Talking to self-identified Democrats in Teton County reveals a chameleon of a voting block.
That’s no surprise under the conditions.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney’s latest 22-point polling deficit reported by the Casper Star-Tribune has been met with disparate reactions by potential crossover Democrats.
Some are digging their heels in to support her, while others are changing course.
October 2020 was the first time in recent memory registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in Teton County. The difference was 661 in the Democrats’ favor on election day in November 2020. Democrats had led Republicans since, until now.
The wave of party switchers started in June, County Clerk Maureen “Mo” Murphy said. As of July 1, Teton County is red again with 5,968 Republicans, 5,768 Democrats and 3,420 unaffiliated registered voters.
Since Jan. 1 around 865 people total in Teton County have changed parties, the overwhelming majority to Republican, Murphy said last week.
Most Democrats who spoke with the News&Guide for this story said that if they were switching it was to vote for Cheney.
Over the weekend the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee told CNN’s “State of the Union” that there was “no question” that potentially losing her job in the House of Representatives is worth telling the truth about Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. (See story page 11A)
Cheney’s anecdotally slim chances didn’t change Joe Petrick’s resolve to support Wyoming’s lone representative in the U.S. House. Petrick was among a handful of prospective voters the News&Guide spoke with Monday at Wayne May Park, where locals gather weekly for meals from food trucks.
As a Democrat in Wyoming, the Teton County resident registered as a Republican to vote for Cheney for what he called her “radical integrity.” Plus, he said, he voted a few weeks ago before her poll numbers were national news.
Cheney stands up for what she believes in, he said, despite being “incentivized” by the Republican mainstream to do the opposite.
“You could ask if you matter in any election,” Petrick said.
Elaine Laviage, 81, is a 30-year Teton County resident and another lifelong Democrat who attended an event March 22 where Cheney appeared. When reached on the telephone this week she said she was spurred by Cheney’s opposition to former President Donald Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, to switch parties for the first time.
In light of Trump, she said, liberal principles don’t matter.
Other Democrats see casting a ballot for Cheney as throwing away their vote.
“It doesn’t do any good,” said an older couple eating dinner beside the food trucks in May Park. After switching parties many times they were focused locally on supporting incumbent County Assessor Melissa Shinkle in the Democratic primary and anyone against the bollards on Willow Street.
Some Democratic party leaders also are trying to look beyond the Cheney race and illuminate the remaining space where a Democrat voting as a Republican could be influential: the race for secretary of state.
Jackson Vice Mayor Arne Jorgensen and Teton County Democrat Chair Maggie Hunt will both vote in the Democratic primary, though they say they’ve spent a lot of time recently talking to all voters about the widely overlooked state position that oversees elections.
There are no Democrats running for secretary of state, so the primary “is the election,” Hunt said.
The two leading Republicans who would be in charge of Wyoming’s elections — state Sen. Tara Nethercott, of Cheyenne, and Rep. Chuck Gray, of Casper — have opposing views about the security of Wyoming’s 2020 election. Nethercott has stood with the 23 county clerks to say the election was fair. Gray has raised concerns about the election’s integrity and said he’d do more to restrict voting access.
Even if the Democratic turnout is scattered in the primary, it will likely take a unified turn in November.
“The Dems are fairly cohesive here,” Hunt said. With concern about abortion restrictions spread across parties, Hunt said, “I’ve had a couple of Republicans tell me they’re going to switch and vote Democrat in the general.”
Voters can switch parties up to and on the day of the election. That freedom has come under scrutiny by Wyoming Republicans when it’s cited as changing the outcome of a Republican race.
When Foster Friess lost to Gov. Mark Gordon in August 2018 he suggested it was due to crossover voting and looked to fellow candidates to garner support for a ban.
Crossover voting bans have been resurrected more than once in Cheyenne, this year with a “Change in party affiliation” bill that was endorsed by Trump and the state GOP but failed to receive a first reading vote in the House by deadline.
If Cheney were to win, Democratic party Chair Hunt said, there’s “no doubt” in her mind that Republicans will try to resurrect some type of crossover voting ban.
Rebecca Cloetta, a member of the Teton County GOP executive committee, said Wyomingites should have the right to cross over. She doesn’t approve, though, of early voting or mail-in voting.
“A lot can change in three weeks,” she said of early voting.
Cloetta plans to cast her vote for Trump-endorsed Cheney challenger Harriet Hageman but said it’s not the race she’s most interested in because she no longer thinks it’s close.
When asked if she thought the GOP would take a harder look at banning crossover voting if Cheney won, Cloetta said she’d rather not comment. The premise was a “moot point,” she said.
“Polls clearly show that Cheney’s dust,” Cloetta said.
In 2021, Hunt told KHOL she thought no one would be able to beat Cheney, Republican or Democrat. Now, she said, that’s changed.
As of July 1, there are 34,925 unaffiliated voters and 43,285 Democrats in Wyoming. Republicans outnumber Democrats 4.6-to-1.
This article has been updated to show that Rebecca Cloetta objects to early and mail-in voting but does not object to absentee voting. - Ed.