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Liz Cheney a tough sell in Wyoming

By Timothy Stanley, Special to CNN
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Wed August 14, 2013
Liz Cheney answers a question from a reporter after announcing her bid for Senate in Wyoming.
Liz Cheney answers a question from a reporter after announcing her bid for Senate in Wyoming.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Timothy Stanley: Running for Senate, Liz Cheney misstepped over fishing license
  • He says in her challenge to Sen. Mike Enzi, many see her as outsider to Wyoming
  • He says her connection is mostly through dad; she's national figure, not local
  • Stanley: Her no-compromise conservatism a tough sell

Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."

(CNN) -- Something I love about American politics: A political candidacy can be sunk by a fishing license. Liz Cheney's run for the Republican Senate nomination from Wyoming suffered a setback after it was discovered that she bought a $24 fishing license last year without having lived in the state for a year.

With surreal seriousness, a spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said of the scandal, "We have an ongoing investigation. The law is extremely complicated."

A Republican strategist living in Wyoming added, "It's a serious misstep. Allegedly poaching in a state where being a resident sportsman is, by law, an earned privilege. Wyoming people will take this very seriously."

Timothy Stanley
Timothy Stanley

Will they really? The primary election between challenger Cheney and the popular incumbent, Sen. Mike Enzi, is a whole year away, and I struggle to believe that it'll be lost for want of a fishing license. But it is a sign of trouble ahead for Cheney.

Polls show that she's perceived to be an outsider -- and she's starting to learn that you can make a big name for yourself in national conservative politics but still fail to get traction at a state level. For good reason.

Cheney's only real, substantive link to Wyoming is through her father, Dick, who served for 10 years as a congressman. Otherwise, she was born in Wisconsin, lived much of her life in the D.C. area, went to college in Colorado and Chicago and made her name working for the George W. Bush administration. Not a lot of Wyoming in that CV at all.

Instead, her credentials to represent the state are partly political rather than local. Cheney is a talented administrator and activist -- a strong public speaker who can bring a tea party crowd to its feet. The level of respect that she's engendered speaks to her abilities, but also her links to the national, rather than Wyoming, political establishment.

Enzi: I'm not surprised about Cheney
Liz Cheney to challenge GOP senator
Liz Cheney's battle for Senate

When The Washington Post wrote a friendly profile of Cheney, the Daily Caller (significantly, a scrappy conservative website) took the big names quoted in support of her and showed up their hyperbole.

"She was tea party before there was a tea party," said Mary Matalin (that was clever). "She is not just her father's daughter," said Bill Kristol (what else could she be?!). "I was excited about Palin; I'm more excited about Liz," said Michael Goldfarb (big shoes to fill).

The most absurd remark came from Matalin: "[Cheney] really is a cowgirl through and through, and raised by accident in Washington. Babies don't move wherever they want; they have to go with their parents." Now, Matalin ought to know that cowgirls are raised, not made, and babies rarely show a preference for one state over another. Although the image of baby Liz in a ten gallon hat crying for Wyoming is a beguiling one.

So Cheney has arrived in Wyoming with a lot of national conservative sentiment behind her but precious little local backing.

That's reflected in her campaign, which has had a lot more to say about undoing the Obama administration than standing up for her state. Her basic argument is that A) Republican incumbent Enzi is too nice to Obama and B) "obstructionism" is "patriotism."

Perhaps there's some local right-wing sentiment that agrees Enzi has been bipartisan once too often, but Cheney is mistaken if she thinks that her state will vote for someone who pitches herself purely as a "Senator No."

That sort of thing gets a big applause at meetings of the Conservative Political Action Conference, but it might it might not be so attractive to Wyoming voters looking for someone to bring home the bacon. And do we really want yet another senator who refuses to do business with anyone? It's not as if Congress is unpopular because it's too compromising.

Finally, there's the problem of Cheney being an all-round anachronism in this age of tea party populism. Yes, her gender and relative youth make her seem like fresh leadership. But her name is a hindrance and deserves to be.

America needs to put its political dynasties out to graze: It's perverse that a republic of free people should keep voting for the scions of the Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes or Cheneys. The USA is starting to look less like a democracy and more like an aristocracy.

Furthermore, Cheney's politics are a little old-fashioned, too. She might be on the zeitgeist by being for same-sex marriage, but her neoconservative stance on foreign policy is about 10 years out of date.

The next generation of Republican leadership is going to be populist, small state, critical of getting overinvolved overseas, civil libertarian and intensely loyal to its birthplace. Carpetbaggers need not apply.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Stanley.

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