Early Wyoming poll: Mike Enzi leads Liz Cheney among Republicans -- by 34 points

Amazing data via David Freddoso’s Conservative Intelligence Briefing — and I don’t mean the topline number, either. It’s no trick for a three-term incumbent with stratospheric name recognition to lead big early over a relative unknown. As I recall, both Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst started out in landslide territory against Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, respectively, and both Rubio and Cruz had higher local profiles than Cheney does. If you live in Wyoming and aren’t a regular Fox News watcher, you might have zero idea who she is beyond her last name. Which is to say, there’s plenty of room here for her to gain as she becomes more familiar to voters, especially given how enormous her ad budget is likely to be.

What makes the data amazing is that, if it’s accurate, Mike Enzi is very, very popular. Maybe invulnerably so.

But our new Conservative Intel Poll suggests that Cheney faces a bigger problem: Wyoming Republican voters are a bit confused by her decision to run. The poll, conducted for Conservative Intel by Harper Polling, shows that GOP voters there view Enzi very, very favorably (76%/6% fav/unfav) and back him over Cheney by more than 30 points, 55% to 21%…

In Washington, some who might be identified as national security conservatives see Cheney as a possible new standard-bearer. And she is reasonably popular among Wyoming Republicans (45% favorable to 15% unfavorable). Her father is even more popular (74 percent favorable to 14% unfavorable). But it’s going to take more than a name to beat Enzi, whose job approval rating stands at 73 percent.

Question for data-heads: When was the last time a congressional incumbent started out above 70 percent in job approval and +70 in favorability and ended up losing a primary? I’m distinguishing congressional incumbents here from governors/presidents because it’s easier for the latter’s ratings to go south quickly (see, e.g., George H.W. Bush circa 1990). The executive can be blamed for every ill in his jurisdiction and invariably takes a beating if the economy goes south, whether or not he’s truly to blame. Doesn’t work that way for Congress. All Enzi has to do to protect himself is vote reliably conservative (as he usually does anyway) for the next year. Is attacking him for supporting an Internet sales tax going to close the gap by 34 points?

Here are the extended crosstabs. When asked whether Enzi deserves reelection, 48 percent say yes versus 28 percent who say no. If you’re a Cheney fan, there is some good news here: 44 percent of Wyoming Republicans say they support the goals of the tea party, which is how Cheney’s attempting to brand herself, versus 35 percent who don’t. If she can turn this race into an “establishment versus grassroots” referendum, just like Cruz and, ahem, Rubio did, then she’s got a chance. How likely is that, though, when her biggest booster is a former VP who spent decades inside the Beltway and Enzi’s biggest booster is the guy who ran as Mr. Tea Party three years ago? Rand Paul’s support for Enzi may end up being the most influential endorsement of 2014 (or maybe second to Rand Paul’s endorsement of Mitch McConnell), not because it’s going to send tea partiers scrambling to vote for the incumbent but because it’ll help neutralize Cheney’s message that she’s the candidate of conservative change. Enzi doesn’t need to win tea partiers, he just needs to avoid losing them overwhelmingly. That’s where Paul comes in, to make the pitch to grassroots conservatives in Wyoming that being “tea party” isn’t a matter of age or inexperience but a matter of voting record. Given the relish Paul’s displayed in attacking Cheney so far, I expect he’ll end up out there on the stump for Enzi too. Unless his own approval rating on the right goes south over the next year, how does Cheney hurdle that obstacle and then climb the mountain of Enzi’s local popularity?

Exit question: Abandon an old friend, or tarnish a rising star?