Elizabeth (Liz) Cheney's decision to challenge incumbent Wyoming US Senator Mike Enzi, a Republican, has many political watchers' scratching heads.
Daughter of the former vice president, the younger Cheney has never held elective office. She has held various jobs in Republican administrations and co-founded a think tank, Keep America Safe, which advocates for for the continuation of Bush administration policies. Until her decision to run, Cheney was also employed as a contributor at Fox News.
Enzi himself has not committed any noticeable ideological transgressions, but neither does he differ much from Cheney.
Even in the field where the Cheney name is most associated, foreign policy and national security, Enzi voted for the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, and indefinite detention. Enzi's biggest deviation may be his support for the Marketplace Fairness Act, but that was an issue that divided conservatives of all stripes and is not necessarily a litmus test. He also received a high rating from the American Conservative Union as one of their "Senate ACU Conservatives."
So, Liz Cheney can be expected to seek out conservative and tea party support or perhaps portray herself as an outsider. With Enzi holding most of the conservative ground, it leaves Cheney with few viable electoral strategies.
On Monday, she appeared on Rush Limbaugh's radio program and issued boilerplate conservative rhetoric, but did not offer any specifics about why she is preferable to Enzi. Fellow talk show host Sean Hannity endorsed his one-time Fox News colleague last week on his radio show. Hannity cited Enzi's work with Democrats for a health care bill, which the Senator ultimately voted against, as part of the reason to support Cheney.
"What should GOP do in face of radical Obama agenda? Everything possible to resist/block. That's not obstructionism. That's patriotism."
In a USA Today story, when Enzi last ran for re-election in 2008, some members of the tea party in Wyoming mentioned that everyone voted for Enzi because "that's all the choice you have." If this statement is indicative of buried conservative disgruntlement, there could be an opening for Cheney.
Despite her provocative statements and name recognition, Cheney is not a shoo-in to receive Wyoming voters' support as a political outsider. However, Cheney has literally been outside Wyoming for years working in Washington before she bought a house in the state last year.
Early opinion polls show Enzi with a favorable rating of 76% while Cheney's is only 45%. Another poll has Enzi's favorability at 73% to Cheney's 55%. Public Policy Polling also found that only 31% of Wyoming voters consider Cheney a Wyomingite.
During the first quarter fundraising period, Enzi raised $164,000 and has $376,000 on hand, both the lowest totals of any 2014 incumbent. As a US Senate candidate, Liz Cheney only recently began fundraising, but may have an additional asset Enzi does not: her father, Dick Cheney, has an estimated net worth of $90 million.
The 2014 Wyoming US Senate race is only beginning. Money has not yet become a factor and minuscule policy differences are likely to be magnified. With that, it is plausible the race could become a shouting match with candidates issuing increasingly controversial and provocative statements about Democrats and each other.
At this early point, it is difficult to estimate what direction the race could take, but the setting is ripe for it to become extended, bitter, and loud.