3 Dems weighing Senate bids in Wyoming

Three well-known Wyoming Democrats are expressing interest in running for the state’s newly open Senate seat in 2008, as Republicans determine whom they will appoint to the seat in the interim.

Also, in a brief statement to The Hill, a spokesman for Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) said the popular governor “has no plans” to make a run for the seat but did not rule out a bid either, declining further comment.

Former House candidate Gary Trauner, state Sen. Mike Massie and former gubernatorial candidate Paul Hickey are talking with fellow Democrats about the seat, which became open when Sen. Craig Thomas (R) died last week.

Massie, a 12-year member of the state legislature and minority caucus chairman from Laramie, Friday told The Hill that while discussions are preliminary, the opportunity appears to be as good as it has been in years.

“It’s an idea that I’ve toyed with off and on over the years,” Massie said. “Depending upon who’s in there and what they’re able to accomplish over the next 18 months, it will be perhaps more open with some people than it will with others — especially in a state with such a heavy Republican registration.”

Trauner, a businessman and local school board chairman, lost to Cubin by less than 1 percent in last year’s Democratic wave. He has stated a desire to run for Cubin’s seat again, but the Senate opening has given him a second option that he has not ruled out.

Hickey is an attorney who took 37 percent of the vote in a 2002 primary against Freudenthal. His father, Joseph Hickey, was elected governor in 1958 and appointed to the Senate in 1961. He went on to lose in the 1962 Senate election.

Hickey did not return several calls to his law firm last week, but a Democratic source familiar with Wyoming politics said he is having conversations about a bid.

Freudenthal is the consensus pick as the strongest potential Democratic candidate. He was reelected with about 70 percent of the vote in November.

He is term-limited in 2010 under current rules, but similar term limits on state legislators have been challenged successfully in recent years, and it’s possible the same could happen in his case.

Several other potential candidates suggested by Wyoming Democrats said they were not interested, including state House Minority Whip Debbie Hammons and state Sen. Rae Lynn Job.

Asked whether she would consider running for the seat, Hammons said simply, “No.”

Job said she was neither interested nor willing to run.

“I don’t have much desire to participate in the high level of partisan politics that currently exists in Washington,” she said in an e-mail.

On the Republican side, many names have been mentioned as potential appointments and/or 2008 candidates, including former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tom Sansonetti, state Rep. Colin Simpson — the son of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) — state Sen. John Barrasso, Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife Lynne and Randall Luthi, the deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

U.S. Attorney Matt Mead resigned from his post last week and expressed interest in the appointment as well.

There is also a burgeoning movement to appoint Alan Simpson to the seat so the playing field is leveled for would-be
candidates to run in 2008 after he retires.

Many potential candidates have been hesitant to speak so soon after Thomas’s death and especially before his funeral Saturday and burial Sunday. But state Republicans must submit a list of three names to Freudenthal next week, meaning this week will see some intense positioning.

State Republican Party Chairman Fred Parady held a press conference yesterday to describe the process. He also announced that the party is trying to set up a candidate forum on Sunday at Casper College.

Parady is inviting anyone eligible to apply for the appointment. The 71-member central committee will meet June 19 to vote on the names. It will narrow the field to eight on the first vote, and eliminate one candidate after every vote until three remain.

“The process will be open,” Parady said. “I want to invite every citizen of Wyoming to come and observe our work.
Wyoming’s Republican Party has an incredibly deep bench, and we are going to see many of our best and brightest seek this chance to serve.”

With the selections due Wednesday of next week, Freudenthal then will have five days to select one of the three names as a temporary replacement. Whoever wins the November 2008 special election will serve the last four years of the term Thomas won last year.

Thomas died last Monday, seven months after announcing that he had been diagnosed with leukemia.

Republicans said they are confident the seat will remain in their hands in the immediate future.

“We are confident that the governor will abide by the wishes of the Republican State Central Committee and nominate the best candidate for the position,” a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Rebecca Fisher, said.