After months of slow news, former President Donald Trump is causing a ruckus in the Wyoming political world.
According to a myriad of sources, the two GOP U.S. House candidates being invited for endorsement consideration are Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith and Casper legislator Chuck Gray. Although State Sen. Anthony Bouchard was the first to jump into the race against incumbent Liz Cheney, he was not invited by Trump.
Trump has a big-time grudge against Cheney because she was one of 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach the former president. Cheney has become even more vocal since then in her criticism of Trump, which has isolated her from a huge number of Wyoming Republicans.
Wyoming voters polled more in favor of Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections than voters in any other state. This IS Trump country.
The prevailing pro-Trump mood among many Republicans in Wyoming is so dominant that Cheney is seldom seen at public events these days and travels with two security men at her side. In the first quarter of this year, she spent over $58,000 on personal protection.
While Bouchard has raised the most in donations of any of Cheney’s challengers at almost $580,000, Smith has more cash on hand – $142,461 to Bouchard’s $108,612 – after raising about $171,000 in just the second quarter of the year.
(Full disclosure: Smith and I worked together of Foster Friess’s governor race in 2018.)
Smith said he has raised money the old-fashioned way: from friends and supporters. Smith’s $142,000 is the biggest war chest of cash among Cheney’s rivals, when you do not count money loaned directly to the campaign by the candidate himself.
When I chatted with Smith last week, he said he has kept his head down and is working hard. He is traveling the state and attending GOP functions around Wyoming.
Friess was Smith’s state chairman until he died May 27. Smith said he still considers Foster his chairman in spirit. Friess was a big supporter of Donald Trump. Near the end of his presidency, Trump appointed Foster’s wife, Lynn, to the board of the prestigious Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
I talked briefly with Chuck Gray, and he is excited about his chances. But neither Gray nor Smith would discuss a possible meeting with Trump. It could be assumed there is a “gag order” in place on the subject.
Fox News broke the story that Bouchard was not invited to Trump’s resort in New Jersey for the meeting. According to Trump staff, the former president plans to endorse just one candidate and then work tirelessly on his behalf to defeat Cheney. If Cheney decides to run again, this will be an all-time ugly race.
“Remember,” Trump said, “in the end we just want ONE CANDIDATE (capitals by Trump) running against Cheney.”
Meanwhile, lost in all of this Trump discussion is Anthony Bouchard. Bouchard got into the race early and earned a lot of national publicity. He had momentum until a story broke that when he was a teenager, he impregnated a 14-year-old girl in Florida, who he later married. Bouchard is a bulldog and has not said whether he would support a Trump-anointed candidate.
Smith said if he does not win the Trump endorsement, he would probably support the candidate who did receive it.
Gray, 31, is in his third term representing Casper in the Wyoming House of Representatives. His family has seven radio stations in the state, but he is now working full-time on the campaign.
“I have a proven record. Wyoming conservatives are ready to rally around a candidate. I am that leader,” he said.
Meanwhile in related news, state Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester. commissioned what is called a “push-poll” of Wyoming Republican voters Tuesday about running against Cheney. Cowboy State Daily was tipped off by someone who was called.
This person said the poll was obviously designed to both determine Biteman’s statewide name recognition and then promote his candidacy in the race against Cheney for the U.S. House seat. The call contained a half-dozen questions about how Biteman would fare when running against Cheney or Smith, Gray or Bouchard. Biteman did not return my calls.
Meanwhile, in many parts of the country, these hot times are referred to as the Dog Days. Even in mild weather-prone Wyoming, it has been hotter than blazes lately.
To politicians, this time of year is truly like the Dead Sea. They are paddling around, trying to raise awareness and – yawn – nobody seems to be paying attention.
But with the announcements from Trump’s camp, things suddenly got a lot more interesting.