Wyoming Republicans expressed surprise today as Liz Cheney ended her primary challenge of U.S. Senator Michael Enzi, citing undisclosed health issues in her family.
“We were all shocked,” said Susan Thomas, a member of the state party’s executive committee and widow of former Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming. “It would have been a close race. It was going to be a tough, hard-hitting race. This is obviously pretty big in her family or she wouldn’t have done this.”
In a posting to her Facebook account, Cheney said she was leaving the race because “serious health issues have recently arisen in our family.”
Cheney, 47, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said she was motivated to enter the contest because of her children and that “their health and well-being will always be my overriding priority.”
The challenger faced an uphill battle, and was criticized for not living in the state for long. The race pitted anti- government spending Tea Party activists against more traditional Republicans and reflected divisions that have burdened the party nationally since 2010, with some incumbents challenged if they’re viewed as too willing to compromise or not vocal enough in their opposition to Democrats.
Enzi, 69, who said July 16 that he would seek a fourth term, had said that Cheney told him that she wouldn’t run if he did, an assertion she challenged after entering the race.
Liz Cheney’s comments opposing same-sex marriage had set off a feud with her sister, Mary Cheney, who is a lesbian and married her partner last year.
In the statement, Cheney thanked her supporters.
“As a mother and a patriot, I know that the work of defending freedom and protecting liberty must continue for each generation,” she said. “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.”
Dick Cheney had criticized Enzi, as he sought to boost his daughter’s campaign.
“He doesn’t get much money from Wyoming,” Cheney said Oct. 27 on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “In the quarter just reported, Liz got 25 percent of her funds from Wyoming; he got 13 percent of his from Wyoming.”
Liz Cheney had called Enzi part of an aging Republican establishment. Enzi held a 92 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, a Washington-based group that opposes President Barack Obama’s agenda.
The primary challenge split the Republican party, with incumbents such as Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, volunteering to campaign for Enzi.
“I have grown to admire and respect Mike Enzi -- I’ll tell you, he’s one of these solid guys,” McCain said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” in July. “I know nothing that Mike Enzi would do that didn’t deserve re-election.”
Thomas said she’d be surprised if any other serious candidates challenge Enzi.
“I don’t think so,” she said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think there will be anybody as strong as Liz.”
The stakes for the race were higher for the Cheney brand than the Republican Party’s efforts to win control of the Senate in 2014. In such a heavily Republican state -- Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama by 41 percentage points in November -- the primary’s winner is almost certain to win the seat.
“However that race went, we would have had a Republican senator,” said Marti Halverson, a member of the Republican National Committee from Wyoming.
Cheney and her husband moved to the Jackson Hole area in the state’s picturesque northwest corner in 2012. Speculation about her political ambition started immediately.
Her parents, Dick and Lynne Cheney, live on an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course with views of the Teton Mountain Range. They hosted a $30,000-per-couple fundraiser for Romney in 2012 at the home.
After moving to the area, Liz Cheney started making frequent appearances at county-level Republican Party events, sometimes joined by her father.
Her campaign announcement highlighted her family’s more than 100-year Wyoming history, including her father’s representation of the state in Congress from 1979 to 1989, an effort to preempt charges that she’s a carpetbagger who moved from suburban Washington, D.C., to run for office.
© Copyright 2015 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.