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CHEYENNE – The picture remains murky for the GOP when it comes to the 2018 governor’s race in Wyoming.

Election Day is still more than a year out, but a prominent Democrat in Cheyenne’s Mary Throne has already declared. Meanwhile, Republican Bill Dahlin of Sheridan has also declared his candidacy, but could be facing an uphill battle, since he has never served in elected office. He is also likely to face a hotly contested primary.

Cynthia Lummis, former Wyoming congresswoman in the U.S. House of Representatives, confirmed Tuesday she will not be among those seeking the state’s highest elected office in the upcoming election cycle.

“I had given some serious thought to running, but ultimately decided that my personal time and freedom I’ve gained since leaving Congress is something I want to extend for awhile,” said Lummis.

After Lummis chose to not seek another congressional term in 2016, she seemed poised to be the top candidate to replace current Gov. Matt Mead when his second term expires. At the time, she told the Casper Star-Tribune that she had “not ruled out” the possibility. And now, while she’s not ruling out running for office down the road, Lummis said she won’t in the upcoming election cycle.

“Members of Congress are scheduled every 20 to 30 minutes of every day of every week of every year,” she said. “I thought when I returned home that I would run for governor, but after getting to enjoy not living on that tight a schedule and having every day scheduled, it was just something I wasn’t ready to give up again right away. I suspect I will run for office again someday, but I plan to sit it out in 2018.”

Other possible Republican candidates have been floated in recent months, including several current top elected officials in Wyoming. But no one has yet made a firm decision about whether running for governor is a real possibility.

Aside from Mead, Wyoming’s other top four statewide elected officials – Secretary of State Ed Murray, Treasurer Mark Gordon, Auditor Cynthia Cloud and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow – have all come up as possible Republican candidates.

It’s certainly something Murray’s considering, but he said he is not ready to make a decision.

“My wife and family and I are in the discernment process,” Murray said. “I am currently receiving and weighing input on this decision from a number of sources and, of course, contemplating this important decision.”

Murray said he’d be a worthy choice for voters if he chooses to make a gubernatorial bid.

“I would definitely be the candidate who actually gets things accomplished,” he said. “There are those who will talk a lot about what they’ll do, but there is a clear difference in that I have a proven history of actually getting things done. I feel I would definitely be the most prepared.”

If he does not run for governor, however, Murray said “chances are very great” he would seek another term as secretary of state.

Gordon said a lot of people have encouraged him to enter the race, but like Murray, he hasn’t made a decision.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the stuff we need to do in the Treasurer’s Office to make sure that we get over this (economic) rough patch (in the state) as well as we can,” Gordon said. “I have a job to do, and I have to push it as hard as I can, so that’s what I’ve been thinking about: how I can best help Wyoming.

“To the degree people have been encouraging me, that’s nice to hear, so I guess I wouldn’t rule it out. But on the other hand, I really am focused on doing the best we can.”

Balow said she currently plans to seek re-election as state superintendent, since Wyoming faces enormous deficits in education funding in coming years and more possible changes on the federal level.

“I’ll never say never … but as an educator and as a mom, it’s tough to see anything that would be more rewarding than having the opportunity to continue serving as state superintendent,” Balow said.

Cloud said she does not have any plans to seek the governor’s office in 2018.

“I thoroughly enjoy being the state auditor, and we’re in the midst of making a lot of improvements in the office,” she said.

The last Wyoming election to generate as much interest as the upcoming gubernatorial race was the bid to replace Lummis in Congress, a seat now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney. 

Cheney faced a heated Republican primary battle that included former Wyoming House Rep. Tim Stubson of Casper, current Sen. Leland Christensen of Alta and Laramie County Republican Party Chairman Darin Smith – all names that have come up on the subject of seeking the state’s highest office.

Smith said he’s waiting to see “who surfaces in the race for governor,” but currently doesn’t think he’ll throw in his hat.

“My main focus is putting forth principled Republican candidates,” he said. “I would never rule out anything. We want to do what’s best for the state and its leadership. For me, it’s contingent upon the leadership we would put forward.”

Stubson is currently living as a private citizen – he chose to seek the congressional office instead of pursuing a re-election bid in the state Legislature – but said he would like to return to public office someday. That likely does not include a run for governor in 2018, however.

“I think that’s pretty unlikely,” he said. “I’m hopeful and confident there will be a Republican candidate for governor I can enthusiastically support.”

Christensen did not return multiple requests for comment.

Wyoming Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, is no stranger to the governor’s race, as he ran in 2002. But running again in 2018 is not in the cards for Bebout, he said.

“Right now, there’s a lot more important issues for me to be dealing with and thinking about with our budgets, the situation in our state with having to diversify our economy, our jobs, what’s going on with minerals, education – it’s just a full plate,” Bebout said. “At this point in my life, it’s just not on my radar screen.”

Another strong Republican voice in the Wyoming Senate, Drew Perkins of Casper, also said he will not be seeking the governor’s office in 2018.

“It’s not in my future,” he said. “If I want to stay in the Senate, I’ll make a decision at the end of the session next year.”

Mead will not be seeking any public office in 2018, said David Bush, his communications director.

Former Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Matt Micheli has also come up in speculation around the governor’s race, but did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

There’s plenty of time left for potential candidates to enter the race, as the filing period for the 2018 election in Wyoming begins May 17 and closes June 1. The primary will then take place Aug. 21, with the general election on Nov. 6, 2018.

On the Democrat side, Throne – a former Cheyenne lawmaker in the House who was narrowly ousted by Republican challenger Jared Olsen in 2016 – cleared a lot of speculation when she made her official announcement here Aug. 26. Other potential Democratic candidates came to the event in Lions Park that evening to show their support for her candidacy, including Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, and Cheney’s 2016 general election challenger, Democrat Ryan Greene of Rock Springs.

Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman Joe Barbuto said he thinks those in his party around the state are “very excited” about Throne’s candidacy. While he said it’s always possible another candidate could jump into the race, perhaps from a platform further left-of-center of Throne, Barbuto said he thinks Democrats will rally around a common goal.

“It’s always possible, but the impression I’ve got around the state from Democrats – whether they were supporting Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or any other candidate (in the 2016 presidential primary) – is that they’re united behind the idea of electing more Democrats in Wyoming, because we need that balance,” he said.

Joel Funk is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at jfunk@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @jmacfunk.

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