Journalists need help getting over Liz Cheney
— January 13, 2014
“Hello, my name is Kerry, and I’m addicted to Liz Cheney’s Senate campaign.”
“Hello, Kerry Drake,” said the rest of the group, sitting in a semi-circle around me.
“Wait a minute – I thought we were supposed to be anonymous,” I said, suddenly feeling very exposed.
“How anonymous do you expect to be?” asked a man I recognized as an account executive at one of Wyoming’s largest advertising agencies. “Your byline is right there at the top of this article.”
Of course he was right. It’s just difficult to admit after covering a lot of political campaigns, including former Wyoming congressman and vice president Dick Cheney, that his daughter’s first foray as a candidate is the one that finally made me seek professional help. I knew I wasn’t alone, but I was still surprised to see so many people at the support group that formed after she dropped out of her Senate race.
I took an instant disliking to our facilitator, who seemed like a know-it-all. Journalists who cover politics don’t like such types, because they feel they don’t need advice. But I put aside my fears about such “professionals” and decided, against my better judgment, to answer his questions honestly.
“When did you first realize that her race against Mike Enzi was going to be special for you?” he asked.
“The first day I heard about the fishing license,” I said, and all of the assembled heads bobbed up and down in agreement, with wistful looks on their faces. It was kind of like JFK’s assassination, because none of us would ever forget where we were when we first heard about it.
Great day yesterday fishing the South Fork of the Snake River w/my dad! Caught this beautiful Brown Trout. pic.twitter.com/YAt0kbEu
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) July 31, 2012
“That must have been a very special day,” the facilitator said, but the ad exec interrupted before I could speak. “I know just what you mean!” he exclaimed. “When I heard the fishing story, I knew I was sitting on a gold mine if I could just land the Cheney account.”
The facilitator scolded him. “Now this is Kerry’s time,” he said. “You’ll all get your turn to tell us how you feel.”
“He’s right,” I said, pointing at the ad guy. “I felt like it was a gold mine, too, only from a news standpoint. I couldn’t believe how she stumbled out of the gate, illegally buying a state fishing license.”
As every Wyoming child is taught before he’s out of diapers, you have to live in the state for at least a year before you can buy a state fishing license, which saves you about 70 bucks. It had only been a few months since Liz had moved to Wyoming from Virginia so she could run for the Senate in her dad’s old stomping grounds.
“The story kept getting better and better,” I added. “It turned out she put in her application that she’d been a resident for 10 years, even though she hadn’t lived here since she was in junior high. She threw the clerk who sold her the license right under the bus, and blamed him for not filling in the paperwork right. Of course, the kid had already left the job, so we couldn’t get his side of the story.”
“She kind of skated on that one, but not really,” piped up a female reporter whose name I won’t tell you, because I can’t remember it, and I still think this should have all been anonymous anyway. “Once the national media got hold of it, she became the butt of their jokes.”
“As did the whole state,” I added. “The big news outlets in television and print couldn’t believe we were such hicks that we’d get upset about an illegally obtained fishing license.”
“I hate it when they make fun of us,” the reporter said, and the meeting was on the verge of turning into a session of bad-mouthing the national media until our facilitator steered the conversation back to Cheney’s abbreviated campaign.
“As I understand it, it was just one gaffe after another for Liz after that, wasn’t it?” he asked.
The room hummed with excitement, with everyone trying to be the first to talk about the incidents that made the campaign a traveling disaster – the failure of the Cheneys to pay their Teton County property taxes on time; Liz’s husband being illegally registered to vote in Virginia and Wyoming at the same time; Liz inferring that Enzi is so old he couldn’t remember if he was talking to her or Rep. Cynthia Lummis when he said she promised not to run against him.
Two polls had Liz down by as much as 50 points. But for my money, Liz Cheney’s campaign didn’t really drive off the cliff until she started getting “help” from her family.
Dick said he wasn’t going to do much if any campaigning for her. After such a disastrous start, though, he jumped in with both feet, and made things even worse. He appeared in a TV interview with George Stephanopoulos, declaring that his daughter would win and disputing Enzi’s assertion that he and the senator were ever “fishing buddies.” Then he ripped Enzi for raising most of his money from interests outside of Wyoming, right before he hosted a gala fundraising dinner for Liz at a posh Washington restaurant.
Her mother Lynne appeared in the news just long enough to tell family friend and former Sen. Alan Simpson to “just shut up” at a cocktail party because he endorsed Enzi.
But the real capper was the high-profile flap between Liz and her lesbian sister Mary. The candidate had congratulated her sibling on her marriage to Heather Poe and even went on MSNBC to say that gay couples should have the same rights as straight ones. But after an ultra-conservative group bought TV ads in Wyoming attacking her for not being solidly against gay marriage, like Enzi, Cheney responded that she only believes heterosexuals should be able to marry. That flip-flop earned her quick rebukes from her sister and Poe, who took to Facebook to denounce her attitude and declare she was on the wrong side of history.
Unbelievably, Mom and Pop Cheney issued a statement that sided with Liz, stressing that she always has only believed in “traditional marriage.” That appeared to be the last straw for Mary, who told Politico she would not campaign for her sister, give Liz money or even vote for her.
“It shouldn’t have been a shock when she announced that she was ending her Senate campaign because of an illness in her family,” I told the group. “But something inside of me died the night CNN said she was quitting. This was already the best, most fun campaign I’ve ever covered, and it had barely gotten started.”
Our facilitator foolishly tried to ease my pain, instead of recognizing that I needed to wallow in it for awhile before putting it in proper perspective, which is what political pundits do. If your perspective is premature, you risk losing all sense of proportion, which makes you prone to making preposterous predictions you’ll likely regret, unless they accidentally come true, which makes you feel like a genius.
“But Wyoming Republican leaders say this is just a beginning – that Liz is a rising star in the party and will be back when it’s her time,” our leader said.
The advertising people began weeping, but us newsies guffawed for what seemed like forever.
“It’ll never happen,” I finally managed to say between renewed bursts of laughter. “It’s over for Liz Cheney. She made too many mistakes, too early, to ever come back from this disaster. If she tried again, she’d have to lock her family in a closet and not let them out until after election day.”
And with that pronouncement I nodded solemnly, trying to put a sense of finality to what I had said. Then the laughter started again and this time even the advertising guys joined in.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.
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