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CHEYENNE – Rex Wilde is no stranger to Wyoming’s political scene.

Wilde has mounted several campaigns over the past decade, running twice for governor as well as for mayor of Cheyenne in 2016. All of his bids were unsuccessful at the primary stage, with the most competitive attempt coming in his 2014 run for the U.S. Senate. In that Democratic primary, Wilde came in second, losing by about 4,000 votes.

Wilde, who has lived in Cheyenne since 1981, hopes to build on those campaigns in his bid for one of Wyoming’s U.S. Senate seats this year. After retiring from his career as a cabinet maker, he has more time to focus on campaigning, which won’t look the same amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had some venues set up where I was going to have quite a few people come to them, but that’s probably not the right thing to do,” Wilde said in an interview. “It’s going to be tougher, but it’s going to be the same tough foray for the rest of the people running for the Senate, too.”

Wilde said his campaign centers on three priorities: water rights, tourism and marijuana legalization. From Wilde’s view, the state has not been fully tapping into its water resources ever since the 1922 Colorado River Compact, a seven-state agreement governing the allocation of water in the river basin.

“They couldn’t cut us off completely because we have our dams up here, but still, we weren’t treated right over our water,” Wilde said of the dynamic. “Water is our most precious resource, especially now with (the decline of) coal.”

Wilde said climate change adds to the need for a renewed focus on Wyoming’s water rights. He speculated proposals for a carbon-capture plant, often considered another option for the state’s future, won’t be ready in his lifetime.

Though seeking the Democratic nomination, Wilde doesn’t consider himself a typical candidate in the party, given his lack of political ties and his hard-line support for the Second Amendment.

“You don’t take guns away from law-abiding citizens,” Wilde said. “You have to have deterrence, and these bleeding-heart liberals have left this country to hell in a handbag.”

Despite some contrasts, Wilde shares many other Democratic candidates’ support for universal health care in a “Medicare-for-all” proposal. He came to appreciate the public-system version during his time working for a vineyard in Italy in the ‘80s.

“When I lived in Italy for those three years, it was one of the greatest things there was,” Wilde said. “Sure you were taxed, but you never saw that you didn’t have these $2,000 deductibles or anything like that.”

Wilde joins a crowded race of candidates seeking to replace the retiring U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi. Across both parties, 16 candidates have filed for the race. Wilde will be among six of those running in the Democratic primary.

Early and absentee voting begins July 2 for the primary, which has already drawn more requests for absentee ballots in Laramie County than during the entire 2016 primary, and the in-person election will be held Aug. 18.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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