Vastly different candidates vie for Wyoming US Senate seat

October 31, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2020, file photo, U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Lummis smiles as she participates in a Zoom call with Wyoming Republican County Chairs during an Election Day watch party at the Lummis campaign headquarters in downtown Cheyenne, Wyo. Lummis and her Democratic opponent, Merav Ben-David, are vying for Wyoming's first open Senate seat in more than two decades and a chance to be the state's first female senator. (Michael Cummo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2020, file photo, U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Lummis smiles as she participates in a Zoom call with Wyoming Republican County Chairs during an Election Day watch party at the Lummis campaign headquarters in downtown Cheyenne, Wyo. Lummis and her Democratic opponent, Merav Ben-David, are vying for Wyoming's first open Senate seat in more than two decades and a chance to be the state's first female senator. (Michael Cummo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2020, file photo, U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Lummis smiles as she participates in a Zoom call with Wyoming Republican County Chairs during an Election Day watch party at the Lummis campaign headquarters in downtown Cheyenne, Wyo. Lummis and her Democratic opponent, Merav Ben-David, are vying for Wyoming's first open Senate seat in more than two decades and a chance to be the state's first female senator. (Michael Cummo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP, File)
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FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2020, file photo, U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Lummis smiles as she participates in a Zoom call with Wyoming Republican County Chairs during an Election Day watch party at the Lummis campaign headquarters in downtown Cheyenne, Wyo. Lummis and her Democratic opponent, Merav Ben-David, are vying for Wyoming's first open Senate seat in more than two decades and a chance to be the state's first female senator. (Michael Cummo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP, File)
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FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2020, file photo, U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Lummis smiles as she participates in a Zoom call with Wyoming Republican County Chairs during an Election Day watch party at the Lummis campaign headquarters in downtown Cheyenne, Wyo. Lummis and her Democratic opponent, Merav Ben-David, are vying for Wyoming's first open Senate seat in more than two decades and a chance to be the state's first female senator. (Michael Cummo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP, File)

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — One is endorsed by the president of the United States. One is supported by the man who seeks to replace him.

One was described by E&E News as a “champion” of fossil fuels. The other received a glowing profile in Science Magazine as a warrior against climate change.

There are many differences between Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Lummis and her Democratic opponent, Merav Ben-David. One is political royalty in Wyoming, serving the Equality State at nearly every level of government throughout her lengthy career in politics. The other is a newcomer to politics, spending her life in classrooms and research labs, crafting the information necessary to guide policy decisions.

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Money is another difference. Lummis’ multi-million dollar war chest is fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars from major corporations and deep-pocketed donors. Ben-David — with a staff inherited from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign – has tapped into a national network of donors hoping to turn America’s reddest state blue.

Their motivations are different as well. Lummis has centered her campaign on Wyoming’s need for a bulwark against an insurgent Democratic Party and a protector of Wyoming’s thousands of remaining fossil fuel jobs. Ben-David has sought to convince Wyoming to embrace a changing world, rather than fighting against it.

Voters are weighing those contrasts ahead of the Nov. 3 election. At stake is Wyoming’s first open Senate seat in more than two decades and a chance to be the state’s first female senator.

Seeking to become Wyoming’s first Democratic senator in a near-half century, Ben-David says the time for change is now. Throughout Lummis’ career in the United States House of Representatives, the four-term congresswoman consistently found herself in the minority, leaving her with just one successful bill to her name in eight years and a reputation more for warring with her own party leadership as a member of the House Freedom Caucus than success in stalling broader Obama-era policies, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

It’s hard to ignore the likelihood of Lummis inheriting a similar situation in 2021. President Donald Trump continues to trail Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the polls. The Republican Senate majority looks vulnerable. Last week, Lummis took a day off of her own campaign to knock doors for Colorado Republican Sen. Corey Gardner in Larimer County as he seeks to hold off a viable challenge from former Gov. John Hickenlooper — an acknowledgement that he could use the help.

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Senate majority or not, Lummis maintains she has the tools to get the job done.

“Even Ed Markey, who is just an extremely liberal member of the Senate, he and I found one sliver of one issue that we worked on together in the time I was in the House,” Lummis said in an interview last week. “You’re talking about one of the most liberal members of the House, Ed Markey, and clearly one of the most conservative, me. If he and I can find agreement on an issue, I can find an agreement with almost anybody.”

Energetic differences

The defining issue in the election, it seems, might be energy.

The imperative for change, Ben-David said in an interview last week, is evident in Main Streets across Wyoming: shrinking, rural communities and declining populations of young people, she said, are exemplary of a state that for too long had pledged an unflinching fealty to an economy structured on oil, gas and coal with no backup plan.

“No Democrats have left Wyoming behind,” she said. “Republicans left Wyoming behind. We are electing people that have vested interest in specific industries, and their personal preferences have driven our state to near-oblivion.”

Whether that message resounds with Wyoming’s deep-red electorate and its ties to a century-old legacy in fossil fuels remains questionable. Where Ben-David’s messaging is on finding opportunity amid the collapse, Lummis sees a Democratic administration as an existential threat to an industry that remains an integral player in American life.

The quest to save coal — which continues to falter amid heightened market competition from cheap natural gas and renewable energy — remains a worthy one, she said, even as many utilities have maintained that efforts to temper pollution from the mineral though carbon sequestration and other measures are unfeasible. States such as New York and California remain reliant on fossil fuels despite their own efforts to divest from those sources, while other areas for opportunity — uranium mining, rare earth minerals — have been feverishly pursued by the Trump administration.

Lummis wants that trend to continue — and to pay whatever it takes to make the status quo a cleaner one. But it will take the rest of the world buying in to make it happen.

“This has to be a global effort,” she said in an interview with the Star-Tribune. “What we have seen is when we have entered into accords like the Kyoto accords and the Paris climate agreements, even when we don’t sign, we’re the only ones who comply. Signing a piece of paper that other countries regard as non-binding is not the answer. The answer is to capture carbon, sequester it, and continue to use all the sources of energy that keep us a robust country, and then to share our technological advances with the rest of the world.”

Whichever candidate is elected to the U.S. Senate will also find herself in a position to represent Wyoming at a time of political tumult both within the state and nationally.

While Ben-David took the state’s three-way primary this year by striking an ideological balance between socialist candidate Yana Ludwig and moderate Nathan Wendt, Lummis represents a party in Wyoming that, throughout the past several years, has undergone substantial turbulence of its own.

As Republicans such as Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse have sought to distance themselves from the abrasiveness of Trump and the party’s far-right — and onetime moderates like Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson have embraced them — what role will Lummis play in the party’s future, potentially as the first former Freedom Caucus member to ascend to the Senate?

With numerous other alums of the caucus now in high-profile roles, Lummis said she believes there is evidence her brand of conservatism has a broader, national appeal.

“Sen. (Mitch) McConnell and I have been extremely candid with each other,” she said of the current Senate Majority Leader. “He knows that behind the scenes, I’m going to try and twist his arm off to save the taxpayers of this nation money. But I’m not going to go out and trash him personally on the floor of the US Senate. I prefer to function behind the scenes, especially when I’m not in total agreement with people of my own party.”