President Obama got 28 percent of Wyoming's votes in 2012, making it the second-least Democratic state, after Utah. Democrats make up about 21 percent of the state's registered voters; no Democrat has been elected to federal office since the 1970s. (Until recently, there was a popular two-term Democratic governor, Dave Freudenthal; he left office in 2011 with an approval rating above 70 percent.)
The Cheney news brought levity and an influx of phone calls to Wyoming Democratic headquarters in Cheyenne, where Van Ausdall, a native of the state and former regional political director for the Democratic National Committee, is one of two paid staffers. They have dubbed Cheney "The Virginian," a reference to her roots on the East Coast. And though Democrats don't have a candidate for the Senate race, they cherish some hope that the bloody spectacle of the GOP primary will offend Wyomingites' polite sensibilities and provide an opening for the down-and-out opposition.
In fact, Wyoming Republicans were in the midst of an acrimonious feud long before Liz Cheney announced her intentions. Legislators, who meet for 60 days a year, have historically been collegial, but the past session saw the rise of a far-right faction that pursued a more partisan tack. They killed Democratic bills without a hearing and proposed bills such as one that would allow Wyoming to "implement a draft" and "raise a standing army" if the nation collapsed. (As Tim Murphy reported, a provision allowing the landlocked state to acquire an aircraft carrier was scrapped.)
GOP legislators feuded over a set of failed bills that would have loosened the state's gun laws, including one that would have barred the federal government from enforcing gun restrictions. Lawmakers who decried the bills as potentially unconstitutional political posturing were labeled "gun grabbers" by an aggressive firearm lobby and its allies. The party was further split over the state's superintendent of education, who is accused of mismanaging her agency, threatening employees with a knife, and inappropriately touching male workers. When legislators stripped her of her powers, the GOP Central Committee drafted a resolution demanding that three conservative legislators, including the speaker of the House, leave the GOP. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, the resolution, which was debated but not passed, accused the trio of "disgracing the Republican Party."
Like voters in neighboring Colorado and Montana, Wyomingites have an independent, libertarian streak, allergic to extreme ideologies and content to be mostly left alone. This sort of partisan feuding alienates them. But Van Ausdall admits Democrats lack the infrastructure and bench of candidates to fully capitalize on the GOP chaos. "The Republican Party is fractured and eating their own," she told me. "Whether that hastens people being willing to consider Democrats, I don't know. I mean, hopefully?"