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Donnybrook

Jul 21, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Liz Cheney Has a famous name, but beating Mike Enzi will require a bruising confrontation

All of a sudden, the national political news media are noticing Wyoming. There is one reason and one reason only.

Liz Cheney.

The daughter of one of Wyoming's all-time political figures -- former Congressman, Secretary of Defense and Vice President Dick Cheney -- says she wants to be a U.S. Senator.

One problem: She must go through Mike Enzi to do it. That may well prove impossible.

Mike Enzi is a three-term incumbent senator. Liz Cheney has never sought nor held elective office.

Her climb is steep, but as first-time political candidates go, Cheney has a lot of things going for her. She has instant name recognition because of her father. She grew up in "the family business," so the demands of a political campaign already are well known to her. And she is well-known in Republican circles because of her career in recent years has a hard-hitting commentator for Fox news.

She will need all of those things and more if she is to defeat Sen. Enzi. Most Wyoming residents were not yet born the last time an incumbent member of Wyoming's three-person congressional delegation was defeated in his or her own party's primary election. That is the history, among other things, that Cheney is bucking in trying to unseat Enzi next year.

Difficult as that challenge is going to be, Cheney will be better-suited to mount it than most, partly because of the money she is sure to generate thanks to the hard-right conservative network that that reveres her father and has embraced her.

That is a good foundation from which to launch a campaign, but much of it is neutralized by the presence of Enzi - calm, steadfast, experienced, wise, and well-supported by the Republican establishment. In Wyoming that is a pedigree about as iron-clad as can be found in the nation. Incumbent Republican members of Congress simply do not lose. If Cheney is going to change that, then she will have to do something risky.

She will have to rough up Mike Enzi.

Cheney probably will have the stomach for it. She has made a good living over the past couple of years giving rip-snorting speeches. But in those, her target has been President Obama and the "liberal elite" for the most part. That is an act bound to play very well for virtually any audience in the state.

It is far from certain, however, whether the reception would be so positive if Cheney were to turn that wrath against three-term incumbent Republican who, by all appearances, enjoys great popularity in the state. It's easy to get a big round of applause in Wyoming when you rant about Barack Obama. But when you take a meat cleaver to steady, reliable Sen. Enzi, the reception is far from certain.

Barack Obama isn't popular here, but Mike Enzi sure is. People like him.

Working to Cheney's advantage is the fact that Enzi has had just one difficult election in his entire Senate career. Recall, if you will, how he got to Washington. In 1996, Enzi, then a state legislator from Gillette, had to take on another younger, telegenic candidate with a lot of money and high name recognition. That person was none other than John Barrasso, a handsome, debonair physician from the political stronghold of Caspar who was popular state wide as a "TV doctor."

Enzi won. Barrasso is a senator now, but Enzi beat him then.

Voters may remember one of the signature phrases from the campaign, "Wyoming needs a workforce not a show horse."

Enzi was that workhorse in the 1996 primary, and he has been the same as a senator. And in next year's primary, many of the circumstances will be similar to those in 1996. Enzi prevailed in that race, and this time around he is not a little-known legislator. He is an 18-year incumbent.

All credit to anyone who wants to mount a serious challenge to a powerful, well-established politician. The betting more than a year ahead of the primary from this chair is that Enzi, barring a health crisis or scandal, won't be beaten. But if there were a blueprint for a candidate who might do it, then that design might well look like Liz Cheney on paper.

Elections are not held on paper. If Cheney is to win, then this one will be contested from corner to corner, county by county, precinct by precinct, and voter by voter. It will feature a famous man versus a famous name, with more money on the table than has ever been seen in a Wyoming election before.

No wonder the national news media are so interested so early. This one has all the makings of a donnybrook.

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