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You've got to run

Aug 23, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Even rich, favored political candidates have to work hard in the election

Why in the world would U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and U.S Rep. Cynthia Lummis amass such huge re-election campaign funds when a) they are popular incumbents; b) they are Republicans and this is Wyoming; and c) they had little or no opposition in the primary election and (sorry, Democrats) little more than token opposition coming along for the general election Nov. 6.

For the answer, look to the words of former U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson. He might have learned them from his father, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Milward Simpson, who found out about them the hard way.

Years ago, when Al Simpson was running a full campaign against an opponent who had no statewide identity and zero chance of coming within 30 percentage points of Simpson, the senator said something to the effect of "Even if you're going to win, you still have to run."

That is, the sensible politician takes nothing for granted.

In Simpson's case, he always claimed to worry that Ed Herschler, the former three-term governor -- and Democrat -- might get bored on the ranch outside Kemmerer and decide to take a shot at the Senate. He might jump in at the last minute, having lined up a million bucks from a half dozen big-name donors. If Simpson had been loafing through the primary campaign, not bothering to run hard, not worrying about fundraising, he could be in real trouble.

So, Al said, even if you know you're going to win, you still have to run.

This year, Barrasso and Lummis have gathered up about $4 million in re-election funds. Is it because Barrasso fears he might lose to Albany County Commissioner Tim Chesnut, who last week revealed that his campaign war chest had the grand total of $800 in it? Is Al Hamburg, who has run and lost in every Wyoming primary for 30 years, suddenly going to become legitimate?

Is Lummis losing sleep fretting over the challenge posed to her by Casper College political science instructor Chris Henrichsen? He's scraped together $16,000 for his run; Lummis has something in the neighborhood of $2 million.

No. Neither Lummis nor Barrasso is expected to lose. The very idea is laughable. But they still have to run.

Think of the Olympic vaulter Makayla Maroney, as sure a thing for a gold medal as there was in her sport at the London games. But she botched her second vault, landing on her bottom instead of her feet, and an inferior vaulter slipped past her for the gold.

Even in a sure thing, something could go wrong. One of the favorites in the election could put a foot in his or her mouth, just as the Missouri congressman Akin, favored to win the Senate seat there, did over the weekend.

A campaign aide could get in trouble. A natural disaster could strike that puts the opponent in a heroic position. Dave Freudenthal or Mike Sullivan might decide to jump back into politics.

Who really knows? The odds are heavily in favor of the incumbents in Wyoming, and one reason for it is that they have so many more financial resources than their opponents.

These officials didn't get where they are because they took it easy, and they aren't about to start now. They know what Al Simpson said even if they never heard him say it. You've still got to run.

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