What could feel more like finding the Holy Grail than taking back Dick Cheney's seat in Wyoming?
Gary Trauner was sipping red wine in 8 Rivers, a new Caribbean restaurant in Denver, dressed in his standard cowboy boots, jeans, blue shirt and jacket. The last two days were typical ones. He had driven from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Jackson Hole late in the day so he could make it to his son's ninth birthday celebration. After the party, he drove back to Cheyenne where he caught a plane to Las Vegas for a fundraiser and then on to Denver where Sam and I met him at another fundraiser. Fundraising is what congressional and senatorial candidates do about 90% of the time. They have to. It's not just a campaign strategy; it's the campaign strategy. Two years ago before starting his campaign, Mark Udall was showing Trauner around Washington. When Trauner asked to make some money calls back home, Udall took him to a room at the DNC called "Call Time". "I was hoping you might not see that that room existed," said Udall. "It might make you change your mind."
Because of his run two years ago, Trauner has terrific name recognition. He's walked the precincts. They recognize his slim frame and the squeaky-clean look that comes with balding heads. They've shaken his hand and talked to him. "This time they don't dismiss me as that 'liberal freak'." But he also has a harder race in several ways. Barbara Cubin, his opponent in 2006, was a wing nut even by Wyoming standards. Two years ago when Sam and I were raising money for Trauner, I wrote about her confrontation with the wheel-chair bound, Libertarian candidate in Wyoming when she yelled "if you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face!" She was a lazy and unappealing candidate with a dismal legislative record, but she was also a six term incumbent with huge name recognition. On election night Trauner was actually up 200 votes at midnight but had lost by about 1,000 votes once they were all counted.
Cubin retired this year after her overly long and undistinguished career. His current opponent, Cynthia Lummis, a long-time member of the Wyoming legislature and former state treasurer, is neither so well known, nor so extreme. Her campaign has made mistakes including a rather stupid call-in by her press secretary (formerly Cubin's press secretary) to a Trauner radio interview using a fake name, claiming to be a supporter and then asking whether Trauner "would support Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats energy bill?". Saying 'Pelosi' is pretty much akin to saying 'the devil' in Wyoming. But, oops, she called on her cell phone, which showed up on the caller ID at the radio station.
As of Friday polls showed the race as essentially a tie. Lummis's hometown newspaper the Cheyenne Wyoming Tribune Eagle endorsed Trauner. Also, this year the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seems to have caught on that Wyoming may be winnable and has long had Trauner on their "Red to Blue " list, although Charlie Cook still rates it as a dark red "likely Republican".
Undoubtedly it is a hard year for Democrats in Wyoming. Obama will lose by huge margins -- the polls say over 25% -- and is not running a campaign, so there is not the same voter ID and turn out operation that is at work in many other marginal races, and the Republicans are throwing the kitchen sink at Trauner. "You need a steel stomach for this race," he says, "my nine-year-old has come crying to me about the lies he's heard on TV. Before I even had the birds and the bees talk with him, I had to have the political talk."
As a candidate, Trauner lets you know what he would be as a legislator. It's all good. "I'll answer anything," says Trauner who is known as a straight talker, even where people don't like what he's saying. "If it's too personal, you can ask my wife. She isn't here, of course," he laughs. "I'm looking forward to spending time at home again, but meanwhile, I know every good and bad restaurant in Wyoming, every grocery store, every gas station. When you lose a race by the small margin I did, you keep thinking 'maybe if I had just talked to one more grocery clerk'."
"Two years ago the issue was Iraq, but like everywhere, now the issues in Wyoming are gas and groceries; the economy," says Trauner. "And health care. It's a bad joke, but our health care is killing us."
"As to the economy, this crisis is the direct result of eight years of thinking that markets don't need regulation or accountability, that we don't need rules or don't need to enforce the ones that exist. If the Denver Broncos got rid of the rules and took out the referees in the third quarter, what do you think would happen? People would be getting killed, that's what. We have to resist the siren call that a free market solves everything. But my opponent only offers simple slogans like free markets and lower taxes and cutting wasteful spending," Trauner said. This was in late August.
You have to love a guy who, as a candidate, actually had an understanding on the financial crisis -- before it happened.
His opponent, Cynthia Lummis, is aloof, with the kind of arrogance and sense of entitlement that comes from living in a state with a long-time, one-party rule. Trauner addresses this in his stump speech. "What we've been practicing here in this country is the politics of fifty percent. You get career politicians that only talk to the people they think will support them or give them money or vote for them. And that's something we need to change. I was speaking to someone from the Petroleum Association not that long ago, and he looked at me at the end of the lunch--I didn't think I was going to get his vote -- good guy, good lunch -- and he said, "You know what, Gary? You didn't have to come do this today." I looked at him and said, "You know what, Bruce? Yeah, I actually did. Because if I win this seat, I'm going to represent you and the people that you represent just as much as I represent anyone else in this state."
With your help, this is a race we can win. But it needs your help:
Follow Alison Teal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Atealinflight