To most people, he's the former vice president of the United States. But in Liz Cheney's underdog campaign for the U.S. Senate from Wyoming, he's "Liz's dad."
That's the only reference to Dick Cheney in her biography, which briefly mentions his 1978 bid for Congress but not his two terms as arguably the most powerful No. 2 in American history. And it reflects the backseat role he's taking in his daughter's bid to oust three-term Sen. Michael Enzi—his former fly-fishing pal—in the 2014 Republican primary.
Top campaign advisers say there are no plans for the former vice president to campaign on her behalf or to help raise money. She doesn't mention him in the six-minute video that launched her campaign last month, and he's said little about her in recent appearances.
"Both of them are bending over backwards to show that she is the candidate. He's trying to stay out of it," said Cheney campaign Cochairman Bill Thomson, a prominent Wyoming Republican and family friend since that 1978 campaign. "Of course, he thinks she would make a great senator, but this is something she needs to do on her own."
Her avowed independence reinforces the image she is cultivating of a tea-party-like Washington outsider. That's quite a stretch for the daughter of a vice president, an official in both Bush administrations, a hawkish Fox News contributor, and a longtime Northern Virginia resident, but it's probably a smart strategy at a time when views of Congress are in the doldrums. In an unwanted bit of publicity for an accused carpetbagger, a Wyoming newspaper reported Tuesday that she got a resident fishing license even though she has lived there for less than one year as required.
But supporters say Cheney's age (47, to Enzi's 69 years), her role as the mother of five children, and her casting off by the Republican establishment will allow her to make the leap from legacy candidate to insurgent populist. Capitol Hill closed ranks around Enzi immediately after Cheney announced her campaign last month, with endorsements coming rapid fire from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming's at-large member of the House. Even Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky—who don't agree on much—both threw their support to Enzi.
"She has the ability to shake things up, and there are people in Washington who don't want her to do that," said another campaign adviser, Cheyenne lawyer Harriet Hageman. "They are reacting to someone who will upset and challenge the status quo."
In contrast, some top Republicans in what some call "the Cowboy State" are welcoming the primary battle. Wyoming's Republican National Committee member, Marti Halverson, said she and other party leaders plan to urge the RNC at its summer meeting in Boston to stay out of the race. Cheney has been endorsed by conservative talk-show hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, and the footprint of the national party could set off a grassroots uprising like the one that helped Marco Rubio defeat NRSC-endorsed Charlie Crist in Florida's 2010 Senate race.
"It's already a real race, and Republicans in Wyoming don't mind a good primary contest," said Halverson, who is staying neutral. "We're not going to make the mistake Florida did. This race will be fought in Wyoming, by Wyomingites, for Wyomingites."
The former vice president remains a popular figure in his home state, Republicans say, and he headlined the state party's dinner in February. The daughters and sons of prominent politicians walk a tightrope on the campaign trail, eager to capitalize on their familiar surname but hesitant to carry their parent's political baggage. When Vice President Cheney left office in 2009, frustrations with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were running high and his approval rating was pegged at only 13 percent. The last time Gallup included him in a national poll was 2010, and his ratings had improved to 36 percent favorable and 52 percent unfavorable.
"What's not to like about a guy that you run into at the dry cleaners, as I did last week?" Halverson said. "He's a real down-to-earth guy. Some people find fault with his politics but, bottom line, he's a popular figure. Now whether that translates to Liz, I don't know."
The former vice president's absence from the fundraising circuit may not matter as much to his daughter in a small state, where campaigns are relatively inexpensive and even statewide candidates go door to door. Enzi had less than half a million dollars in his campaign account as of the end of June.
Cheney's campaign finance chairwoman, Margaret Parry, said the vice president's low profile in his daughter's race "has nothing to do with the Bush administration or how they went out. It has to do with her wanting to do it on her own. She has got to run on her own merit."
"The vice president is incredibly supportive of Liz's efforts and very excited about the race," said campaign manager Kara Ahern. "The vice president has told Liz he is ready to do whatever she'd like him to do to help, but they both understand this is her campaign and her race to win."
Her candidacy and that of George P. Bush for Texas land commissioner is sparking talk of a Bush-Cheney revival, though he is running with the Republican Party's blessing for an open seat. The third sentence of his campaign biography acknowledges his lineage and tries to put it into context: "While many know him as grandson of President George H.W. Bush, son of former Gov. Jeb Bush, and nephew of President George W. Bush, George P. is a native-born Texan and leader with strong convictions and fresh perspectives."
Substitute the surnames, and Liz Cheney couldn't ask for a better review.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the state Bill Thompson represents as well as the location of the newspaper that reported where Liz Cheney got her fishing license. Bill Thompson is from Wyoming and the Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming reported that Liz Cheney got her resident fishing license early.
This article appears in the August 8, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.
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