An Alabama Democrat winning a U.S. Senate seat is the stuff dreams are made of in other red states. But could such a wild upset possibly happen in Wyoming?
If the national party continues its strategy of not even trying to compete in solid GOP country, there isn’t a chance. Democratic leaders have talked a good “50-state strategy,” in the past but quickly abandoned it in favor of focusing resources on states it views as easier to win.
And that is never Wyoming. Even in the few relatively close congressional races where an influx of cash and party workers might have made a difference, the national machine has failed to invest .
Hillary Clinton had a 50-state strategy until the last few weeks of her campaign, when she forgot Wisconsin and Michigan are also on the map. Her team apparently didn’t learn any lessons from Barack Obama, who twice ignored party officials and kept religiously to his goal of mounting an effective political ground game in every state.
By next year Wyoming will not have had a Democratic member of Congress in the four decades since Rep. Teno Roncalio retired in 1978. The Equality State has rarely come close to breaking that string of Republican victories. If they’re lucky, Democratic U.S. House and Senate candidates in the state who poll well early may have a shot at the dribs and drabs left over from states where money routinely pours in.
Earlier this year Democrats lost winnable special elections against horribly self-destructive GOP candidates in Montana and Kansas, largely because the DNC expected to lose and invested accordingly. Compared to the $4.7 million that national Republican groups spent in Montana, Democratic fundraising was a drop in the bucket.
But Doug Jones’ historic victory in Alabama may have changed the perception that the party is willing to sacrifice candidates in Trump country. Democrats are once again talking about “no state left behind.” One person who believes the party is committed to working hard in all 50 states is Wyoming Democratic Chairman Joe Barbuto, who has heard that message from DNC officials first-hand.
“I’ve got every reason to believe that the DNC will operate under their promise that every zip code matters,” Barbuto said. He watched the Alabama race closely and feels the Senate victory there plus recent wins in Virginia and Oklahoma will be an inspiration for his state party.
He said what impressed him most about Jones’ victory is the “incredibly well-organized state operation they were able to put together.”
“It gives us a lot of hope that we can do the same thing here in Wyoming,” Barbuto said.
Maybe Jones’ 20,000-vote victory over the GOP’s disgraced Roy Moore in Alabama wasn’t as miraculous as it initially seemed. Heading into the election Moore still led in many polls despite sex scandals involving girls as young as 14, being thrown off the state supreme court twice and treating African Americans, Muslims, gays and lesbians and other minorities as subhuman.
If one of the worst U.S. Senate candidates in history could win with that ghastly record, it would have been another huge embarrassment to Democrats. But even a close win in a state so heavily dominated by Republicans is still a major cause for celebration and hope for Democrats.
There’s no question that Wyoming is one of the most Republican states in the nation, and by some measures the most red. In 2016 it gave Trump his highest percentage of votes (68.2 percent) in the country as well as the largest margin of victory over Clinton (46.3 percent).
Republican Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming’s U.S. senator for the past decade, looked unbeatable earlier this year. Maybe he still is, but several unexpected factors have at least lowered the odds he will coast to another win.
The first is the sudden appearance of two potential challengers who were recruited from the far right by former Trump adviser and current Breitbart executive Steve Bannon. After Moore’s stinging loss and the rejection of Bannon pick Ed Gilespie in Virginia and of other Bannon candidates, the backing of this cretinous creature probably won’t mean much for either Jackson philanthropist Foster Friess or Blackwater founder Erik Prince, should they decide to enter the GOP primary.
Still, any challenge could expose some weak spots for Barrasso among voters and, more importantly, make him spend part of his campaign warchest. It could also lead to some Republicans staying home on general election day if the incumbent stumbles in the primary.
One thing Jones’ victory in Alabama conclusively demonstrated is that red state Democrats need to find qualified, exceptional candidates if the party is to have any shot at all at the Republican nominee. Fortunately, Wyoming Democrats have at least one such candidate who recently entered the Senate race.
In 2006 Gary Trauner nearly upset six-term Rep. Barbara Cubin, losing by only 1,012 votes. Trauner was a fresh face in that election, while Cubin battled complaints about the number of votes she missed in the House.
Two years later Trauner lost his second House race, this time to former legislator and State Treasurer Cynthia Lummis, who served three more terms before she retired. Although he did worse than expected and lost by almost 10 percentage points, Trauner added the experience of a second statewide race to his political resume and made contacts that should prove useful in his new bid for the Senate.
Barbuto listed several negatives he sees in Barrasso’s re-election bid, including Wyoming voters being fed up with Washington, D.C. They rightfully blame Barrasso, Sen. Mike Enzi and Rep. Liz Cheney for the federal government’s inability to operate in a bipartisan way and show that Republicans can actually govern.
The chairman thinks Barrasso’s appearances on television standing next to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) are getting on Wyoming voters’ nerves. “It naturally makes people here wonder, ‘Does Barrasso just have McConnell’s back or is he representing Wyoming, like he’s supposed to be doing?’” he said.
Nearly 96 percent of Barrasso’s votes this year have lined up with Trump’s position. That played well when Trump was at the height of his popularity in Wyoming, but the president’s support in the Cowboy State (and everywhere else) is waning as he’s been unable to fulfill his conservative campaign promises and his administration is bogged down by scandals.
Barbuto pointed to the president’s “tax sham” bill that Democrats adamantly believe will hurt the middle class. “You don’t get a tax break unless you make at least $75,000,” he said. “Well, they’ll find out there’s a lot of people in Wyoming who don’t make $75,000 a year.”
Barrasso has also been a “deficit hawk” during his 10 years in the Senate, blaming Democrats at every turn for increasing our debt. Trump’s tax cut proposal is estimated to add another $1.5 trillion to the deficit, but now that Barrasso and his GOP buddies are in charge of everything they say it’s no big deal.
Breaking the 40-year Democratic drought in Wyoming’s congressional delegation in 2018 remains a longshot, but Jones’ winning campaign in Alabama justifiably gives the party some hope. For now, each Democratic victory in the nation can be part of the blueprint for eventually turning a portion of Wyoming blue.