Former Rep. Cynthia Lummis announced a bid for Senate in Wyoming Thursday, becoming the first Republican to jump into the race and setting up a potential clash with her successor in the House, Rep. Liz Cheney.
Lummis, also a former two-term state treasurer, was first elected to the House in 2008 and retired after the 2016 election. She was the only woman to serve in the conservative House Freedom Caucus when the group first formed in 2015.
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Cheney, meanwhile, quickly rose through the GOP ranks to become the third-ranking member of leadership in just her second term, and also retains deep relationships in the party as the daughter of the former vice president.
Lummis told reporters Thursday she spoke with Cheney before announcing her bid, and said the race to replace retiring Sen. Mike Enzi will be a “real barn-burner” if the two women face off in a primary.
“She needs to make her decision. I have made mine,” Lummis said. “This is Wyoming’s Senate seat. Nobody has dibs on it.”
Lummis is clearly throwing down the gauntlet to her former and potential future rival Cheney, whom she once derided as the “shiny new pony” of Wyoming politics for mounting a short-lived primary against Enzi six years ago — a move Lummis called “poor form.”
But Cheney isn’t sweating Lummis’ entrance into the race, telling POLITICO recently she wouldn’t base her decision on anyone else’s moves.
In a private poll, conducted for an outside group by the GOP firm The Tarrance Group in late June, Cheney led Lummis, 56 percent to 34 percent, among GOP primary voters in a hypothetical matchup, according to a polling memo obtained by POLITICO.
While lawmakers and Wyoming GOP consultants dismiss the idea there is lingering bad blood between the two women, they acknowledge a Cheney-Lummis showdown would be a feisty matchup that would certainly draw the pocketbooks of big GOP donors and divide the House GOP Conference where they both served.
“Cynthia was a terrific member of the House, we worked closely together. Liz Cheney is a terrific member of the House, and we work closely together,” Barrasso said. “I don’t plan to be endorsing in the primary. But I’m going to make sure that we hold the seat.”
Lummis was a founding member of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, which effectively bent leadership to their will and pulled the party to the right when the GOP was in charge. But Cheney — a frequent presence on Fox News Channel — has carved out a reputation on Capitol Hill as a staunch conservative and earned plaudits from her colleagues as head of the party’s messaging efforts.
Lummis sought to undercut any argument for Cheney moving to the upper chamber by saying Wyoming would benefit from a senator outside the leadership track — Cheney and Barrasso are both the no. 3 Republicans in their respective chambers. She also noted that she was booted from the GOP whip team in 2015 for a vote she took against passing Trade Promotion Authority for the Obama administration.
Lummis added that Wyoming would have a “dream team” with Cheney in the House and Barrasso and herself together in the Senate.
“It also helps Wyoming to have someone who is not in the leadership who can take leadership on when leadership is behaving in a manner that is not in the best interest of Wyoming,” she said.
Lummis has already snagged at least one endorsement: Sen. Rand Paul, who has long feuded with the Cheney family — including backing a primary challenger to Cheney in 2016 — said he would back Lummis in the Senate race.
“I’m a big fan of hers. I will support her in the primary,” Paul told POLITICO.
But the endorsement that might matter most in Wyoming is that of President Donald Trump, who won the Cowboy State by nearly 50 points in 2016.
Lummis said in her announcement that she was running to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Trump. But at an event at the White House on Thursday, Trump heaped praise on Cheney, saying she has a “pretty unlimited future.”
“I hear very positive things,” Trump said.
Lummis said the main contrast between her and Cheney is on foreign policy, describing herself as “libertarian” and “non-interventionist,” while Cheney is known to be a defense hawk. That’s one area where Lummis may try to align herself more closely to Trump..
And Cheney hasn’t been shy about speaking up when she disagrees with the Trump administration on foreign policy. After the president pulled back on a strike on Iran last month, Cheney warned it might be a “mistake” not to respond to the downing of an unmanned U.S. drone.
“The failure to respond to this kind of direct provocation that we’ve seen now from the Iranians, in particular over the last several weeks, could in fact be a very serious mistake,” Cheney told Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host.
Some Republicans have encouraged Cheney to run. But Cheney is also considered an asset to Republicans in the lower chamber and a potential future speaker, and other Republicans have leaned on her to remain in the House. Her decision could partially hinge on whether she would have a larger platform as a back-bench senator or member of leadership in the lower chamber.
Lummis, meanwhile, who retired in 2016 partially for family reasons, said her “energy” and “desire” has returned, and she is ready to “recommit” to serving in Washington.
The filing deadline for the seat is next May, and the primary is next August. Other Republicans are considered potential candidates, including former Gov. Matt Mead and GOP donor Foster Friess.