The Theories Behind Mark Gordon's Victory

Aug 24, 2018

Gordon's campaign staff watching the poll results roll in before his victory.
Credit Cooper McKim

State Treasurer Mark Gordon won the Wyoming Republican Primary Election by seven percent of the vote. Some in the GOP who favored other candidates want to blame that on the possibility that Gordon attracted some Democrats who switched party affiliation the day of the primary. The other theory was that a large number of more conservative candidates split votes, which allowed Gordon to win. However, there's also the chance that Gordon, who came in as the favorite, was the preferred candidate.

Gordon's campaign manager Gale Geringer who's overseen four gubernatorial races in her career said the fact that Gordon is the State Treasurer game him lots of credibility.

"Mark's experience was very helpful to him," said Geringer.

Geringer has also managed races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House and even the state legislature. She said when she runs a congressional campaign you focus on ideology. When it's a race for governor, voters want something different.

"A governor is usually selected more as your best ambassador, the best representative, who also shares your philosophy, but it's not total ideologue."

Geringer added that with Wyoming's financial situation, this year's republican voters wanted to know how the candidates would handle things.

"Spending in state government was the top topic always. Where we go with education, how we handle that issue funding wise, was probably the subset of that."

Mark Gordon and wife Jennie just after winning the nomination.
Credit Cooper McKim

And candidates backed that up with their campaign that focused on budget cuts, no new taxes, and how they would handle education. But there was also a view among Gordon's opponents that he wasn't quite as conservative as they were and a couple tried to exploit it with negative ads or attacks during debates.

Others just tried to point out their long-standing conservative nature. Darin Smith was the campaign manager for Jackson businessman Foster Friess. Friess is a conservative and Smith said they tried to make that very clear.

"You look at the polling and I would say that the conservatives probably outweigh the liberal/moderate 2 to 1 in the state of Wyoming."

Friess is a millionaire who bought lots of advertisements. Smith said as voters got to know him, interest in him grew.

"We found that his demographic was the working man and woman. They liked him because he liked them and he always said I'm one of the little guys and I hit it big but man I want others to hit it big too."

Brian Harnisch is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center. They conducted two polls on the Republican primary, one in June and one the weekend before the election. Harnisch said in June over half those contacted knew Friess, but at the time most didn't like him.

"He actually had a higher negative rating at the time of those who knew his name. Since that time there was a lot of campaign materials that went out and Friess campaigned really hard leading up to Election Day and we saw what I think is a lot more people becoming aware of him as a candidate and what he stood for."

Friess pulled to within six points of Mark Gordon and Harnisch proudly noted that their poll only missed the final outcome by one percentage point as Gordon won by seven points.

In Wyoming, voters can register the day of the election and they can change party affiliation too. That's become a topic of conservation since Friess believes that may have cost him the election. His campaign manager Smith said that Gordon certainly benefited as the candidate that wasn't as conservative as the others.

"Well sure it did because he was maybe driving in a lane with more votes and then you have the open primary certainly played into that lanes favor."

The Friess campaign has asked the other candidates to help support an effort that will keep that from happening the future through a legislative fix. But Harnisch isn't sure that's exactly what happened. WYSAC's polling always focused on Republican voters and when you look at the numbers from June until August, He said Gordon certainly had gained support.

"He gained ten percent of the voters who said they were voting for Friess and he also gained 15 percent of the voters who previously said they were going to vote for Hageman. But what those shifts show us is that the people who ultimately voted for Gordon came from different backgrounds, people who had previously backed Friess and people who had previously backed Hageman."

And those votes came from some of the other candidates as well. For his part, Gordon said since he was a familiar candidate and had experience, people preferred him. He also said he has the best vision for Wyoming. Democrat Mary Throne, who was that party's nominee, disagrees and plans to prove that in the next couple of months.