Trump’s big Wyo test spills over to the poll on Tuesday

SUBLETTE COUNTY — Retired trucker Kent Profit already knew he was supporting Wyoming House candidate and La Barge tanker Mike Schmid when he came to Marbleton Park for kids and drinks.

The Big Piney resident was particularly fond of how Schmid traveled to Washington, DC on January 6, 2021 to join a crowd of protesters who gathered in support of former President-elect Donald Trump. That rally sadly turned sideways — Schmid said he didn’t participate in the violence — but nonetheless, Profit just liked that he was there.

“He went over there for cotton picking business and got up,” Profit said.

Toni David, who was standing nearby cradling her Yorkshire terrier, Dolly, was also enjoying Schmid’s presence outside the US Capitol on that historic day some 1,700 miles away.

“I’m proud that Mike was there,” David said.

Big Piney resident Toni David, pictured with her dog, Dolly, was once a supporter of Albert Sommers but intends to vote for Mike Schmid in the August 16, 2022 Republican primary election. (Mike Koshmrl/ WyoFile)

Schmid didn’t mention Jan. 6 when he made brief remarks to about 15 family, friends and townspeople gathered at the park to support his run against incumbent District 20 Rep. Albert Sommers (R -Pinedale). But Schmid’s attendance at the Capitol rally that led to a violent attack speaks volumes about the Republican faction he identifies with. It was a camp of conservatives, aligned with Trump, that appealed to some residents of Sublette County, a sparsely populated desert region bounded by the Windward and Wyoming Ranges.

Exactly who dominates and defines the Wyoming GOP is in flux, but there is a wing of the political right, which bills itself as the “true conservatives,” which includes the twenty-something members of the Wyoming House Freedom Caucus and the “ six pack” conservative members of the Wyoming Senate. Tuesday’s Republican primary will determine whether or not the State House tilts more or less in their favor, and whether the Republican establishment in the Legislative Assembly is still able to easily out-compete the smaller far-right faction, although than growing.

Sommers – the current House Majority Leader who is likely to be the next Speaker of the House – faces his first challenger in a primary since to have been elected ten years ago. The fourth-generation herdsman knocked on the door in a Pinedale-area subdivision while Schmid was having a picnic, and says he saw the primary election challenge coming as soon as the 2022 budget session of the legislature adjourned .

“I thought a band was going to come after me,” Sommers said. “The group is the extreme right, that’s what I want to call it. Mike [Schmid] seems to have aligned with those [politicians].”

“True ordeal”

In Wyoming, the test of Trump and the candidates the former president has endorsed begins with the race for the U.S. House of Representatives, where incumbent U.S. Representative Liz Cheney is challenged by the hand-picked proxy of Trump, Harriet Hageman.

“That’s the real test of Trump,” former U.S. Senator Al Simpson told WyoFile in February.

Despite raising record money for a Wyoming congressional campaign, Cheney faces an uphill battle. Survey data suggests the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney trails by more than 20 percentage points in the race, although some analysis suggests the window is still open for a victory for Cheney.

The dynamic of Trump-aligned candidates against the GOP establishment carries over to the poll in part because the former president, who rallied to Wyoming, has weighed on statewide races via the sponsorships of the most diehard candidates: incumbent Curt Meier for state treasurer, Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) for secretary of state and Brian Schroeder for superintendent of public instruction. The same endorsements did not materialize for Wyoming’s legislative races, though often House and Senate candidates claimed a claim on one of the two camps.

Senator Drew Perkins (R-Casper) in the Wyoming Senate, February 2022. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

In Natrona County’s Senate District 29, Casper businessman Bob Ide took on the role of candidate Trump challenging incumbent Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper), in office since 2007.

Like Schmid and Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne, Ide was in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021. Photos and video show it near the Capitol during the insurrection. Ide did not respond to WyoFile’s interview request, but he called himself a “true conservative” who has pledged to “NEVER” vote for any new taxes or fees, according to his campaign website.

Regarding Trump’s claim that the election was stolen, Perkins, who is an attorney, backed decisions by judges across the country, including Trump-appointed judges who later dismissed his claims of fraud. electoral.

“I think when the votes were counted, President Biden had more electoral votes than President Trump,” Perkins said. “Were there any irregularities, of course, but I’m still waiting for hard evidence.”

Perkins doesn’t make much of how he and the others are represented by more extreme challengers.

“These people always say they’re more conservative, and I don’t believe that,” he said. “The biggest difference I’ve seen between me and Bob Ide is that Bob believes we shouldn’t be taking federal money. It’s an easy thing to say.

The reality, the Joint Appropriations Committee co-chairman said, is that Wyoming wouldn’t have the capacity to maintain its roads and keep the lights on in its hospitals without federal funds. In the current budget cycle, the The Legislature appropriated nearly $2 billion federal funding.

A lot of money

Relatively large sums are pouring into the Perkins-Ide race. The incumbent raised $58,850, the most of any legislative candidate, according to his deposits with the Wyoming Secretary of State. Ide, meanwhile, cobbled together the second-biggest bankroll of any candidate vying for a legislative seat, with $56,220.

Typically, this campaign cycle, incumbents get support from mainstream venues. Sommers, for example, received donations from the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and Perkins received donations from the Wyoming Mining Association.

Republican candidate Mike Schmid joked that he shouldn’t have cooked so many sausages at a sparsely attended rally in Marbleton on August 10, 2020 to support his campaign for Wyoming House District 20. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile )

Schmid and Ide, meanwhile, both received donations from the Brophys, a wealthy Jackson family that backed anti-establishment Republicans.

In Wyoming’s northeast corner, incumbent Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) raised the third-most money of any Wyoming legislative candidate. His challengers include Rep. Bill Fortner (R-Gillette) and Roger Connett, the former Crook County Republican party chairman.

“They’re trying to outplay me, that’s the game they all play,” Driskill said. “It’s an interesting case, because I was Trump before they were Trump.”

Driskill described the so-called “six pack” of far-right senators seeking to bolster their ranks as ineffectual and “bitter.”

“They talk about the establishment and the insider club, and there’s no such thing,” Driskill said. “The truth is, if you want to be an insider in the Wyoming Legislative Assembly, you actually learn how to work with the rest of your colleagues…You better figure out how to get the respect of at least 15 other people .”

“They’re trying to outplay me, that’s the game they all play. It’s an interesting case, because I was Trump before they were Trump.

Senator Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower)

Fortner, who had a falling out with the House Freedom Caucus, seeks to move from the House to the Senate. Driskill described his opponent as a do-nothing Wyoming politician. This could be because Fortner was allied with the Freedom Caucus which lacked the clout to advance its agenda, which included bills banning critical race theory in public schools or preventing cross-voting. the day of the vote. Fortner did not respond to interview requests.

Senator Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) in the Wyoming State Capitol. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

“What Rep. Fortner did was vote no on pretty much everything under the sun,” Driskill said. “Voting no on everything doesn’t make you conservative, it makes you nonconformist. You are just against it. Our job in the Legislative Assembly is to solve problems, not to throw bombs.

Yet for the likes of Connett, one of his other challengers, Driskill’s record in the Legislative Assembly is that of a moderate – despite his proclamation of Trumpiness. Connett didn’t want to shoot fellow candidates, but thinks the incumbent senator is part of the problem in a legislature that’s ‘focused on a national social justice agenda’ rather than the ‘conservative values ​​of the people of northeast Wyoming. “. he said.

“We have, for the most part, a pretty conservative state — definitely that corner of the state is conservative,” Connett said. “And we don’t view our legislature the same way.”

Downvote Effect

From Sen. Larry Hicks’ (R-Baggs) perspective, it’s hard to say which direction the Legislature will swing in the wake of Tuesday’s primary. Hicks faces no challengers this cycle, although he was targeted by a far-right gun group during the last legislative session and expected to have to fight for his seat.

“I think you’re going to see one place where Democrats can make inroads and another place where moderate Republicans make inroads and another place where the more conservative branch of the Republican Party makes inroads,” Hicks said. “I think we’re going to end up with a mixed bag of results.”

Hicks predicted that some establishment lawmakers would retain their seats following the change in registration and the crossover of leftist voters. They might do it to vote for Cheney, he said, but there’s bound to be a downvote effect.

Those crossover voters, Hicks said, could give inclubents like Sens a boost. RJ Kost (R-Powell) and Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston). Rep. Dan Laursen (R-Powell) and R. Ray Peterson challenge Kost, while Rep. Bob Wharff (R-Evanston) seeks to unseat Schuler.

The results of those elections — like Schmid’s run with Sommers — will tell whether Trump’s influence over Wyoming politics is waning, stagnating, or continuing to grow.

Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) at his home outside Pinedale on August 9, 2022. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

At the Marbleton picnic, David, along with the Yorkie, explained how Sommers was once his man. Her longtime representative lost her vote in part because she liked Schmid. Another reason, she said, is that she hadn’t heard Sommers vocally disapprove of Cheney, who has staked his own political career on resisting Trump.

“I have not heard, to date, if [Sommers] supports Cheney,” David said. “It’s an important element for me.”

Later that night, at his family’s historic estate, Sommers offered his perspective.

“I will not condemn anyone,” he said. “I’ve been rumored to be supporting Liz Cheney. I’m not saying who I’m voting for, but I’m not voting for Liz Cheney.”

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