I wasn’t sure whether big-name conservatives would sit back and wait to see how things shake out in Wyoming before taking a side or whether the Enzi/Cheney contest would quickly turn into an arms race for endorsements. Maybe this is an early clue. Talk radio will, I assume, be solidly behind her. Enzi will get a bunch of endorsements from his Senate colleagues, which isn’t entirely bad for Cheney since it feeds into her “me against the establishment” message. What she needs to counter Rand Paul is a major tea-party pol. Ted Cruz would be a big get, but who knows if he wants to risk his political capital on this. If he goes in there, issues the big endorsement, and she ends up flattened anyway by Enzi’s popularity, it’s a stumble. He’ll be a late endorser, I take it, assuming he gets in at all.
The Guardian’s Harry Enten is bearish on Cheney’s chances, especially after today’s poll:
The problem for Cheney is there really doesn’t seem to be any area to exploit. As I noted on Wednesday, Enzi simply isn’t vulnerable on his right flank like other Republicans to go down in a primary over the past few years. Senators like Bob Bennett and Dick Lugar were among the top ten most liberal Republicans in the Senate. Enzi was the 11th most conservative member of the Senate last Congress. Wyoming’s other Senator John Barrasso was right next to Enzi at 12th most.
Indeed, there are very little policy differences between Enzi and her. She can try to play up her opposition to the internet sales tax, though that’s an issue that split Republicans down the middle. Moreover, how many people actually will vote on that issue? Most would agree that those voters would be few and far between.
Cheney, meanwhile, is likely vulnerable on her favoring of gay marriage. The Republican controlled state legislature not only didn’t get marriage passed this past year, but it couldn’t even get through a watered down domestic partnership law. A poll taken in next door more liberal Montana showed that 84% of Republicans were against gay marriage (pdf).
Yeah, her position on gay marriage is a fascinating dark-horse issue here. If she closes the gap and Enzi gets nervous, this may become one of the last major elections in America in which SSM plays a major role in deciding the outcome. I agree with her on that one but most conservatives don’t. If the race is close near the end and Enzi hammers her as being too liberal on a key social issue, will the righties who want “a fighter” in the Senate instead of him cast the gay marriage issue aside as (mostly) irrelevant? That would be quite a win for SSM, whatever you think of Cheney or Enzi.
This race is fascinating for lots of reasons, in fact, which is why I keep writing about it. A candidate named “Cheney” is somehow the grassroots upstart and a guy who’s been in the Senate for nearly 20 years is being championed by Rand Paul. Enzi’s basically an unknown quantity to Republicans nationally but he’s fantastically popular in his home state; Cheney’s a fairly well known figure nationally thanks to her media presence but she’s accused of being a carpetbagger in Wyoming. More than any of that, this race is, I think, the first attempt to primary a Republican since the tea party got rolling that has almost nothing to do with policy. No one’s seriously accusing Enzi of being a centrist squish like Bob Bennett or Mike Castle. Even Hannity notes here that Enzi ended up voting against ObamaCare after initially working with Democrats on it. The objection to him appears to be almost entirely stylistic: Cheney will stand in the well and attack Obama for betraying American values, then end up casting a vote for gay marriage later. Enzi will say nothing, then cast a vote against it. There probably is a meaningful difference between Cheney and Enzi on foreign policy, the former being very hawkish and the latter pretty hawkish, but I don’t know how much we’ll see of that in the primary or how much most conservatives even want to see of it given the party’s ambivalence about interventionism right now. Hannity accuses Enzi of being an 80/20 guy, but Orrin Hatch has always been an 80/20 guy too (at best, as the boss emeritus will tell you) and he earned Hannity’s endorsement in 2012 thanks to his help in getting conservative justices confirmed. (The latest entry on the “20” side of the ledger for Hatch is voting for the egregious Schumer/Rubio amnesty bill. I haven’t heard Cheney speak at length on immigration yet.) Point being, the proposed upgrade here appears to be mainly rhetorical, in Cheney’s greater willingness to engage the left. The question is whether she’s an 80/20 person on policy too, and what her 20 percent consists of. No way to know yet, but finding out is another one of those things that make this fascinating.