Liz Cheney is not afraid to throw down.
The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney announced Tuesday that she was launching a rare primary campaign in Wyoming against sitting Republican Sen. Mike Enzi next year, setting up what should be a fractious intra-party fight that Republicans fear could fray longstanding alliances and ultimately weaken the party.
Cheney framed herself as a firebrand conservative in a short video statement explaining her decision to run, saying the federal government had "grown far beyond anything the pioneers of our great state could have imagined or tolerated."
"President Obama has launched a war on our Second Amendment rights, he's launched a war on our religious freedom, he's used the IRS to launch a war on our freedom of speech, and he's used the EPA to launch a war on Wyoming's ranchers, our farmers, and our energy industry," she said.
Cheney did not cite Enzi by name, though she suggested he had been an ineffective senator, and claimed it was "necessary for a new generation of leaders to step up to the plate."
"We can't continue business as usual in Washington," she said.
Cheney's announcement was in itself a preview of the bruising battle to come. In a remarkable instance of one-upmanship, she confirmed her candidacy within minutes of Enzi announcing his intention to seek re-election.
Talk about a shot across the bow: Within minutes of Sen. Enzi's announcement he's seeking re-election does Liz Cheney say she'll primary him
— Mike O'Brien (@mpoindc) July 16, 2013
Asked for his reaction to the news, Enzi said he felt betrayed because Cheney had promised him she would not run if he sought re-election.
"I thought we were friends," he said.
National Republicans will likely line up behind Enzi. Rand Paul, for one, told Politico last week that he was prepared to back Enzi, whom he called a "good conservative.”
"Our mission is to re-elect our incumbents & build a Republican majority," said Brad Dayspring, a National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman.
Despite Enzi's purported surprise, Cheney has hinted heavily in recent months that she was planning to launch a Senate bid. She moved her family to Wyoming last year, and has publicly blitzed Republican Party events around the state since then, meeting people and shaking hands.
Yet unlike most primary fights in recent memory, the 69-year-old Enzi has done little to irk the party base and draw a high-profile challenger. The three-term senator has a 92.73 lifetime score from the American Conservative Union.
That led Matt Lewis, a columnist at The Daily Caller and The Week, to remark:
Is there any reason for this race other than 'Liz Cheney wants to be a senator?'
— Matt Lewis (@mattklewis) July 16, 2013
By taking on a relatively popular incumbent in a deep red state, Cheney "threatens to start a civil war within the state's Republican establishment, despite the reverence many hold for her family," the New York Times' Jonathan Martin wrote earlier this month in previewing the potential race. Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson was even more apocalyptic, telling Martin that a primary between Cheney and Enzi would result in "the destruction of the Republican Party of Wyoming."
"It's a disaster — a divisive, ugly situation — and all it does is open the door for the Democrats for 20 years," he said.
Other prominent Republicans also came out against Cheney's move:
Just what the GOP needed--a vicious family fight between 2 WY candidates who agree on 99% of everything.
— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) July 16, 2013
I'm a big fan of Liz Cheney. But not in this race.
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) July 16, 2013
And Democrats were giddy at the prospect of another Cheney to rally against:
Only question is when not if Liz Cheney runs for Pres. Hope it's 2016. Could be an epic clown car.
— David Plouffe (@davidplouffe) July 16, 2013
Wyoming's Republican primary is scheduled for August 19, 2014.