Cubin won’t replace Thomas; Simpson son and Bush appointees head list

Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) said yesterday that she is “not interested” in being appointed to replace Sen. Craig Thomas (R), who died Monday. But many other state politicians have been waiting for an opportunity to move up into the state’s long-static three-member congressional delegation.
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A plethora of potential candidates, including former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tom Sansonetti and former Sen. Alan Simpson’s (R-Wyo.) son, is making for a crowded field vying for three spots to be selected by the Republican state central committee during the next two weeks.

Those three names must be submitted to Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) within 15 days of notification, which occurred yesterday morning. Freudenthal then will have five days to pick one to serve until a new senator can be elected in November 2008.

Thomas, 74, died Monday night following a seven-month battle with leukemia. His diagnosis was announced shortly after he was reelected with 70 percent of the vote in November.

Cubin, a seven-termer who narrowly retained her at-large House seat last year, indicated she will serve out her term but did not rule out a 2008 Senate run.
 
“I was elected to the House for this term, so I’m not interested in being appointed to the Senate,” Cubin said. “I think that’s in the best interest of Wyoming,” she added, noting that the appointment would lead to a special election for her House seat.

Cubin spoke highly of Sansonetti, a former chief of staff to Thomas. He worked in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice until 2005, when he returned to Wyoming.

State Rep. Colin Simpson (R) would follow in the footsteps of his father, a three-termer who left office in 1997, and grandfather Milward Simpson, also a former senator and a governor.

A third name frequently mentioned is Randall Luthi, a former state House Speaker who early this year was appointed deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Colin Simpson declined to comment yesterday, while Luthi indicated that he might be interested in the job.

“I’d be honored to be considered,” Luthi said. “It seems somewhat inappropriate to be divvying up the spoils … but I’d be honored to be considered.”

State Republican Party Chairman Fred Parady also asked for politics to wait. But he acknowledged that the wheels are in motion to replace Thomas, who was beginning his third term.

The last congressional opening came in 1996, when Sen. Mike Enzi (R) was first elected.

“We are beginning that process,” Parady said. “I’d like to deal with the funeral first and the replacement second.”

The funeral has yet to be scheduled, but the state central committee, which consists of 71 members from around the state, will meet in the next two weeks.

Answers to who should be among the three selections did not come easily yesterday, and several sources said there are no shoo-ins at this point.

“I’d bet you’d get 71 different opinions at this point,” one committeewoman, who noted that she likes Colin Simpson and Luthi, said.

Other names mentioned include state Sen. John Barrasso and several former Cubin primary opponents — state Sen. Cale Case, attorney Bruce Asay and retired Navy Capt. Bill Winney.

Whoever is appointed, he or she will have to begin campaigning for the seat almost immediately if he or she wants to keep it; the last four years of Thomas’s term will be on the ballot next year, alongside Enzi’s reelection race.

While Enzi is a safe incumbent, an open seat could add a Democratic target to the 2008 forecast. It is the second open seat of the cycle, along with neighboring Colorado, where Sen. Wayne Allard (R) has decided against running for reelection.

Wyoming is heavily Republican, voting 69 percent for President Bush in each of his two presidential election victories. But Freudenthal is tremendously popular, and Democrat Gary Trauner’s near-miss against Cubin last year showed Democrats can compete under the right circumstances.

The national parties are not yet commenting on their 2008 prospects in Wyoming, but Parady expressed confidence.

“I'm not thinking that far ahead,” Parady said. “The party’s in pretty good shape here. We’ll fight and win that election when we get to it.”