Open Senate Seat Yields Political Quandary

Politics are pretty personal in Wyoming; after all, the Cowboy State is home to only about 515,000 folks. So the process of filling the Senate seat left vacant by the June 4 death of Craig Thomas feels pretty personal, too.

The Wyoming GOP is advertising the job on its website and is asking interested Republican citizens to fill out an application and submit a cover letter and resume for review by members of the Republican Party.

Under Wyoming law, if a senator leaves office before the term has expired, the seat remains in the party's hands, at least temporarily. The governor is tasked with notifying the party of the vacancy, and then a "Central Committee," which in this case consists of 71 GOP members, must choose three suitable candidates to fill the seat within 15 days.

The governor, regardless of party affiliation, has the final say and will choose from the three candidates within five days of the committee's selection. This means Wyoming will have a new Republican senator by June 20.

Between now and then, though, the politics will be interesting. Wyoming GOP Chairman Fred Parady is asking interested candidates to submit their applications by Thursday evening at 5 p.m.; the Central Committee will meet June 19 to vote.

But the state's current governor, Dave Freudenthal, is a Democrat. Freudenthal spokesman Rob Black said he could not comment on just exactly how the governor plans to go about choosing Thomas's successor from among those Republican choices.

But Bill Luckett, the communications director for the Wyoming Democratic Party, said he didn't think Freudenthal would try to play politics.

"I think we can all be assured that the governor is going to pick who he believes is the best person for the job," Luckett said.

There has been no shortage of speculation on whom Wyoming Republicans will nominate or what sort of tactical approach they'll take.

University of Wyoming political science Prof. James D. King said the party might nominate one prominent candidate and two lesser-known possibilities, in hopes that Freudenthal will choose the well-known figure. Or the committee might nominate three candidates who will not run for election to the seat next year.

State law stipulates that the person appointed must face voters in the next general election, in November 2008. Whoever wins the seat in that election would remain in office until the end of the late senator's term, January 2013.

And who's out there wanting the job? Well, lots of folks. Or lots of speculation anyway.

Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president, won't deny that she might be a candidate.

And those who have already applied include former Wyoming U.S. Attorney Matt Mead, state Rep. Colin Simpson of Cody, state Sen. John Barrasso of Casper, and former state GOP chair Tom Sansonetti of Cheyenne.

Others who could throw their hats in the ring include former state treasurer Cynthia Lummis, former legislator Frank Moore, state Sen. Eli Bebout, and state Treasurer Joe Meyer.

By Nikki Schwab