Could Liz Cheney cost Republicans a surefire Senate seat?

Half of the state thinks she's a carpetbagger

Liz Cheney
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Liz Cheney launched a loud, aggressive campaign for Senate last week, announcing she would take on Wyoming's incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi in a Republican primary contest because it was "necessary for a new generation of leaders to step up to the plate."

Unfortunately for Cheney and her party, that might mean sending a Democratic senator to Washington for the first time in a half century.

Should Cheney win the primary, she would risk losing a general election campaign against former Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal, according to a PPP poll released Tuesday. The telephone survey of 1,203 registered Wyoming voters showed Cheney trailing Freudenthal by a 45 percent to 42 percent margin.

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Enzi, meanwhile, led Freudenthal by a robust 54 percent to 31 percent. He led other potential challengers by similar margins.

Cheney's problem, which has already been made clear in ample anecdotal evidence, is her perceived outsider status.

In the survey, only 33 percent of voters said they had a favorable opinion of her, versus 43 percent who said the opposite. Moreover, a 50 percent majority said Cheney was not a true Wyomingite, while the same percent said it would be "more appropriate" for her to run for Senate in Virginia than in Wyoming.

Even Republicans were skeptical of Cheney, splitting evenly at 40 percent over whether she was or was not a Wyomingite. Forty percent of GOP voters also said she should run for Senate in Virginia, slightly more than the 37 percent who said she should run in Wyoming.

Weeks ago, former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson (R) warned that a Cheney campaign 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 told the New York Times.

While that prediction was a bit apocalyptic, a Cheney nomination could at least risk handing one Senate seat to Democrats for the next six years.

The good news for Republicans? The same PPP poll showed Cheney getting blown out by Enzi in a primary contest, trailing the incumbent by a 54 percent to 26 percent margin. That's roughly in line with a Harper Polling survey released last week that showed her down 55 percent to 21 percent.

Plus, even if Cheney does win the primary, it's possible Republicans will soften their opposition to her, if only to keep one of their own in Washington.

Wyoming is the second-most conservative state in the nation, according to a February Gallup survey. Enzi won re-election with a staggering 75 percent of the vote in 2008, and his colleague, Sen. John Barrasso (R), accomplished the same feat last year. Even Mitt Romney took 69 percent of the vote in 2012, so it's hard to imagine Cheney prompting a revolt so strong it wipes out that enormous edge and gives a Senate seat to Democrats — especially in a year when Republicans have a good shot to retake control of the Senate.

Still, it's clear that her attempt to bully a well-respected legislator out of office does not sit well with many Wyoming voters.

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Jon Terbush

Jon Terbush is an associate editor at covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.