Donna Rice election mug

CHEYENNE – Donna Rice already had plans to run for U.S. Senate before the coronavirus started to creep into Wyoming in mid-March, but as with every candidate, she now must prepare for a campaign unlike ever before.

“I was very close to announcing, and then the virus happened, and it was kind of like, ‘OK, now what?’” Rice said. “It does change the campaign picture. I think it was not so much a decision at that point whether it’s a run or not; it’s just how do we go about this with this new vista?”

Though her campaign may look different, Rice has moved ahead with her plans to seek the Republican nomination in the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Enzi, who is retiring.

Rice, who was born in Newcastle before growing up in Casper, returned to Wyoming recently after practicing law in her husband’s home state of Indiana. Growing up in Wyoming, her time working in the state Legislature as a page and staffer proved formative for her career.

“That’s kind of what gave me my love for the law,” Rice said. “I anticipated way back then that someday I might run for office, and now’s the time.”

As a proud conservative, Rice said her top priorities, if elected to the Senate, would be dealing with any ongoing effects of the coronavirus, as well as helping to diversify Wyoming’s economy.

“In Wyoming, there’s always issues as far as jobs with the energy industries,” Rice said. “How do we bring new industry into the state without giving up on the values that we hold dear, the kind of conservative principles that we’ve lived by in this state for so long? Those are the first things I’m looking at.”

Rice said she was “impressed and pleased” with Congress’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, though she acknowledged some uncertainties will likely last into next year.

“I think there’s a lot of consideration going to how do we reopen the country,” she said. “I’m glad to hear that that discussion is strong, and I want to be a part of that discussion and part of that solution.”

Rice joins a fairly crowded race for the Republican nomination for the seat, though it’s not quite as big as some had predicted, with both Congresswoman Liz Cheney and GOP megadonor Foster Friess not running for the spot.

During the campaign, Rice hopes her lack of political experience can play to her advantage, much like it did nationally for another political figure.

“This is the first time I’ve run for office,” she said. “I really enjoyed that Trump shook things up when he came into politics as a businessman and really kind of rattled the world a little bit with his way of doing business and thinking, and I think that’s been good for this country.”

Rice was unsure of what exactly her campaign will look like amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, and she hadn’t heard of any plans for virtual debates or other extreme measures. In the coming months, while figuring out how to safely connect with voters, she hopes to offer solutions that preserve Wyoming’s way of life.

“I really do believe America is a unique nation in the world ... and we’ve been a blessing to the world,” Rice said. “I want to see that greatness, that uniqueness, the strength preserved so that we can continue to offer a unique hope and vision to the world.”

Wyoming’s primary election is slated for Aug. 18. The general election will be held Nov. 3.

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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