In the end, an election that looked like the craziest in Wyoming history ended up right where it started — front runner State Treasurer Mark Gordon, Buffalo, won going away.
But what happened on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, in the GOP gubernatorial primary was unprecedented in the state’s 128-year history.
A record number of voters, some 140,000 in the total primary and almost 118,000 in the GOP primary, totally rocked the preconceived notions of pundits and the plans of candidates.
Gordon withstood a withering assault of anonymous nasty mailers and complaints by fellow candidate Harriet Hageman of Cheyenne to notch the win.
Three unprecedented things happened in this race: vast sums of money were spent, an endorsement by a sitting president occurred and record numbers of “crossover” voters became Republicans.
First, biggest change in this race compared to past ones was the huge sum of money expended. Gordon, Hageman, Foster Friess of Jackson and Sam Galeotos of Cheyenne may have each spent nearly $2 million or more. Most ever spent prior to this was eight years ago when Gov. Matt Mead spent $1.3 million to win a hotly contested primary.
Republican mega-donor Friess entered the race late, just 119 days before primary day. He started with less than 1 percent name recognition and was sixth in the polls at the end of April. On Election Day, he finished second. A week before the election he was one point ahead of Gordon in a major poll by a prominent national firm, making the race look much closer than it ended up being.
Second, President Donald Trump endorsed Friess on the morning of Election Day. Never have we had a sitting president endorse a candidate in a Wyoming primary campaign.
Third, arguably, the most unique story of this campaign will be the final tally of people changing parties at the polls. That number may have been as high as 9,000 voters as Democrats and Independents became Republicans.
Most of the crossovers appeared to support Gordon for his seemingly moderate political stances or to vote against Friess, because of Trump connections and his strong pro-life beliefs. Spirited local races also caused crossovers registrations.
Some Democrats demurred when told the theory about crossovers. But, good for them. If what they did was intentional, it was legal under current Wyoming law and was a doggone-good strategy.
During the GOP primary campaign, it always seemed to me that it benefitted Friess if the other candidates (Gordon, Hageman, Galeotos) stayed bunched up during the last months of campaigning. Then Friess could leap-frog them at the end. It didn’t happen. Gordon’s lead was too big on Aug. 21.
On primary election day, the statewide crossover vote sure seemed to increase Gordon’s victory. Plus the surprising drop in votes for Galeotos meant somebody was going to get his lost votes.
My totally unscientific projected totals would have seen Gordon and Friess finishing tied with 30,000 votes each. That estimate was obviously incorrect.
At his rally Tuesday night Friess said he reached out to Gordon and offered to help in any way. He encouraged everyone to help Gordon, too. He also said he and Lynn plan to stay involved in Wyoming issues.
The campaign pace was frenetic for all the candidates. It helped that Friess had his own plane.
For example, Friess made 17 campaign stops in cities and towns during the last 72 hours of the campaign: Sheridan, Laramie, Cheyenne, Rawlins, Casper, Douglas, Rawlins, Casper, Gillette, Pinedale, Cheyenne, Evanston, Gillette, Casper, Jackson, Gillette, and finally Casper.
Even with a plane, that schedule could wear you out.
And then there were the other races:
I was surprised to see Curt Meier of Torrington knock off Leland Christensen of Alta for State Treasurer. Seemed like Leland had the momentum. Meier spent a lot of money on ads and had Newcastle ad guru Bob Bonnar in his corner, a big plus.
Nathan Winters of Thermopolis sure seemed like he had a chance to defeat Kristi Racines of Cheyenne for State Auditor, but it was not even close. If Kristi wins the general I hope she will open the state’s books for Wyoming citizens.
U. S. Sen. John Barrasso of Casper easily turned back Dave Dodson of Jackson, who spent a boatload of money in a furious challenge. Now Barrasso will take on Gary Trauner of Wilson in the general election.
This primary took on the feel of an athletic contest with everyone cheering on their teams. Now, I am ready to cheer on the Cowboys and Broncos!
Note: Bill Sniffin worked as a consultant on the Foster Friess campaign during the primary. Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.