lost both times. 

Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo) sits at his desk during the 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

Already, several Republicans have filed to run for the seats now left empty by Crago and Jennings. 

That includes Tom Kelly, who previously ran for superintendent of public instruction in 2022 before ultimately dropping out of the race. He will vie for House District 30, which includes rural parts of Sheridan County. 

In Buffalo, Marilyn Connolly, a former Johnson County commissioner, and Mark Jones, a lobbyist for Gun Owners of America, have filed for House District 40, which represents parts of Sheridan and Johnson counties. Liberty Poley, a 22-year-old Republican National Convention delegate, has also put her name in that hat.

At least two former House members will try to win back their old seats. 

Former Rep. Bob Wharff gave up his seat in Evanston’s House District 49 for an unsuccessful run for the Senate 2022 — cutting ties with the Freedom Caucus in the process. He filed to regain his previous spot, but he’ll have to beat incumbent Rep. Ryan Berger (R-Evanston), who filed for reelection.

After losing to Freedom Caucus member Rep. Allen Slagle (R-Newcastle) by 12 votes in 2022, JD Williams will attempt to oust Slagle in a rematch for House District 2, which represents Lusk and Newcastle. Williams was appointed to the seat in 2021 when then-Rep. Hans Hunt resigned. 

Former Rep. Bob Wharff for House District 49 speaks at a demonstration outside of a meeting of the Joint Committee on Labor, Health and Social Services in Casper on Sept. 16, 2021. (Nick Reynolds/WyoFile)

If Freedom Caucus member Rep. Pepper Ottman files to run for reelection, she’ll face her first-ever opponent on the ballot. She ran unopposed in both 2020 and 2022 for Fremont County’s House District 34. This year, Reg Phillips, a retired rancher, filed to run as a Republican. 

According to the filings, several other Freedom Caucus members will face challengers in the House, including Reps. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody), Jeanette Ward (R-Casper), Ben Hornok (R-Cheyenne), Scott Smith (R-Lingle) and Clarence Styvar (R-Cheyenne).

Their Republican opponents include (respectively): David Hill, an attorney in Cody; Julie Jarvis, a Natrona County school administrator; Rob Geringer, son of former Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer; Jackie Van Mark, chairman of the Eastern Wyoming College Board of Trustees; and Thomas Lear, an instructor at Laramie County Community College. 

Several non-Freedom Caucus incumbents in the House will also run opposed in August’s primary election. 

The longest-standing lawmaker will also face a challenger in the Republican party. 

Sen. Charlie Scott (R-Casper), who has served since 1979, will compete with Robert Hendry, rancher and chairman of the Wyoming Business Alliance Board, for Senate District 30 in the western half of rural Natrona County. 

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2022 budget session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Two other senior lawmakers announced they would not seek reelection after beginning their service in 2017. 

Rep. Jerry Obermueller (R-Casper), the Legislature’s sole professional accountant, and Sen. Dan Furphy (R-Laramie) decided to hang up their hats. 

Furphy endorsed Gary Crum for Senate District 10, who will run against Keith Kennedy for the Republican nomination. The district represents rural Albany County

In Obermueller’s House District 56, Republicans Elissa Campbell and Pete Fox have filed to run. The district encompasses central Casper.

The Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office updates its candidate roster each business day around 5 p.m. Voters can find it here


This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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