CHEYENNE – Former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis ended speculation about whether she plans to campaign to replace longtime Sen. Mike Enzi, officially throwing her hat in the ring Thursday.
Lummis is the first candidate to officially declare their intent to run in 2020 to take over for Enzi, R-Wyo., who announced in May he will retire after 22 years in the U.S. Senate.
The Cheyenne Republican served as the U.S. representative for Wyoming’s sole at-large congressional district from 2009-17, but opted not to pursue re-election in 2016. She also served as a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives from 1979-83 and 1985-93, and was a member of the state Senate from 1993-95. She also had a stint as state treasurer from 1999 to 2007.
Lummis said after taking time to be with her father in his last years of life, and spending time with her first grandchild, who was born in the past year, she feels rejuvenated and ready to get back into politics.
“Those activities that required so much of my personal attention are starting to get to the point where I can once again turn my attention to public service,” Lummis said during a Thursday telephone call with the press. “The enthusiasm for public service is definitely back, and the opportunity to serve with a Republican president in the U.S. Senate leads me to seek this office.”
Lummis touted both her years of experience in national politics and her roots in Wyoming, centering her campaign around fighting what she called “the socialist agenda” of Democrats.
“We’ve watched the erosion of some of our traditional, independent, individual rights. It is just appalling what’s happening,” Lummis said. “We want to build the wall here in Wyoming and fix the broken immigration system; we want to uphold the Constitution and defend religious liberties. This Green New Deal would destroy Wyoming’s energy economy.”
Lummis blamed President Barack Obama’s administration for destroying the coal industry, and tied the mine closures in Gillette last week to his administration. She said she wanted to work with President Donald Trump on continuing to push for coal to be a viable energy source moving forward.
“The Obama administration had coal-fired power plants on death row. And it’s hard to then switch gears because there’s a new president,” Lummis said. “Because the Obama administration sent us down this road, we can do everything we can through working with the Trump administration in the regulatory sense to extend the useful economic life of the coal plants we have around the country, as well as open up new markets for our coal overseas.”
Wyoming has been pushing to diversify its economy, given the economic collapse of the coal market. Lummis said she would work on the federal level to invest in technology like carbon capture, which could benefit Wyoming’s energy market. She said she also would help the state become a bigger player in technologies like bitcoin and cloud-based computing, which need ample electricity to operate.
While Lummis is the only candidate to officially declare a run, she almost certainly won’t be the last. Given the security of the Senate seat in Wyoming, it’s expected to be a crowded Republican field in 2020.
Republican Bob Grady, who worked in the George H.W. Bush White House and advised former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, announced last month he was exploring a run at federal office in Wyoming. Foster Friess, the GOP mega donor and failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate, could also decide to take a run at the Senate.
And then there’s the potential that current U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., gives up her leadership position with the House Republicans to take another run at the Senate. Cheney ran against Enzi in 2014 for the nomination, but dropped out of the race before the primary.
Lummis said she had talked with Cheney in the past week or so about her run, and Cheney told her she would make her own decision in due course.
“If she decides to run for the Senate, too, let me tell you it’s going to be a real barn burner of a race out here in Wyoming,” Lummis said.
When comparing her positions to Cheney’s, Lummis said they are in line on many issues. But Lummis said she was more of a Libertarian who wanted the country to avoid unnecessary conflicts abroad, in contrast to Cheney’s interventionist stances.
Cheney entering the race would create a seismic shift in the race, as well putting her House seat into play in 2020. A poll leaked to the conservative website the Drudge Report recently showed Cheney with a commanding lead in a hypothetical head-to-head race with Lummis.
But the idea of trying to handicap a race at this point before the field has been filled is very difficult, said Jim King, director of the Political Science Department at the University of Wyoming.
“If it becomes one on one between Cheney and Lummis, you have two people who have been successful in statewide races,” King said. “It probably would be a hard-fought primary with both of them contesting it. If Rep. Cheney decided to stay in the House, where the seat is pretty secure, then Lummis would be a considerable favorite in the Senate race. She has that name recognition as a statewide candidate six different times.”
While other candidates besides Cheney might join the race, King said they’d face the uphill battle of not only working to gain name recognition, but also to build the infrastructure needed to win a statewide race.
“People who just decide to run without the experience find it’s harder than they expect. And we’re in a situation where we have an experienced candidate who knows all the ropes, and again can build a campaign organization pretty quickly,” King said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about former Rep. Lummis or former Gov. Matt Mead, when you’ve done it, it’s easier to crank it up and do it again.”
In a closing statement, Lummis seemed to be making a pitch to Cheney about staying in the House and talked about a potential federal delegation that included Lummis, Cheney and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
“We have an opportunity, I believe, to have somewhat of a dream team in Washington,” Lummis said. “If Liz Cheney, as a member of the House leadership, stays in her position, she can do great things for Wyoming in the U.S. House. With John Barrasso also in the Senate leadership, he is able to represent Wyoming ably. They both do a very capable job.
“It also helps Wyoming to have someone not in the leadership, who can take leadership on when leadership is behaving in a manner that’s not in the best interest of Wyoming. And I’ve played that role.”