Wyoming: A popular governor gets mysterious
Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal isn't running for a third term, despite his belief that he could successfully challenge Wyoming's term-limits law in court and translate his high approval ratings into another win in the ballot boxes. And he's apparently decided that it's no longer crucial to have a Democrat in the governor's office as a counterbalance to the Republican-dominated Legislature. During an awkward joint appearance at the state capitol, he offered lukewarm praise for his party's candidate, Leslie Petersen -- saying she's "more than qualified" to be governor -- but declined to endorse her.
HCN's Guide to Western Elections
Petersen, who has family roots in ranching -- practically a Wyoming requirement -- is based in the resort town of Jackson, one of Wyoming's Democratic strongholds. She's served stints on the Wyoming Water Development Commission and the Teton County Commission; she's also chaired Wyoming's Democratic Party. And she's shown restraint by not getting into a public feud with Freudenthal over the endorsement snub.
Petersen says she would raise state taxes on oil and gas companies and steer more of that revenue to local governments -- similar to Freudenthal's longtime goals. But she's also said she would end his feud with the feds over the state's wolf management plan, by dropping his insistence that wolves should be shot on sight in much of Wyoming.
The Republican candidate, Matt Mead, will probably win this November simply by riding this statistic: Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats more than 2-1 in Wyoming. While many Republicans crossed party lines to help elect Democratic governors in six of the last eight elections, that bipartisan spirit seems to have gotten lost somewhere in the Red Desert.
Mead might represent Wyoming's Republican version of Freudenthal's centrism. He's a grandson of former Sen. Clifford Hansen, and runs a ranching and farming business that enabled him to spend more than $1 million of his own money on his campaign by mid-August. He succeeded Freudenthal as U.S. Attorney for Wyoming in 2001, and the two men are good friends.
Some Democrats think Freudenthal held out the possibility he would run again well into 2010 in order to discourage other Democrats from entering the race against Mead. Freudenthal -- who has a 71 percent approval rating even among Republicans, according to the Casper Star-Tribune -- might be positioning himself to run for one of Wyoming's seats in the U.S. Senate or House, or just planning to practice law again and do business with Republicans.
Best kingmaker loss The most hard-line right-wingers didn't do very well in Wyoming's Republican primary. Rita Meyer -- Sarah Palin's pick -- lost to Mead by 714 votes. Tea Partier Ron Micheli -- who was backed by Wyoming kingmaker Diemer True, vowed to force Wyoming schools to teach creationism, and wanted to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest -- finished third.