In early February, at the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon, Liz Cheney gave her fellow Wyoming Republicans a pep talk. Despite President Obama’s reelection, she was bullish on the party’s prospects. The American people would eventually figure out how liberal he is, Cheney said, and come back to the GOP. But this was no time to play nice. “The gloves, in many ways, have come off,” she said. “If there was ever a time to go along to get along, this ain’t it.”
When a woman like Liz Cheney, the daughter of a vice president who’s spent most of her life in McLean, Virginia, says “ain’t,” chances are she’s running for something.
That’s the scuttlebutt in Wyoming these days, at least. The gossip started last spring when, after speaking at various Wyoming Chambers of Commerce and Lincoln Day Dinners, Cheney bought a house and moved her family from McLean to Jackson Hole. Cheney dismissed the rumors. She was campaigning for Romney, she said, and her family was just ready to go “home” (to a place they’d never lived). “My kids are thrilled. They love Wyoming and they’re excited to be close to their grandparents again,” she told the Casper Star Tribune. Among the reasons this was an odd statement: Her parents still keep a house in McLean.
Cheney’s goodwill tour hasn’t slowed. In addition to the Cheyenne speech earlier this month, Cheney spoke on November 16 at the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and on February 23 at the Platte County Republican Party Lincoln Day dinner. It seems the question for Cheney is not if she will run, but when. (Attempts to contact Cheney through Keep America Safe, the organization she founded with Bill Kristol, were unsuccesful.)
A lot depends on Senator Mike Enzi, whose current Senatorial term ends next year. Enzi is sixty-nine years old, and political prognosticators have speculated that Enzi might retire in 2014 because of his failure to gain a leadership position in the Senate. If he steps down, Cheney could run to replace him. Or if Representative Cynthia Lummis, the state's sole member of the House of Representatives, decides to go for Enzi’s Senate seat, Cheney could instead run for the seat her father held until 1989.
Of course, Enzi’s retirement is far from certain: He has two fundraisers scheduled this month. If he runs again, he'd be very hard for Cheney to beat him in a Republican primary. But if he doesn't, Cheney will be in a strong position—one that results from her association with something that might work against her in 49 or so other states: the Cheney brand. Cheney's Q ratings may be subterranean nationwide, but he is still active in his home state's Republican politics. He spoke at last April’s state GOP convention (Liz spoke too), and again at the Wyoming Republican Committee Party fundraising dinner earlier this month.
“He’s a very popular guy in Wyoming,” says Shawn Whitman, a political consultant and former staffer of three former U.S. senators from Wyoming. (The state is, not coincidentally, one of the three most conservative in the country, according to a recent Gallup Poll.)
Like her father, Liz is a foreign policy wonk. She used to work at the State Department and has enough pro-Israel credentials to make Bill Kristol coo. Plus, she has a Fox News contract, five kids, and blond PTA-Mom bangs. She's one of the few rich, well connected, home-grown Washingtonians with the rare advantage of actually having high name-ID in a distant constituency where home-state bona fides matters. “There has been a sense for several years that she is interested in electoral politics and would be her father’s political heir. There is excitement about that,” says Elliott Abrams, a family friend and fellow neo-conservative.
Cheney’s budding political persona is on display on Twitter—where she refers to her state as “God’s country,” advertises appearances on “Hannity” (she often guest-hosts), offers righteous indignation over the Benghazi attack, praises torture, and illustrates her life as a Wyoming mom with photographs like the one of moose that turned up unexpectedly at her front stoop and the birthday cake her eight-year-old dropped on the laundry room floor.
Still, Wyoming values retail politics, something Cheney hasn't had to do much of. And despite the family lineage, she could yet find herself fighting off charges that she's an outsider: Her biggest obstacle to office is likely to be her recent move, which may not be enough to convince Wyoming natives that she is really from their state. Whitman says Cheney will need a “really awesome explanation for” her recent move. “Wyoming is a prideful state [so] you’ve got to be able to clearly demonstrate you are one of them,” he says.
If she can convince Wyoming residents that she’s one of them, she’ll do her father proud. When he spoke recently at a Republican fundraising committee dinner, he was asked if he would run again. No, he said: “We’ve got a fantastic crop, a new generation coming on.”