Liz Cheney ends her Senate campaign

In a post on her Facebook page, Liz Cheney explains why she’s ending her campaign to challenge Mike Enzi for his Senate seat:

Serious health issues have recently arisen in our family, and under the circumstances, I have decided to discontinue my campaign. My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and their health and well being will always be my overriding priority.

Phil and I want to thank the thousands of people in Wyoming and all across the country who have supported my campaign. As a mother and a patriot, I know that the work of defending freedom and protecting liberty must continue for each generation. Though this campaign stops today, my commitment to keep fighting with you and your families for the fundamental values that have made this nation and Wyoming great will never stop.

CNN looks back over her aborted campaign, which became a focal point in the ongoing discussion about insurgent primary challenges:

Cheney’s surprising decision to jump into the race, an announcement made in a YouTube video last summer, roiled Republican politics in the Wyoming, a state that Dick Cheney represented in Congress for five terms before moving up the Republican food chain in Washington.

Enzi was a low-key presence in Washington who was elected in 1996 and, with few blemishes, amassed a conservative voting record in the Senate. He expressed public annoyance at Cheney’s decision to mount a primary challenge. A number of his Senate colleagues quickly rallied to his side and pledged support for his re-election bid.

There was little public polling of the race, but two partisan polls released last year showed Enzi with a wide lead, an assessment mostly shared by GOP insiders watching the race.

Enzi’s “wide lead” was somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 points, which is probably one reason we haven’t seen a lot of intense public polling coming hot off the griddle recently.  Naturally there was speculation that Cheney wanted a graceful exit from a campaign that wasn’t going anywhere, but NBC News has sources that say the health issues in question are very real, and “involve Cheney’s children and not her father, who has a well-chronicled medical history.”  It will also come as no surprise that some people have been very uncharitable about Cheney’s decision, including some within the media.

Fox News, for which Liz Cheney has worked in the past, runs through the “distractions” that plagued her campaign:

County records seen by the Associated Press in late July showed that Cheney and her husband were late paying property taxes on a home they’d bought in 2012 in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

That was followed by Cheney making remarks opposing same-sex marriage in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” this past November, despite the fact that her sister, Mary, is married to a woman.

Cheney’s statement that “I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage” and “This is just an issue in which (Mary and I) disagree” drew a strong response from Mary Cheney and her spouse, Heather Poe.

“Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 – she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us,” Poe wrote on Facebook at the time. “To have her now say she doesn’t support our right to marry is offensive to say the least.”

Mary Cheney added: “Liz – this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree – you’re just wrong – and on the wrong side of history.”

The dispute prompted a statement from the former vice president and his wife Lynne, which affirmed that “Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage. She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect, exactly as she should have done.”

NBC News also recalls “an embarrassing political gaffe in a state where hunting and fishing are taken very seriously by mistakenly buying the wrong fishing license after living in Wyoming for just a few months,” adding some fuel to “carpetbagger” resentment against her campaign, despite the Cheney family’s long history in Wyoming.  But the flap with Mary Cheney is probably the most memorable moment from the Liz Cheney Senate run, which is not good.  It’s the sort of side battle that makes potential supporters nervous (and, in the truest sense of that often-abused term “distraction,” it kept Cheney from running against Enzi.)  Granted that Liz and Mary Cheney have a serious and legitimate disagreement about this issue, it seems like something that Liz should have worked out (or better anticipated) before launching her race.  “Is my sister going to sandbag my campaign?” should be a question high on the pre-launch checklist.

There will always be arguments that primary challenges are a waste of energy better directed at the other party, countered by the entirely reasonable observation that primary elections exist for a reason.  When else should those who have problems with an incumbent member of their own party step forward to make themselves heard?  Plausibility is an important metric of primary challenges, and from that standpoint it doesn’t look as if Liz Cheney ever had a very good chance of unseating Mike Enzi.  But then, upstarts do sometimes win these things, and it will be argued that challengers shouldn’t be intimidated out of primaries by the formidable advantages of the incumbent.  If nothing else, those who support such challenges will say that responding to them makes the incumbent a better candidate in the general election… except, of course, for brutal primaries in which a long-shot contender damages the incumbent enough to cripple his chances of winning in the general, or at least hands the general-election opponent enough ammunition to turn the primary challenge into a net negative for the party’s chances.

There are many other Republican primary races in which these arguments will be made in various ways, and the Cheney campaign is likely to come up as an example.  It doesn’t look as if she did the market research necessary to determine whether Wyoming voters were sufficiently interested in her differences from Enzi.  That will probably weigh upon the minds of anyone thinking about stepping into the primary to take her place.  Disaffected Republicans in various states have good reason to worry about complacent incumbents, but battles against them must be chosen carefully.



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