Liz Cheney Throws Down Challenge To Veteran Republican

Liz Cheney's campaign to nudge veteran GOP Sen. Mike Enzi into retirement has become an official challenge to his re-nomination. Enzi, 69, has said he is seeking another term. Audie Cornish speaks with NPR's Mara Liasson about the questions Cheney's campaign raises: Will he still run? And what implications does this have for Wyoming, for control of the Senate in 2015 and for women in the Republican Party in the long run?

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Wyoming may be looking at another generation of Cheneys on the political scene. Liz Cheney, a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has announced that she's running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. That seat is already held by another Republican, three-term veteran Mike Enzi. He says he wants to hold on to that seat and he's always had the support of the Cheneys in the past.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson has more on what could be a very hot primary next year. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Melissa.

BLOCK: And why don't you, first of all, talk about the roles that Liz Cheney has carved out for herself, so far, in politics and foreign policy?

LIASSON: Well, she's a former State Department official. She's a prominent conservative commentator on television. And, of course, she is Dick Cheney's daughter.

BLOCK: And her father, of course, used to represent Wyoming in the U.S. House for 10 years. Liz Cheney, though, grew up in the East. She only moved back to Wyoming last year. Why is she running for Senate now and launching a primary fight against the incumbent?

LIASSON: Well, she wants to run for office. You know, years ago, she scouted out a Northern Virginia congressional seat but she didn't take the plunge. She's 46. She has five kids. She wants to get going. And I agree running against an incumbent Republican is pretty unusual, but she's presenting herself as a fresh face. She certainly can raise a lot of money. She has very high name ID in Wyoming. And if she won, she'd be an automatic Senate celebrity. Maybe she hopes she can convince Enzi not to run because he's never had a tough race.

BLOCK: Do you think that Mike Enzi is vulnerable? We've seen other Republicans fall to challenges from the right in primaries, right, Bob Bennett of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana. Is Senator Enzi a target for the Tea Party in particular?

LIASSON: Not really and that's what makes this so interesting. There's not a grassroots Tea Party rebellion against Enzi, the way there was with Bennett and Lugar. He has a solid conservative record. He is a backbencher but he's also popular. He won 76 percent of the vote last time.

Some Tea Party groups do disagree with him about a bill he sponsored that could tax Internet commerce. But Rand Paul, who is the de facto head of the Tea Party wing of the party, is supporting him. You know, Cheney and her dad come from the deep state wing of the Republican Party on national security and foreign-policy. They are not Libertarians on surveillance or drone strikes, so they might not fit with the Tea Party on those issues.

BLOCK: Well, what kind of reaction are you hearing among Republicans on this?

LIASSON: Well, she's ruffled a lot of feathers in Wyoming and in Washington. People say this is bad form, she didn't wait her turn, she's a carpetbagger. But by forcing herself into the race, even though she has ruffled some feathers, this is what ambitious politicians do - they create opportunities for themselves. If she doesn't win, maybe she'd be a little bit higher up in the line next time, even though she didn't wait her turn.

BLOCK: And the assumption, Mara, is that whoever wins the GOP primary in Wyoming wins the general election, right?

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: This is not a state that has a recent history of electing a Democrat to the Senate.

LIASSON: Certainly not. As a matter of fact, there aren't any Republican seats at risk in the Senate next year. And if you look at the big picture for Republicans, 2008 was such a great year for Democrats. There are so many good targets for Republicans, including right next door in Montana, where the Democratic superstar declined to run, Brian Schweitzer, popular ex-governor. He had been expected to run in Montana but now he says he won't.

BLOCK: Well, if Republicans are hungering to take over the Senate majority in the next election, what are the prospects?

LIASSON: Well, this is deja vu all over again because, just like in 2010 and 2012, here we are at the beginning of the cycle and Republicans look pretty good. But we saw how they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the last two elections. They need six to take the majority and they're almost guaranteed to get West Virginia, South Dakota and now Montana - all red states where Democrats are retiring.

Then there are four more vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states: Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina. So they would need to get three of those four. So I would say Republicans' chances of picking up seats, maybe three or four, are excellent.

Taking control of the Senate is much harder to do. To do that, they'd have to run the table.

BLOCK: OK. Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. We were talking about the entrance of Dick Cheney's daughter, Liz Cheney, into the race for one of Wyoming's Senate seats.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: