Wyoming election season ‘business as usual’

There was a lot of national attention on the upcoming general election. But here in Wyoming, University of Wyoming political scientist Jim King told Wyoming Public Radio’s Kamila Kudelska that this election season isn’t so different from past ones. But King said there was one unusual thing about the primary.

Jim King: Obviously, the first takeaway from the primary was that the incumbent was defeated. Rep. Cheney lost the GOP nomination to Hageman. This is very unusual for Wyoming and elsewhere. And apparently Rep. Cheney’s involvement in the January 6 committee was what people didn’t like. They did not consider the commission’s activity to be legitimate. And her participation certainly hurt her among Republican voters. The other races were pretty much what you’d expect. Governor Gordon won re-nomination, as most governors do, and there is no controversy surrounding Gordon’s performance. So there really wasn’t much of a surprise. You know, with the other races, we have a competitive race for superintendent of public instruction. But that’s the only one. Republican dominance in state offices is sure to continue.

Kamila Kudelska: And now with the general election, what are some key races you’re watching?

JK: I think the key race to watch right now is the race for superintendent of public instruction. Sure, you have Teresa Livingston challenging Governor Gordon, but I would be very surprised if Gordon was defeated. He has pretty good approval ratings. And there is no controversy or scandal associated with it. We expect Harriet Hageman to win the House seat. A Republican has generally won these races over the years, and you have to go back to 1976 to have a Democrat win the Wyoming House seat. So, it’s really no surprise that Hageman would win. But in the superintendent of public instruction competition, you have a contested race. Still, I would expect a Republican to win the race. Degenfelder leads Maldonado at this point in the poll. So I would expect, again, the Republican nomination of state offices to continue.

QC: Has a public education contest been this close before in Wyoming?

JK: Yes, this is actually one of the places where the races are held. Races for secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor are more often than not competitive in the general election…that the winner of the Republican primary becomes the de facto winner because there is no serious challenge, very often not a Democratic challenger. And so it looks like we have out of these five state offices, only the governorship and the chieftainship are the ones where there is a challenge. Now, of course, we haven’t had a Democrat win the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction in over 30 years. So no surprise that Degenfelder is ahead and likely to win there. But it’s really the only seat besides governor where we’ve seen much competition.

QC: And I know there was a lot of talk during the Democratic primary about switching and voting Republican. And then whether there’s any legitimacy for the Democratic Party in Wyoming if so many are moving…if the Democratic Party isn’t big enough. Any thoughts on this? And do you think many of those people who passed support the Democrats in general?

JK: I think it’s a myth that Democrats were switching to vote for someone in the Republican primary for the US House of Representatives. The numbers over the years show that there are far more people registered as Republicans than identified as Republicans in polls. But this difference is compensated by the independents. It was not invented by the Democrats. People who identify as Democrats register as Democrats. They vote in the Democratic primary. Independents are the ones who see the real competition in the GOP primary, who are registered to vote in the Republican primary but don’t identify as Republicans on a day-to-day basis. And that certainly makes sense. If you look at all the competitive races in recent years, in 2018 the competitive gubernatorial primary was on the Republican side, and knowing the dominance of the GOP, it made sense for an independent who wanted a voice in who would be governor to run in the Republican primary. If an Independent makes it to the primary, that person has no vote in who the governor actually becomes. And so you have this pattern in Wyoming and other states as well. When you have one dominant party, independents tend to register and run in that party’s primary. It’s not people from the other political party going to that party’s primary to try to change the outcome.

QC: Okay. And looking back at the primaries and the upcoming general election, what do you think this election season tells us about the political climate in the state?

JK: I don’t see anything really unusual about the state’s political climate other than Rep. Cheney losing the primary. And it was clearly presented as a situation where it was felt that she was not fully representing the interests of the state. Former President Trump remains popular in the state. Certainly Harriet Hageman as a candidate picked up on this and used it as a way to get support for her candidacy and away from Cheney. But that’s the only really unusual thing. Most of the competition in state legislative races was in the Republican primary. We already know pretty much the result in most of these areas. And we know the Republicans will continue to be in control. We’ll see Republicans sweep the five statewide offices in the House race, as they have for the past 30 years.

QC: As for the state legislature, don’t you think it might be getting more right?

JK: Until you actually see how people vote, I don’t know, you know, any firm measure of the candidates. Again, there is much discussion. And I think in the last, maybe, election cycles, some people tend to come in and certainly, during the freshman year, become a little more anti-government. They tend to argue [that] there is a lot of wasteful spending. [When] they get into the system and see when they actually dig into the numbers, they see that the budget is well managed, decisions are made very publicly and openly, some of that civic cynicism melts away.

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