The 2020 cycle could mark the first time a pair of Wyoming U.S. Senate hopefuls had previous service in the nation’s lower legislative chamber

Although the Equality State was the first to grant women the right to vote and has the best record in electing women to the U.S. House over the last three decades, Wyoming is one of nearly 20 states that has never had a woman serve in the U.S. Senate.

However, many of the potential Republican candidates thought to be considering a run for retiring Mike Enzi’s seat in 2020 are prominent women in Wyoming politics.

Those names include U.S. Representative Liz Cheney (pictured), Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, and former U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis.

To date, women have appeared on a Wyoming U.S. Senate Democratic or Republican primary ballot only eight times – and none since 2002:

  • 1960: Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Velma Linford (lost primary, 33.8 percent)
  • 1988: Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Lynn Simons (lost primary, 23.1 percent) and Republican farmer Nora Lewis (lost primary, 5.9 percent)
  • 1990: Democratic University of Wyoming college student Kathy Helling (lost general, 36.1 percent) and Lewis (lost primary, 8.0 percent)
  • 1996: Former Democratic Wyoming Secretary of State Kathy Karpan (lost general, 42.2 percent), Republican state legislator Nimi McConigley (lost primary, 7.2 percent), and Republican farmer and timber lobbyist Kathleen Jachowski (lost primary, 2.7 percent)
  • 2002: Democratic therapist and former Lander Mayor Joyce Corcoran (lost general, 27.1 percent)

A Cheney/Lummis (or Lummis/Balow or Cheney/Balow) matchup would mark just the second time two women from Wyoming vied for their party’s nomination in a U.S. Senate primary joining GOPers McConigley and Jachowski in 1996.

If Cheney and Lummis run it would also mark the first cycle with two U.S. Senate hopefuls who previously served in the U.S. House since the first primary for the office in 1916.

There have been 15 such candidacies since 1916, although just two over the last half-century.

Just three of these 15 candidacies were successful (and only two victors were ever sworn into office).

Former four-term Republican U.S. Representative (1943-1950) and sitting Governor Frank Barrett ran unopposed for his party’s U.S. Senate nomination in 1952 and unseated Democratic Senator Joseph O’Mahoney that November.

In 1960, three-term Republican U.S. Representative E. Keith Thomson (1955-1960) defeated former Senator Barrett in the primary en route to a general election victory over state Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Whitaker. However, Thomson passed away less than a month before taking office in December 1960.

In 1994, three-term GOPer Craig Thomas (1989-1995) ran unopposed in the primary and handily defeated Governor Michael Sullivan in the general election by 19.6 points.

Thomas and John Wold are the only two sitting or former Wyoming U.S. Representatives to appear on a U.S. Senate primary ballot over the last half-century. Wold, a freshman in the U.S. House, was the GOP nominee in 1970 but lost to Senator Gale McGee by 11.6 points.

The remaining U.S. Senate candidacies by Wyoming at-large members of the U.S. House are:

  • 1918: Former one-term Democrat John Osborne (1897-1899) lost the general election to Senator Francis Warren
  • 1922: Thirteen-term Republican Frank Mondell (1895-1897; 1899-1923) lost the general election to Senator John Kendrick
  • 1928: Three-term Republican Charles Winter (1923-1929) lost the general election to Senator Kendrick
  • 1930, 1930 (special): Winter lost primaries for special and general elections to former Governor Robert Carey
  • 1934: Three-term Republican Vincent Carter (1929-1935) lost special and general elections to appointed Senator Joseph O’Mahoney
  • 1940: Winter lost the GOP nomination to attorney and former state legislator Milward Simpson
  • 1954: Two-term Republican William Harrison (1951-1955) lost special and general elections to Joseph O’Mahoney
  • 1966: Freshman Democrat Teno Roncalio (1965-1967) lost the general election to Governor Clifford Hansen

The eventual 2020 GOP nominee is almost assuredly a shoo-in to become the next senator from the state (perhaps even if Democrats score their dream candidate of former Governor Dave Freudenthal).

Wyoming Democratic nominees for U.S. Senate have only eclipsed the 30 percent mark once over the last eight elections for the office this century (2018 nominee Gary Trauner, 30.1 percent).

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  1. Nikoli Orr on May 14, 2019 at 12:09 am

    1. I am presuming that Nora Lewis vied for the R nomination in 1990 as well as 1988 (ambiguous, as written) ?
    2. Hm, a three-way tussle among the statewide officeholders is a) not permissible (i.e., top-two primary, a la Utah), or b) merely highly unlikely?
    3. “2018 nominee…30.1%” More than a decade prior, Trauner nearly made it to the House when he came within a whisker of defeating controversial R Representative Barbara Cubin in 2006 – rather similar to presidential aspirant Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke when he came close to ousting much-disliked Rafael Ted “Blobfish” Cruz for the Senate last year in TX.
    4. However “john barron” (“45”) fares nationally next year, he is highly unlikely to be a millstone on his ticketmates within the Cowboy State. Moreover, contests for state and federal office are vastly different in character: just ask ‘senators’ Michael Sullivan (1994 against Thomas, carrying just one county, and by only 6 votes at that);
    Linda Lingle in HI (2012, in a rematch of the 2002 governor election, no less); and Phil Bredesen in TN (2018, against an opponent who openly ceded the centre and catered to the “outer edges”). Methinks Freudenthal will not make it to DC in early ’21 – except as a tourist, or perhaps as part of a delegation to the inauguration of a new D president!

    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on May 14, 2019 at 7:08 am

      1) Correct. 2) The implication is such a tussle among sitting and former statewide officeholders, should it occur, would be in the GOP primary, which in Wyoming these days is almost akin to Democratic primaries in the Deep South prior to 1964. 4) Had Bredesen enjoyed greater success in 2018 that may have provided some confidence Freudenthal could overcome the ‘D’ next to his name.

  2. Nikoli Orr on May 14, 2019 at 10:15 am

    5. “Loomis” ?? (can not believe yours truly missed it on the initial perusal)
    6. RE 2: high or medium or low chance that ALL 3 aforementioned female R luminaries would vie against one another?

    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on May 14, 2019 at 10:40 am

      Re #5. Exactly. A typo hiding in plain sight!
      Re # 2/6. My guess is the chances of all 3 GOP women running = 15%. For 2 = 45%. For 1 = 95%. What do you think?

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