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AP News Guide: Wyoming primary election

August 20, 2018

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — There’s plenty of room for surprises Tuesday when Wyoming voters choose from a crowded field of gubernatorial candidates and decide whether a wealthy outsider should oust a U.S. senator.

The last time so many competitive candidates were on the ballot was in 2010, and that outcome shows just how hard-to-predict — yet critically important — primaries are in this deep-red state.

That year, former U.S. attorney for Wyoming Matt Mead won the Republican primary with 28.6 percent of the vote, less than a point ahead of State Auditor Rita Meyer’s 27.9 percent. Former state legislator Ron Micheli nuzzled in third with 26.3 percent.

Mead dominated that year’s general election and easily won re-election in 2014. So in no small sense the fate of Wyoming’s executive branch over the past two terms came down to a very close, three-way primary finish.

With at least four highly competitive Republicans running this year, a repeat of 2010 may be in the works. Add what may be Sen. John Barrasso’s most serious challenge since taking office and more than one eyebrow-raising headline could result.

A look at the top races:

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GOVERNOR SCRAMBLE

Any of four well-organized candidates has a very plausible shot at winning the Republican primary for governor. There are six candidates on the ballot.

Investor, philanthropist and nationally known Republican mega-donor Foster Friess grabbed big headlines by entering the race in April. Friess is also known as a big supporter of Christian causes and could snap up the bulk of Wyoming’s religious votes.

Two-term Secretary of State Mark Gordon needs no introduction in the state where he’s lived his whole life. He’s the only Republican running with experience in office and the one who most resembles Mead as a rancher who prefers quiet governance to brash politicking.

Like Friess, businessman Sam Galeotos and water and natural resources attorney Harriet Hageman have no government experience but bring unique perspectives from their work. Both Galeotos and Hageman live in Cheyenne.

Hageman has deep personal and professional ties to ranching and could dominate Wyoming’s agricultural vote. Galeotos’ experience as a national-level business executive, including success in the dot-com years, could appeal to voters who want a Wyoming economy less tied to the boom-and-bust cycles of the coal, oil and natural gas markets.

The winner will likely face Cheyenne attorney and former state Rep. Mary Throne, who is running against three other Democrats who’ve campaigned little. Throne with her center-left positions and deep knowledge of state government could be her party’s strongest statewide candidate since Gov. Dave Freudenthal won a second term in 2006.

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SENATE INSURGENCY

Last year, President Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon talked with Friess and another Republican, Blackwater security firm founder Erik Prince, about possibly challenging Sen. John Barrasso in the GOP primary.

Bannon fell out of Trump’s favor with a tell-all book about the Trump administration last winter. Now, Trump has endorsed Barrasso, while neither Friess nor Prince but Jackson Hole businessman Dave Dodson steps up against Wyoming’s junior U.S. senator.

Dodson has no ties to Bannon and his decision to run was solely his and his family’s, he said.

Few in Wyoming had heard of Dodson before he announced his campaign in February, initially as an independent. Yet Dodson has brought enough personal funds — $1 million, according to campaign finance records — and organization to make something of a stir.

Whether the investor and Stanford business school lecturer can tap enough voter dissatisfaction about Barrasso’s out-of-state corporate and individual contributions to pull off a Republican primary stunner remains to be seen.

Dodson’s “Put Wyoming First” agenda calls among other things for congressional term limits and resisting wholesale transfer of federal lands to states and private interests.

The winner faces Wilson businessman Gary Trauner who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Wyoming hasn’t had a Democratic U.S. representative since 1978, but Trauner came within half a percentage point of beating Republican Rep. Barbara Cubin in 2006.

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WHAT ABOUT LIZ CHENEY?

A few “Cheney for Wyoming” signs dot the landscape here and there, but she has attracted barely any attention this year — for a reason.

Cheney is likely to beat two obscure Republican opponents who have campaigned little. After that, she would face either of two equally obscure Democrats in the general election.

In the 2016 primary, Cheney beat eight other Republicans with a decisive 39 percent of the vote. Runner-up state Sen. Leland Christensen got 21 percent.

Christensen, of Alta, is running for state treasurer this year against fellow Republican state Sen. Curt Meier, of La Grange; state Rep. James Byrd, of Cheyenne, is unopposed for the Democratic nomination for treasurer. Kristi Racines, of Cheyenne, faces Nathan Winters, of Thermopolis, in the Republican primary for state auditor; and Democrat Jeff Dockter, of Cheyenne, is unopposed.

Republican Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, who was appointed earlier this year following the resignation of Ed Murray, and Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow are unopposed in the primary and face no Democrats on the general-election ballot.

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Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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