Wyoming Republicans snub Trump-endorsed candidate for Governor

Voters also renominated Sen. John Barrasso, a 15-year Republican veteran of Wyoming politics, who easily survived after adapting his low-key style of politics to fit with the Trump era.

Friess had leaned on political connections and vowed to spend “whatever it takes” from his personal fortune, but he was bested by Mark Gordon, the state treasurer who ran on his local roots, financial acumen and government experience, according to The Associated Press.

It was a relatively rare loss for Trump, who has taken great pride in endorsing candidates who have gone on to win. Although Wyoming delivered his largest margin of victory in 2016 — 46 points — the president was clearly not the only factor on voters’ minds, despite efforts by some candidates to make him a focal point. Not only did voters look past the president’s plea to support Friess — whom he insisted would be a “fantastic Governor!” — they also snubbed Barrasso’s opponent, David Dodson, an entrepreneur who ran on a populist-inspired platform to put “Wyoming First,” an echo of Trump’s “America First” agenda.

Barrasso, who is seeking his third term in the Senate, has managed to find a way to coexist in Trump’s Republican Party, even though his political style and approach to governing could not be more different from the president’s.

Barrasso, a nose-to-the-grindstone tactical politician with medical training from Georgetown and Yale, is deeply involved in his party’s efforts to shape a legislative agenda as chair of the Senate’s Republican Policy Committee. He was never as outwardly critical of Trump as some of his Senate colleagues were, either during the 2016 election or after the president took office. He has occasionally broken with Trump, for example by calling on him to release his tax returns and opposing, albeit gently, the administration’s plan to separate immigrant children from their parents.

Rep. Liz Cheney, the state’s lone House member and a Republican, was also renominated Tuesday.

In the other contest unfolding Tuesday, in Alaska, voters were picking candidates to challenge Gov. Bill Walker, an independent who has disappointed members of both major parties as the state grapples with slow economic growth and rising violent crime. The Democratic primary was uncontested, with only Mark Begich, a former U.S. senator, running. On the Republican side, the crowded field included seven candidates, with Mike Dunleavy, a former state senator, and former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell considered the front-runners.

Barrasso was initially a target of pro-Trump conservatives like Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, who attempted to recruit and run challengers to incumbent Republican senators he believed were not supportive enough of the president. And, inside Wyoming, Barrasso was not unanimously embraced. The Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper, endorsed Barrasso’s opponent last week and called out the senator for being “more interested in scoring quick points on cable news and climbing the political ladder than making real change.”

Nonetheless, Barrasso hitched himself to Trump’s agenda, praising his efforts to abandon Obama-era environmental regulations (“bold and decisive action”), engage with North Korea (“bold leadership”) and pass pro-growth policies (“incredibly productive”).

Trump rewarded his loyalty by pledging his backing for Barrasso last year, heading off an early primary threat from Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder who is close to Bannon. Trump tweeted his official endorsement last month.

After initially flirting with a challenge to Barrasso, Friess opted for the governor’s race instead. Friess ran an outsider’s campaign and pledged to restore fiscal discipline to the state’s budget. At the same time, he used the political connections he cultivated as one of the Republican Party’s top donors to give him a lift in the final weeks of the campaign, trumpeting endorsements from Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

“The Trump name out here is golden,” Friess said in a recent interview.

Gordon will face Mary Thorne, the Democratic nominee for governor, who is a member of the state House of Representatives.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Jeremy W. Peters © 2018 The New York Times

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