By Congressional Quarterly
A businessman and little-known state legislator, Enzi overcame long odds against much flashier and more prominent opponents to earn his seat in the Senate.
Friends and foes agree that what Enzi lacks in charisma he more than makes up for with hard work and strong organizational skills.
Enzi, a small-business owner who also previously worked as an accounting manager for an oil servicing company, earned a reputation during his years in the Wyoming Legislature as a deliberate and thorough backbencher.
While he never served in a major leadership position in Cheyenne, he did eventually rise to become chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee in 1992.
But Enzi's lack of high-profile legislative accomplishments has not prevented him from enjoying repeated electoral success over a political career that has spanned two decades.
For example, in 1974, at the age of 30, Enzi was elected mayor of Gillette in northeastern Wyoming, where he served two four-year terms and was widely credited with guiding the city through a population explosion that saw it more than double in size.
In 1986, Enzi was elected to the state House, where he served five years before successfully running for a state Senate seat in 1991.
In addition to expertise on fiscal issues, Enzi was also active in the area of education during his years in Wyoming. For instance, he served on the Education Commission of the States, a national organization of legislators and educators who meet periodically to discuss education policies and school reform initiatives.
Enzi also served on a state higher education commission, whose aim was to help Wyoming college students pursue professional educational opportunities.
Reflecting his background in business, Enzi served as chairman of a local Wyoming bank. He was also president of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, as well as president of the local Jaycees.
In the Senate, Enzi will have a chance to put his head for numbers and fiscal matters to work as a member of the Banking Committee, where he is likely to be a strong advocate for policies that will ease burdens on the nation's small businesses.
In addition, Enzi drew assignment to the Labor and Human Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over education and labor, both of which Enzi has had broad experience with.
Despite his years as a community leader, political activist and state legislator, Enzi was given little hope of winning the Senate seat left open by the retirement of veteran Republican Sen. Alan K. Simpson.
The departure of Simpson, who announced in late 1995 that he would not seek re-election to a fourth term, opened a political floodgate of candidates, with more than a dozen Republicans initially expressing interest in the race.
Although the list of potential candidates included several high- profile Republicans, from the outset the acknowledged GOP front- runner was John Barrasso, a prominent physician widely known for his work as a broadcast personality at a Casper television station.
Although he had never held elected office, Barrasso had been active in Wyoming politics for years and was a Republican National Committeeman for the state.
In an effort to counter Barrasso's high name recognition, Enzi enlisted the strong backing of the Wyoming Christian Coalition and began aggressively emphasizing his opposition to abortion rights.
Barrasso, who said he favored abortion rights, made fiscal issues the centerpiece of his campaign, vowing to balance the federal budget and reduce regulatory burdens if elected.
Throughout the spring, Barrasso continued to lead a GOP pack that ultimately settled down to nine candidates competing for the nomination.
But in an early indication that an upset was possible, Enzi narrowly edged Barrasso in a non-binding straw poll of delegates taken at the Republican state convention in June.
Although the vote had no formal or direct bearing on the nomination, the straw poll indicated that Enzi was considered a credible alternative to the more polished and politically moderate Barrasso.
With this newfound momentum, Enzi returned to the campaign trail, pitching himself across the state as a conservative opponent of abortion and gun control who strongly supported the state's economically vital mineral industry, in addition to advocating more tax incentives for small business.
Enzi's sales job proved effective with Wyoming's Republican primary voters. In an upset many would have considered unthinkable just months earlier, Enzi edged Barrasso in the August primary to earn the right to take on Democratic nominee Kathy Karpan.
Karpan, a former two-term Wyoming secretary of state who had faced only token opposition in the Democratic primary, initially was thought to have a slight edge over Enzi in the fall race.
In addition to her statewide campaign experience as secretary of state, Karpan also enjoyed high name recognition from an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 1994.
Karpan also appeared to have possible crossover appeal because of her moderate views on such issues as gun control and federal land use policy.
But as he had done against Barrasso in the Republican primary, Enzi played up his opposition to abortion rights in an effort to draw sharp distinctions between himself and Karpan, who favored abortion rights.
In the end, Karpan's attempts to draw support from moderate Republicans proved unsuccessful, as the solidly conservative state voted convincingly to send Enzi to Washington as Wyoming's newest senator.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
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