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Several GOP candidates who lost in the primary are running as write-ins and Independents

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The 2022 general election is just a few days away and this year, several Republican candidates that lost their primary bids are running as write-ins or Independents. And while this has occurred in previous elections, this year is different from the rest.

"It's not even close," said Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower), who is facing a well-organized write-in challenge. "We had more contested House and Senate races than we've had for a lot of years and on top of that, after the primary election for the first time, we have numbers of Independents and others that have filed and are running the other way. So no, there's no doubt that this is the most active cycle that I've ever seen."

Driskill, who has held leadership positions, including being the Senate Majority Floor Leader, has been a state senator for a dozen years. He represents Crook and parts of Weston and Campbell Counties and is running for his fourth term in the Senate. In addition to the write-in campaign of Roger Connett, the former chair of the Crook County Republican Party also faced another write-in challenge, and despite that candidate saying he didn't endorse the effort, it continued, but has since fizzled out.

"The write-in deal to me is really hypocritical and interesting [and it] is those very same people that are basing these write-in campaigns are the ones that went absolutely crazy when there was talk about someone running against Chuck Gray [after winning the GOP nomination for Secretary of State]," Driskill added. "They just went absolutely crazy about, 'Oh, my God, he was elected and it's unethical and unfair for someone to try to mount a write-in campaign against him.' And yet, what you've got in my case, you got the actual committee running right against who the Republican voters chose."

This is the first time Driskill has faced write-in opposition during his legislative career.

"This is probably as organized of a write-in as I've ever seen," he said of the effort to unseat him. "They actually formed a committee. Usually, write-ins are just kind of word of mouth and maybe a newspaper ad by a candidate or something, but this one's actually highly organized and highly unusual in the fact that the people that are organizing the write-in campaign are the president or the chairman of the Crook County Republican Party and precinct people."

Driskill said the competition for Wyoming's legislature this year is different than what he's seen in the past. He attributed this in part to how the races are organized and funded. Over the time that he's been in office, he has had to raise much more money.

"The first year I ran, I think I spent $7,000 on my Senate race. I think I spent maybe eight or nine [thousand] the second time, 14,[000] the third, and we'll probably spend close to 80,[000] this year," he said.

Driskill said races are more costly because of funds donated by Political Action Committees (PACs), big in-state spenders, and even national groups. He said all of this has made running for office more challenging.

"I think it's unbelievably negative," he said. "I've never seen anything hold fail to it on any fronts. The local party has basically invited Washington style politics to Wyoming because that's really what's fallout of this is--lots of name calling, lots of misinformation, lots of flat out lies."

Driskill doesn't know how things will turn out in a few days. And while he may view what's happening negatively, newer faces to the political scene don't necessarily feel the same way. Patricia Junek of Gillette is running for office for the first time. She's hoping to defeat House speaker Eric Barlow for the Senate District 23 seat in Campbell County.

"Voters need to have an option and they need to have a choice and by having choices, or multiple candidates, you have people talking about the different issues," she said.

Junek has lived in Wyoming for about eight years and never planned on running for office, but she was repeatedly encouraged by friends to file. She did so at the last minute as a write-in candidate in the primary, seeking to not let the race be unopposed. She was able to get a campaign organized and received some donations locally but didn't get any money from PACs. She said her write-in campaign was a long shot at best.

"I don't think you can say that Eric Barlow and I competed head-to-head when you've got one on the ballot, [and] one is write-in," she said.

After her primary loss, Junek organized herself even more and managed to get the 160 or so signatures required to be an Independent candidate. For the general election, she will appear on the ballot.

"That really had to hit the others when they went head-to-head in the primary and now an Independent candidate is rising up against that person," she added. "That's a different story."

Junek said write-in and Independent challengers are positive because they create a healthy competition. She also credits former President Donald Trump for getting more voters to do research about who they're supporting in elections and find out more about what a candidate may say versus what their voting record might indicate. She thinks her race will be a tight one with Barlow.

University of Wyoming political scientist Jim King has doubts as to whether write-in candidates will have widespread success.

"Yeah, maybe there is a bit more organization, but it's not on a scale that's probably going to change anything," he said. "If you look nationally at trends in write-in candidates, there are a couple of instances you could point to someone who was a successful write-in candidate, but almost always, that is someone who was a well-known person well in advance that had access to a broad range of media."

King said he expects that the general lack of success that most write-in campaigns meet will also play out in Wyoming as well.

"The write-in candidates might give us an indication of a level of dissatisfaction with the candidates that voters are being offered but it's not going to change the outcome," he said. "I don't see anything that is really unusual in the state's political climate outside of Representative Cheney losing the primary."

Come Tuesday, the candidates for office will find out whether their efforts will have been successful.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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