Wyoming House race gives second chances to would-be senators in ’08

The biggest winners after Rep. Barbara Cubin’s (R-Wyo.) retirement announcement Saturday might be Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoDems force 'Medicare for All' on Americans but exempt themselves GOP sees fresh opening with Dems’ single payer embrace Overnight Health Care: CBO predicts 15 percent ObamaCare premium hike | Trump calls Sanders single-payer plan ‘curse on the US’ | Republican seeks score of Sanders’s bill MORE (R-Wyo.) and the Republican Party, instead of any ambitious would-be successors.

The plethora of top state Republicans who battled over the seat that Barrasso eventually won earlier this year should see the newly open House seat as a better option than a messy primary challenge to a wealthy sitting senator, and the situation appears to be a win-win for the party as far as both seats go.

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With Cubin on the way out and a House battle in the offing, the newest member of the Senate has more reason to believe he will avoid any kind of a serious primary challenge next year, allowing him to cement his hold on his seat. The GOP also exuded relief after Cubin announced she would not run again, believing it should have less of a headache trying to keep her seat with someone else as its standard-bearer.

House seats are often held in higher regard in states that have only one. And after Cubin’s announcement, it became clear that the Senate hopefuls do not view it as a consolation prize.

Jim King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming, said he expects the primary to shape up like the 1994 race, when Cubin won the nomination with less than 40 percent. He expects as many as six serious candidates to emerge, and any of them should help the party get a firmer grasp on the seat, which Cubin nearly lost last year.

Democrat Gary Trauner is running again after losing by just 1,000 votes. Since then, Cubin has missed about half of the House votes this year due to her husband’s ongoing health problems, the death of her brother and her own broken foot.

“There was dissatisfaction with Cubin. She never really ran up the kinds of numbers you would expect with an incumbent in an overwhelmingly Republican state,” King said. “There were a lot of Republican crossovers in 2006, and they won’t have the same reasons to cross over.”

None of the top Senate candidates appear to be ruling out a run at this point, although the state’s tradition of late-starting campaigns should keep anyone from doing too much publicly at this point.

Former state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis and state Rep. Colin Simpson are the two names universally cited as leading candidates for the GOP nod, and both have confirmed that they are considering their options.

Simpson, the son of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), informed Cubin several months ago that he would challenge her in a primary if she ran again. He has been quiet since then, however, and local Republicans are not sure whether he will run for the seat because he has young children.

Simpson had a disappointing showing for the Senate seat and was not among the final five candidates. But his politics should bode better in a statewide election than they would in front of a more right-leaning central committee, said Bill Cubin, a member of the central committee and son of the retiring congresswoman.

“He’s a lot more moderate on the social issues,” Bill Cubin said. “That crowd just wasn’t his crowd. … If he’s in the House race, he’s a real competitor.”

Lummis was one of three finalists for the Senate seat and might be a senator if not for a rocky relationship with Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who got to pick among the three finalists supplied by the central committee.

She left office this year with sky-high popularity and many asking her to run against the popular Freudenthal. She left the door open to a possible primary against Barrasso, but local Republicans expect that she will run for House instead.

Many saw Barrasso as a safe senator from the moment he was appointed, due to his personal wealth and incumbency. A strong third-quarter fundraising report showed he had raised $650,000, and now an open House seat should all but close the door on a strong challenge in 2008.

“John is a dynamo, and when you saw him post those third-quarter fundraising numbers, that represented a formidable signal to anyone that might want to consider a challenge,” said state GOP Chairman Fred Parady. “I think he’s in harness and strongly putting his mark on that seat.”

Other top Senate candidates who could run for the House seat include former Justice Department official Tom Sansonetti; former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead; former state Agriculture Department Director Ron Micheli; and former state House Speaker and U.S. Minerals Management Director Randall Luthi.

All finished in the top 10, with Sansonetti the third finalist alongside Lummis and Barrasso.

Local observers say Mead has an eye on the governor’s race — Freudenthal is term-limited in 2010 — and Sansonetti might not be as interested in serving in the House given his already-extensive Washington résumé. But none of them have ruled it out yet.

Mead said he is “not really in a position to make any comment right now,” but added he would likely have something to say this week.

Luthi confirmed an interest in Cubin’s seat but said it is still “real early, and I need to evaluate all possibilities.”

Micheli could not be reached, but one source saw him as a potential front-runner.

Sansonetti is currently heading up the state party’s county conventions, which will select some of the state’s delegates to the national convention and will be held Jan. 5. He said he will make no decision until next year.

“I’m considering it,” he said. “I’ve got a job to do for the party right now.”

Three GOP candidates are already in the race, including retired Navy Capt. Bill Winney, who took 40 percent in a primary against Cubin last year.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Betsy Andres said: “The reality is that Republicans have a strong bench, and in a presidential year a guaranteed high turnout will help us hold this one.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Doug Thornell called Trauner a “formidable candidate whose positions and priorities fit well with the state.” He said the race should be “highly competitive.”