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035 - Some special fodder for Wyoming`s political junkies
    Although the average Wyoming citizen gets tired of all the political activities that occur every two years, to a special breed of junkies, well, we just cannot get enough.
    Perhaps today’s column can provide more insights on the recent primary. Let’s talk about money, endorsements, gaffes and ads.
    Reasons that former U. S. Attorney Matt Mead, Cheyenne, won the GOP gubernatorial primary were spending a mountain of money, avoiding big mistakes and being a credible candidate from day one.
    For example:

    • Does putting lots of personal money make a difference in Wyoming?
    Some of Wyoming’s all-time big spenders lost their races.  Examples include Jackson’s Bob Schuster’s 1994 million-dollar campaign against Barbara Cubin, Casper, for U. S. Representative.  Mark Gordon, Buffalo, spent a million-plus two years ago and lost against eventual winner Cynthia Lummis of Cheyenne.  In 1992, Sheridan’s Jon Herschler spent a ton losing in a U. S. Representative race.
    Perhaps that losing trend is now over.
    Big spenders did very well this year, even besides the governor race.
    Cynthia Cloud of Cody used $80,000 of her money to narrowly beat expected front-runner, Bruce Brown of Devils Tower, for State Auditor on the GOP ticket.
    Cindy Hill of Cheyenne used a pretty good pile of her family’s money ($55,000) to run away with the Republican nomination for State Superintendent of Schools.
    The big Kahuna of spending was Mead, winner of the GOP governor primary.  He put almost $1 million of his money into a nail-biter victory over Rita Meyer and Ron Micheli.
    In the 2002 GOP governor primary, Ray Hunkins of Wheatland, this writer and eventual primary winner Eli Bebout of Riverton each spent about $10 per vote.  Mead spent over $40 per vote in 2010. Wow, times have sure changed.

    • Do endorsements help?
    The two largest newspapers in the state endorsed winner Mead.
     Gene Bryan, the most respected old dog of the state’s number-two industry, tourism, also endorsed him.
      Meanwhile, second place finisher Meyer was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.  Meyer did not seek it, but hard to tell if it had staying power. Meyer was endorsed by another old tourism dog, Pat Sweeney.  (Note: congrats to Pat for getting the Casper Parkway Plaza back.)
      Former President George H. W. Bush endorsed former House Speaker Colin Simpson, Cody.  Not much traction in that, although one Cheyenne media outlet reported it was the more recent President Bush.  
      Micheli of Fort Bridger seemed to have the endorsement of the Tea Party folks, was endorsed by Wyoming Right to Life and had the support of many LDS Church members in Wyoming, but still fell slightly short.

      • I would count three major gaffes in the governor primary, none by Mead, interestingly.
Meyer got off on the wrong foot by some silly statement about using Wyoming’s National Guard to fend off the feds.  She retracted it but could it have cost her the election? If just 360 voters switched from Mead to her, it would have given her the nod,
      Micheli wrote a letter of support for a convicted rapist.  Most thought it was an okay thing to do. But someone running for governor should probably not do that.  
      Simpson sent out a mailer on election eve portraying Meyer as “flip flopper” on Obamacare.  Many people were incensed by that action and changed their votes.

      • Not only do I feel sorry for the losing candidates, but their staffs, too.
      Campaign Chairmen Bill Cubin (Micheli), Joe Milczewski (Simpson), and Travis Deti (Meyer) must have hated seeing those images of a smug Bill Novotny (Mead) on the front page of a daily newspaper and on Casper TV stations dancing around with a drink in his hand on election night.
        Give Novotny credit – he was blamed by many of Mark Gordon’s friends for losing that election two years ago.  He got his revenge by steering Mead to a 700-vote victory.  
        It was nice that he had an extra million bucks to use to garner that victory, though.

        • Best TV ad of the campaign was the “long loop” by Mead followed closely by Meyer’s “a Wyoming life.”
        Micheli’s ads were great vistas of a genuine Wyoming cowboy on a horse. But him saying he was the only true businessman was viewed as untrue and unfair.  Actually worked against him.
         In this new age, they all had great Facebook pages. Simpson had perhaps the best, ironically.  
        And now – on to the general election.  
       Ah, what a great time for politics in Wyoming!

034 - Reflections on elections, winners and whiners
    It will take awhile to forget the 2010 primary election campaign in Wyoming.
    The results mean voters will be treated to at least two spirited statewide races this fall – the race for governor and the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
    As of this writing, the unofficial returns indicate that former U. S. Attorney Matt Mead of Cheyenne, a Republican, will take on Leslie Petersen of Wilson. Petersen is the former State Democrat Chair and a former Teton County Commissioner.
    Mead and State Auditor Rita Meyer finished almost close enough for an automatic recount but not quite enough.  Former State Ag Commissioner Ron Micheli of Fort Bridger ran a spirited campaign and actually led his party’s primary with 80 percent of the vote counted. Then Mead and Meyer surged back ahead with late votes from Campbell, Laramie and Park Counties.
    GOP Superintendent primary winner Cindy Hill pounded the pavement in Wyoming and ran a textbook “put on the miles” campaign.  She may have personally seen more voters than any candidate in any race.  Did she really put 70,000 miles on her colorful van?
    In the GOP governor primary, instead of a four-way dead heat as I predicted, it was a three-way horserace.  To nobody’s surprise, it was very close.  To just about everybody’s surprise, House Speaker Colin Simpson of Cody fell back early and never was a factor.
    Back in February, I wrote it would take just 27,451 votes to win this primary with four strong candidates.  A lot of people scoffed at that low number.  With the fading of Simpson, Mead’s unofficial total of just over 30,272 votes shows how close that was.  
    Mead’s big war chest helped, though, as he spent almost $40 per vote, way more than any other candidate. Going forward, a comment by his November opponent Petersen may be prophetic when she said about Mead: “He has more money than God.  And I think he intends to spend it on this race.”
    In the Superintendent’s GOP race, Hill demolished incumbent Jim McBride plus former Superintendent Trent Blankenship and former Cheyenne School Superintendent Ted Adams. Adams had perhaps surprisingly garnered the endorsement of the Casper Star-Tribune.
    Hill capitalized on the anger across Wyoming against the current status quo of education in our state.
    These political races will be studied intensely in the future and it will be interesting to see what conclusions will result. For example:
    • In the end, did Mead’s money trump the other candidates, all things being equal?  Simpson’s campaign manager Joe Milczewski complained to me back in July about how difficult it was to run against the mountain of money Mead was throwing into the campaign.
    • In the last four weeks, did Meyer run a defensive campaign where she tried “not to lose,” rather than “to win?”  Some think so, but I would disagree. She ran a magnificent campaign and the difference between her and Mead was probably just plain dollars with Mead outspending her by 3:1.
    • Gov. Dave Freudenthal is currently the most popular governor in the country.  Both Mead and Meyer certain ran as “Freudenthal Republicans.” Although the message was subtle, it came through.  
    • Early on, Micheli said he hoped to gather 40,000 votes, as a result of his Agriculture, LDS and southwest Wyoming bases.  He ended up with 27,592 votes, unofficially.  He was right.  With 40,000, he could have won.
    • Simpson’s supporters were frustrated by that campaign’s last-minute advertising surge.  Milczewski defended that by saying it was because of limits on money available plus that strategy had always worked for 7-term U. S. Rep. Barbara Cubin, whom Milczewski worked for in the past.
    • Where does the Tea Party fit into all this?  Micheli seemed to be their candidate but with four strong candidates, it showed that hard work by the others cut into that base.
    • Had Meyer won, Wyoming (the Equality State) would have had two women running for governor.  This would have been only the fourth time in American history that this would have occurred.  I found tremendous support for Meyer among women that I know and really thought that would propel her to the win.  Looks like she ended up about 360 voters short on that goal.
    • Total votes cast in the GOP governor primary were, unofficially, 105,336 with another 22,425 in the Democrat primary for a total of 127,761 votes cast in this very important election.  This is a shamefully low total and again reflects Wyoming’s idiotic summer primary schedule.
033 - GOP governor primary coming in at a dead heat
    Drum roll, please.
    Here are the results of my informal polls and the conclusions drawn from conversations with knowledgeable Wyoming people concerning Tuesday’s primary election for the Republican nomination for governor.

    • A high up government official who does not want his name mentioned said State Auditor Rita Meyer will win. Because: “Rita and perhaps (former U. S. Attorney) Matt Mead will tend to govern if elected more like current Gov. Dave Freudenthal and former Gov. Mike Sullivan by appointing people, regardless of party, who can manage the various facets of state government. “

    • My coffee group, also known as the Fox News All Stars, seems to also have a heavy tilt toward Meyer.  I find this surprising because she does not come across as the most conservative candidate, which would normally reflect this crew.
    One of these conservatives  (Garve Chapman) says: “Rita will be the winner. Her military background will be a factor to a lot of people, especially males. She has a good personality and is not considered a politician.”

    • A devoted follower of House Speaker Colin Simpson, Cody, says he’s concerned former Ag Commissioner Ron Micheli, Fort Bridger, will be the pick because of intense loyalty among the Micheli followers:
    “This is the year of the Tea Party of anti-politician, anti-insider, anti-anything-status-quo.  From conservative Fox TV News pundits to liberal AP response boards throughout Facebook, candidates that represent a break from politics-as-usual are garnering tons of attention.  
    “Ron has minimized his lack of experience by capitalizing on the Tea Party momentum, and maximizing it using Wyoming vs. The Feds rhetoric.”
    This person sees 2010 a repeat of that historically close 1974 primary when the most conservative candidate (Dick Jones) defeated three other moderate Republicans (Roy Peck, Malcolm Wallop and Bud Brimmer).
    My conservative friend Rick Wall of Cheyenne also sees Micheli as the leader.  He predicts Micheli, Mead, Meyer and Simpson in that order.

    • Polls, polls, polls.  Readers love them.  Candidates hate them (unless they are ahead).  
    A Cheyenne Tribune-Eagle poll reflects my personal belief that this is nearly a four-way dead heat.  It showed Meyer (23%), Micheli (20%), Mead 18%) and Simpson (10%).  Some 29% were undecided or for some lesser-known candidates.
    A Casper Star-Tribune poll had Meyer (27%) and Mead  (24%) out in front of Simpson (17%) and Micheli (12%).
    Mead released his own poll which showed him leading with 26% compared to Meyer’s 22%.  Micheli had 16% and Simpson 12%.
    Mead’s campaign has surprised me.  His youth has helped him as he has pounded the streets and highways plus spent a ton of money.  He got favorable press from the Star Tribune editorial board and even secured the endorsement of the Cheyenne WTE.

    • I always considered House Speaker Simpson the front-runner in this campaign but now am not so sure.
Simpson last week sent out an email telling his followers to not worry about his lagging polling numbers because his campaign staff purposely chose to be late getting his TV ads out.
    His recent ads talk about his “governing” ability, but they may be too late.  Not sure who is watching TV during this time of camping, fishing, county fairs and vacations.
    Former House Speaker Fred Parady says: “Simpson has the deepest resume for governing and widespread name recognition, so I think he will pull through.  In real estate, it`s location, location, location.  In politics, its name recognition, first and foremost.”
    UW Historian and political expert Phil Roberts sees hope for Simpson: “I`d say that the outcome likely will be different if independents come out and register as Republicans. If they do in significant numbers, Simpson to be the main beneficiary.”

    • Another UW professor (and former journalist, hence an instant expert) Ken Smith says: “I view this race as so tight that all four candidates will be within five percentage points of each other. Since I view this as a close race, Meyer has quietly gathered the support that will allow her to win. If I`m wrong, and the voters come out strongly for one candidate over the others, that candidate will be Micheli.”
    So, with the above comments plus a ton of other info from all the other instant experts across the state that I know, here is my not-so-bold prediction for Tuesday’s GOP governor primary.  
     What this really means is that this race is a dead heat where any of these four could win:  Meyer 26%, Micheli 25%, Mead 24%, Simpson 23%, others 2%.
032 - Moe, Larry, Curly . . . and Ted?
    It is probably totally unfair to characterize the candidates running for Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction as the Three Stooges, Moe, Larry and Curly, but, alas, I cannot help myself.
    Playing Moe is the incumbent, Dr. Jim McBride, who should be the driving force in this campaign and yet at the same time is slipping on errant banana peels every so often.
    He has had five years to get the annual school progress tests right (PAWS), but that testing system is a huge mess.  He still blames the problems on his predecessor, Trent Blankenship.  
    McBride has the power of incumbency working for him.  He’s won this statewide race once before four years ago.
    Yet this former military careerist has bumped up against some serious obstacles.  Some legislators support him but one prominent member of the education committee said he just cannot deal with him.  
    McBride’s military bearing allows him to appear decisive. He contends that with four more years, he can get it right.  This has been a true test of voters’ patience.  In his favor is the quality of his competition.
    Former State Supt. Blankenship, who I shall call Curly in this episode, resigned and vanished in 2005 after being elected in 2002. He ended up in a part of Alaska so barren, the official tree there is the telephone pole.
    Trent was a great campaigner when he first won the state job.  He has a great family and no one can argue about loving kids more than he.
    He told the Associated Press that he found himself in financial trouble after the 2002 election and, frankly the pay for the state job was so meager, he was falling farther behind.  The big bucks in Alaska lured him away.  He traded his cowboy boots for mukluks.
    Now Trent is back and has jumped back into the race. We have seen the spectacle of an almost “he said, she said” argument going on between him and his successor.  Trent wants to fix the mess that he says his protégé McBride created.
    Moe (I mean Jim McBride) says not so fast.  He inherited a department of education that was in such disarray that he deserves some points for cleaning it up.  
    But, and this is a very big but:  how many years should voters give McBride to fix something like this?
    Meanwhile there is Larry, the scold of the campaign, Cindy Hill of Cheyenne.  She is a former assistant principal with minimal executive experience. But she has campaigned harder than anyone and is madder than hell.
    And this has resonated with voters.  Many voters are madder than hell, too.
    Hill could very well win this race in August and again in November if the expected Republican rout occurs.
    She is the wife of Drake Hill, the former state Republican chairman, whose aggressive attacks on Gov. Dave Freudenthal backfired in 2006 and alienated many of the current Republican office-holders, McBride included.
    Because of the interesting mix of candidates, though, Mrs. Hill could find herself in the catbird seat on primary election day.
    Oh yeah, there is a fourth candidate.  
Ted Adams is the retired Superintendent of Schools of Cheyenne and probably is a good prospect.   However, he appears to not understand how to run a political statewide race.
    Not sure if we should hold that against him or not, but it makes him sort of an extra player in this race.
    Waiting in the wings is legislator Mike Massie of Laramie, who is running as a Democrat.
    Massie may have the best chance of any Democrat of breaking through in the general election this year, but then again, that will depend on how Moe, Larry and Curly handle these final two weeks of their GOP primary.
    With the national trend of a big GOP year in the general elections, here in the state that is the most Republican of all, well, it seems like Massie would have a steep uphill battle no matter whom he is facing.
    If you had to pick a front-runner to win this primary, it would be hard to bet against the incumbent although his campaign strategies and tactics have left even his friends confused.
    And finally, we want our candidates to know that we appreciate their willingness to run for office.  And we apologize for sticking them with monikers like Moe, Larry and Curly, during times as serious as these.
    But then again, like I said earlier, when it comes to this race, I just can’t help it.