ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo.—There is no secret cabal of Democrats working in cahoots with Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) campaign to reelect former President Donald Trump’s most ardent Republican critic.
Many Wyoming Democrats will tell you openly they are switching parties on Aug. 16 to cast ballots for Cheney in her Republican Party primary against Fort Laramie land use-water rights attorney Harriet Hageman.
But few think it will matter.
A University of Wyoming July 25 to Aug. 6 survey of 562 likely primary voters, released on Aug. 11, indicates that Hageman leads Cheney by nearly 30 percentage points—57 percent to 28 percent—with 41 percent saying they are voting more against Cheney than for Hageman.
Unless Cheney has a stealth reservoir of support—“quiet Republicans,” she called them recently—within the GOP, there aren’t enough Democrats or, for that matter, enough non-Republicans, to have much efficacy in the one-way Equality State.
Math confirms the veracity of polls that show a very narrow path to a third term for Cheney, who has enraged many Wyoming Republicans for voting to impeach former President Donald Trump, serving as co-chair of the Jan. 6 House committee, and being among Trump’s most severe, unrelenting critics.
Of 284,557 registered voters on Aug. 1, 207,674 were enrolled as Republicans, according to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office. There were 39,753 registered Democrats and 33,769 unaffiliated, with about 4,000 registered in third parties.
In January, the Secretary of State’s Office documented that there were 280,741 registered voters with 196,179 signed onto the GOP, 45,822 registered as Democrats, and 35,344 unaffiliated.
Earlier polls indicate about 70 percent of the state’s Republicans supporting Hageman over Cheney. According to some estimates, the embattled incumbent would need at least 40,000 votes from non-Republicans to make up that inter-party difference.
“We see some movement from registered Democrat to registered Republican” in the last few months, Wyoming Democratic Party Communications Director David Martin told The Epoch Times, “but we don’t believe it will influence the GOP (primary) as much as people think it will.”
At a weekly noon Friday gathering of about a dozen Sweetwater County Democratic Party committee members at Los Cabos restaurant in Rock Springs on Aug. 12, there was no cabal or orchestrated plan to vote for Cheney—just people who say they want their vote to count in a state overwhelmingly dominated by the GOP.
Carolyn Molson said that instead of asking for a Democratic ballot on primary day, she will request a Republican one “because we have no voice as Democrats and no power” in the state.
Wyoming is one of six states where primaries are “partially open,” meaning that voters in one party can vote in another party’s primary if they register with the party before casting a ballot. .
Therefore, under Wyoming law, voters can change parties on primary day by registering with the party they want a ballot for. If the state’s Republican-dominated legislature wanted to change that law, it would. But it shot down a proposal to close the primaries during its 2022 session so, obviously, a majority of lawmakers see “crossover” voting as a benefit to them.
“There are a lot of people trending in this direction,” Molson said, adding, “I’m not going to be (a Republican) in the general election.”
Tom Gagnon, a writer whose opinion columns are published locally and across the state, has already done the deed by voting early.
“I voted for Liz,” he said. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve voted as a Republican. Unless things change, I’m going to stay a Republican” because, in Wyoming now, the state’s battles are being fought within the GOP.
Leesa Kuhlmann is running for the state senate as a Democrat. But on Aug. 16, she’s registering as a Republican and getting a GOP ballot.
“The people of Wyoming should be proud” of Cheney, she said. “I don’t agree with her politically but at least I have respect for her. She has a conscious. You have to be proud of her.”
But they were the outliers in the group. Most were sticking with Democratic candidates, regardless of their chances to win in a general election.
“Crossover? Hell no,” said Norma Prevedel who, along with her husband Frank Prevedel who served as a Democratic state senator representing Sweetwater County for 14 years, has already voted.
Barbara Smith and Mark Kot are also sticking with blue when they vote Aug. 16. As nominated Democratic precinct committee members, they can’t register outside the party.
Smith, a career educator and poet, said Wyoming crossover voting has gained a lot of national attention but it is the only way for Democrats to appeal to Republicans during elections.
“It’s not just about Cheney,” she said. “All these people in Sweetwater County” who are Democrats want Republicans to recognize they exist.
“If you want your vote to count,” crossover voting is a wedge that can help make that happen, said Kot, a retired Sweetwater County planner who serves as the chair of the Wyoming Water Development Commission, despite being a Democrat.
Martin said as Republicans rip into each other in primary battles between Trump-endorsed or Trump-supporting candidates, and “RINOs”—Republicans in Name Only who seek to shift the party’s core values to accommodate more of the left—the Democratic Party will remain “a big tent” that, in Wyoming, has a lot of available seats.
Disappearing Democrats of Wyoming
Democrats in Wyoming were traditionally associated with unions, stemming from its Union Pacific railroad and coal mining industries in Sweetwater and Campbell counties.
Now, Martin said, the only places in the state where Democrats are competitive is Teton County, with its resort town of Jackson, and Albany County, which includes the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
Wyoming’s Democrats still represent “the blue-collar values” of the state’s workers and are as conservative on many issues as Republicans, he said.
“You got to go to Laramie to find the ‘woke,’” Marin said.
And that’s another evolution in the disappearing Democrats of Wyoming.
Before the turn of the 21st century, there were two Democratic bastions in Wyoming—Rock Springs and Green River in Sweetwater County, and Gillette in Campbell County where unionized railroad workers and miners were aligned with the Democratic Party.
Wyoming lawmakers adopted a “Right To Work” law in 1963. But a series of 1990s amendments by the GOP-controlled legislature made the state into one of the most hostile in the nation to organized labor.
“The unions are gone,” Frank Prevedel said. “The ‘Right To Work State’ killed the Democrats in Wyoming.”
Even with unions no longer a factor, Sweetwater County remained a Democratic stronghold until about a decade ago, he said, noting that 10 years ago, there were about 7,500 registered Democrats and about 4,500 registered Republicans in the county.
Now, Prevedel said, there are about 8,000 registered Republicans and 4,500 registered Democrats in the county.
The already outmatched party began losing members not in response to issues within the state, but because of the Democrats’ national platforms that just got too liberal for many in Wyoming, he said.
“I think two issues have converged to really hurt Democrats in Wyoming—gun control and the fight about coal,” he added, noting he knows many who left over the gun issue,” which was never the view of Wyoming Democrats—many being gun-owners themselves in a state of gun-owners.
But shifts come and go over time, and if the Democratic Party swung too far the left for many Democrats, then the Republican Party appears to now be swinging hard to the right, Kuhlmann said.
And many Republicans she knows are growing uncomfortable with the party.
“I’m very optimistic” that Democrats will become a force in Wyoming and in other red states, Kuhlmann said. “I think there is lots of room here for the Democratic Party. Right now, it’s not jelling.”