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Wyoming election season “business as usual”

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There has been a lot of national attention on the upcoming general elections. But here in Wyoming, University of Wyoming political scientist Jim King told Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska that this election season isn't that different from past ones. But, King said there was one unusual thing in the primaries.

Jim King: Obviously the first takeaway from the primary was that the incumbent representative was defeated. Representative Cheney lost the nomination for the Republican Party to Hageman. That's very unusual in Wyoming and elsewhere. And clearly, it was representative Cheney's participation with the January 6 committee that people didn't like. They didn't think the committee's activities were legitimate. And her participation certainly hurt her among Republican voters. The other races were pretty much what would be expected. Governor Gordon won renomination as most governors do, and there's no controversy really associated with Gordon's performance. And so there really wasn't much of a surprise there. You know, the other races, we do have a competitive race for Superintendent of Public Instruction. But that is the only one. Republican domination in the statewide offices is certainly going to continue.

Kamila Kudelska: And now with the general election, what are some key races that you're watching?

JK: I think the key race to watch right now is the race for a superintendent of public instruction. Certainly, you have Theresa Livingston challenging Governor Gordon, but I would be very surprised if Gordon is defeated. He has pretty good approval ratings. And there's no controversy or no scandal associated with him. We would expect Harriet Hageman to win the House seat. Overwhelmingly, the Republican has won these races over the years, and you have to go back to 1976 to have a Democrat win the House seat in Wyoming. And so it's really no surprise that Hageman will win. But in the contest for superintendent of public instruction, you've got a contested race. I would still expect to have a Republican win the race. Degenfelder is ahead of Maldonado at this point in the polling. So I would expect, again, the Republican nomination of statewide offices to continue.

KK: Has a race for Public Instruction been this close before ever in Wyoming?

JK: Yeah, actually, that is one of the places where the races have been contested. The races for secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor, more often than not are not competitive in the general election…that the winner of the Republican primary becomes the de facto winner because there's not a serious challenge, very often not a Democratic challenger. And so we seem to have out of these five statewide offices, just the governorship and the superintendent position to be the ones where there is a challenge. Now, certainly, we've not had a Democrat win the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in over 30 years. So there's no surprise Degenfelder is ahead and likely to win there. But that is really the only place other than the governor where we've seen much competition.

KK: And I know that there was a lot of talk back in the primaries of the Democrats kind of switching over and voting Republican. And then whether there was any legitimacy for the Democratic Party in Wyoming if so many were moving…if the Democratic Party wasn't big enough. Any thoughts on that? And do you think a lot of those people who switched over are backing Democrats in general?

JK: I think it's a myth that Democrats were switching over to vote for someone in the Republican primary for the US House. The numbers over the years have shown that there are far more people registered as Republicans than identify as Republicans in surveys. But that difference is made up by Independents. It's not made up by Democrats. People who identify as Democrats registered for themselves as Democrats. They vote in the Democratic primary. It is the Independents who see the real competition in primary elections within the Republican Party, who are registered to vote in a Republican primary, but not see themselves on a day to day basis as Republicans. And that certainly makes sense. If you look at all of the competitive races in recent years, in 2018, the competitive primary for governor was on the Republican side, and knowing the domination of the Republican Party, it was reasonable for an Independent who wants to have a voice in who is going to be the governor to participate in the Republican primary. If the Independent sits out the primary, that person has no voice really in who the governor is going to be. And so you have this pattern in Wyoming and other states as well. When you have one dominant party, Independents tend to register and participate in that party's primary. It is not people from the other political party who are going into that party primary to try to change the outcome.

KK: Okay. And just kind of looking back at the primaries and the upcoming general election, what do you think this election season is telling us about the state's political climate?

JK: I don't see anything that is really unusual in the state's political climate outside of Representative Cheney losing the primary. And that was clearly cast as a situation where she was felt not to be representing fully the state's interest. Former President Trump remains popular in the state. Certainly Harriet Hageman as a candidate played on that and used that as a way to draw support for her candidacy and away from Cheney. But that is the only really unusual thing. Most of the competition in the state legislative races was in the Republican primaries. We already know pretty much the outcome in a majority of those districts. And we know Republicans are going to continue to be controlling. We're going to see Republican sweep the five statewide offices in the House race, business as usual, for the last 30 years.

KK: Regarding the state legislature, do you not think that maybe it's going more right?

JK: Until you really see how people are voting, I don't know, you know, any firm measure of candidates. Again, there's a lot of discussion. And I think in the last, perhaps, election cycles, some people tend to come in and certainly, during freshman term, become a bit more anti-government. They tend to argue [that] there's a lot of wasteful spending. [When] they get into the system and see, when they actually dig down into the numbers, they see that the budget is well handled, decisions are made very publicly and openly, some of that citizen cynicism melts away.

In addition to reporting daily on the happenings in Northwest Wyoming, Kamila is also the producer of the Kids Ask WhY Podcast and the History Unloaded Podcast.Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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