Nathan Wendt, Teton County’s Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, has added local and national firepower to his campaign, setting the scene for his underdog run for national office.
Jessica Sell Chambers, a two-time Jackson Town Council candidate and state Democratic operative, will manage Wendt’s campaign. Veteran political strategist Joe Trippi will lead the campaign’s media and digital communications arms. In 2004, Trippi made headlines as Howard Dean’s presidential campaign manager who pioneered using the Internet to campaign and fundraise.
He was recently the media architect for Doug Jones’ successful 2017 campaign in Alabama, helping crown the former U.S. attorney as the state’s first Democratic senator in 25 years.
“What we’re seeing both with Jess and also with Joe Trippi is it’s game on in Wyoming,” Wendt told the News&Guide in an exclusive interview.
Facing off against five other candidates for the Democratic nomination, Wendt acknowledged that he faces an uphill battle. If he makes it to the general election, the candidate will likely run against the Republican’s presumptive front-runner, Cynthia Lummis. She beat his father in a race for the U.S. House of Representatives a decade ago.
Wyoming has not been represented by a Democrat in the U.S. Senate since 1977, when Gale W. McGee’s last term ended. But Wendt sees a path.
“It’s not easy to win in Wyoming as a Democrat, but people are looking for an independent thinker, someone who can deliver solutions in their lives,” he said. “We’re definitely planning on working hard for it, and that’s what the people of Wyoming deserve. Whoever’s going to represent the state of Wyoming as the next senator needs to earn that trust.”
Chambers said she joined the campaign because “Wyoming politics are local politics,” and she feels Wendt is “able to resonate with voters across the state and meet them where they are.”
“He’s not interested in force-feeding some kind of D.C. politics to Wyoming voters who don’t buy them,” she added.
Although Chambers’ two runs for Town Council didn’t pan out, she said her experience running her own campaigns will be crucial. She pointed to a 2018 News&Guide analysis that showed that, of all Town Council candidates, she spent the lowest per vote.
“I ran a very effective and affordable campaign,” she said. “When you go out and you meet people face to face and you have conversations, that’s what wins votes.”
Proposals pulling from the left and the right center Wendt’s campaign. One is a dual proposal to invest in both carbon capture and sequestration, which could bolster the state’s flailing fossil fuel industries, and wind energy. He also supports “Medicare for all, if you want it,” reducing the federal deficit, doubling teacher pay nationwide and introducing a monthly three-day weekend.
Trippi said in a campaign press release that he was supporting Wendt for a reason similar to one he gave Vox in 2017 to explain Doug Jones’ narrow Alabama win.
Though Trippi acknowledged in that interview that allegations of sexual misconduct levied against Jones’ opponent, Roy Moore, helped the Democrats’ cause, he said Jones’ appeal to unity was a powerful message that played a significant role in his victory.
“I think there is an almost infinite hunger in the country right now for ending the division, the hatred, the hate talk,” Trippi told Vox.
That echoed his sentiment in the Wendt campaign’s release.
“People know Washington is broken,” the media strategist said. “They don’t want a rubber stamp for either party. Nathan Wendt is an independent thinker who will bring people together to find common ground and get things done for Wyoming.”
Trippi also has experience in Wyoming, Wendt said — the 1988 Senate contest between Republican Malcolm Wallop and Democrat John Vinich, who lost by just over 1,000 votes.
With Chambers and Trippi on his side, Wendt will still be swimming upstream, whether against a pandemic that could limit face-to-face campaigning or Wyoming’s history of going red.
“It’s not going to be an easy race, “Chamber said. “It’s going to be a tough race.”
But, she added: “Who doesn’t love a good underdog?”