Liz Cheney: I shall return
By: Alexander Burns
February 2, 2014 07:01 AM EST
On Jan. 6, within hours of confirming her plans to leave the Wyoming Senate race, Republican Liz Cheney gathered her aides and advisers on a conference call to thank them for their hard work – and to put them on notice for the future.
The former State Department official told her team that she had decided to end her campaign for personal reasons, the same explanation she offered the press. In private, Liz Cheney gave a clearer indication of her continuing political aspirations.
One listener recalled the candidate’s message, paraphrasing her words: “At some point, I will be running for something else. This isn’t the right time for my family.” A second listener confirmed the general message she expressed on the call.
Since she dropped her GOP primary challenge to incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, Cheney has been neither seen nor heard in the world of national politics. A onetime Fox News contributor who made a name for herself defending the national security policies championed by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney has vanished from public life as abruptly as she burst upon the scene of Wyoming electoral politics earlier this year. She has not spoken to reporters and did not respond to an interview request. Cheney’s campaign chief, Kara Ahern, has also “gone dark,” several Republicans said.
Cheney’s friends and political allies say it’s a temporary condition, brought on by the traumatic – and publicly unreported – family events that prompted her to exit the Senate race. Contrary to the perception in Washington that Cheney was essentially laughed out of politics thanks to her rocky Senate bid, no one close to the candidate or her family mistakes Cheney’s present silence for a long-term departure from the electoral arena.
Quietly, over the last few weeks, Cheney and other members of her family have taken steps to tend to her small but powerful political circle. The former candidate has reached out to major contributors – in Wyoming and elsewhere – to express her appreciation. Lynne Cheney, the former second lady of the United States, has also made a few calls of her own.
Washington attorney Terrence O’Donnell, who contributed $10,000 to the pro-Cheney group Cowboy PAC, said he expects Liz Cheney will seek office again down the line. A former Ford administration official, O’Donnell said he had “heard from the family” since Cheney exited the race, though he declined to give specifics on private conversations.
“I know that Liz was very optimistic and focused on the race and very much wanted to serve in the Senate and bring forth her views on policy,” O’Donnell said. “[Dick Cheney] was very upbeat about the candidacy and very confident that she’d be a terrific senator. I believe he fully respects and supports her decision not to run this time.”
Jack Oliver, who served as finance vice chairman of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, was more definitive. “I think Liz hit a pause button on what is going to turn out to be a successful career. There are a lot of people who are loyal to this family,” Oliver said. “She’s not going anywhere. She’ll be back for another race, another day.”
If the Senate race famously took a toll on the Cheney family – Liz Cheney’s sister, Mary Cheney, disavowed her sister’s campaign because of its stance on gay marriage – the larger community of operatives and donors in Cheney-world remains very much intact. The sense of destiny that appeared to propel her candidacy, and that plainly irritated Republican Party leaders in Washington, has not faded within the circle of close Cheney allies.
The financial contributors who powered Cheney’s campaign aren’t going anywhere either, though the ex-candidate is returning the $2 million she raised for the race, rather than keeping it on hand for a later campaign. Cowboy PAC raised $38,500 for Cheney’s race, including big contributions from several of Dick Cheney’s fellow Ford White House alums and former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci. Those contributions, based on longtime personal friendships, would presumably be back for a second try.
And so, Republicans say, would Dick and Lynne Cheney; family friends say the former second lady is strongly supportive of a future run for office for her daughter. During the Senate race, even as divisive as it was within the Cheney clan and the small community of Wyoming politics, Dick Cheney attended a number of fundraisers across the country, in cities including St. Louis and Dallas. He participated “very occasionally” in campaign calls,” one Liz Cheney adviser said, though whatever advice he gave his daughter was largely offered in private.
In some high-dollar fundraising events, donors were given copies of Dick Cheney’s latest book, “Heart: An American Medical Odyssey,” describing his battle with cardiac disease that ended in a successful heart transplant.
“He’s very eloquent. He talked about his book and what he’s been doing, and his health, and mostly answered a lot of questions,” said one donor who attended a small fundraiser. “She’ll return on another day to address the election process when her family situation allows her to do that.”
If Liz Cheney seems determined to run again someday, it’s not obvious when she’ll have the chance. Enzi’s Senate seat won’t be up again until 2020; Wyoming’s two other federal lawmakers, Sen. John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, have given no indication that they are tired of serving in Congress.
In theory, there are state positions Cheney could seek: the governorship in Wyoming will likely be an open seat in 2018 and there are other constitutional offices that would seem to be within her reach. But it’s far from certain that a Republican whose career has been defined by federal debates – and national security issues specifically – would have interest in serving as a state treasurer or county commissioner.
Several Republicans supportive of Cheney suggested that those are precisely the jobs she should run for if she wants to keep her options open for the future – that she could easily win a school board seat this year if she wanted to, just to show that she can win an election.
At least some in Cheney’s home state – she moved there from Virginia in 2012 – believe her upstart Senate race has created obstacles for her down the line. The rifts from the Senate race, said Wyoming Republican Bill Cubin, “are going to linger.”
Cubin, who helped start a super PAC defending Enzi, said there was a sense in Wyoming that some on the right “were using this race as a way to stick it to the Republican establishment. I think there’s also been some personality differences between the state Republican central committee that this race exacerbated.”
It’s unclear, even to Republicans close to the Cheney family, whether the most intense feud of the campaign, between the two Cheney sisters, has reached any kind of resolution. Friends say Mary Cheney seemed relieved that the Senate race drama reached an early end, but beyond that details of the family relationship are scarce.
Mary Cheney did not respond to a request for comment.
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, a longtime Cheney family friend who publicly feuded with the Cheneys during the race, said that for his part he was prepared to let bygones be bygones.
“She’s a very able person, Liz, and she’ll have lots of things to do in our future. And nothing will rupture my relationship with her dad,” Simpson said. “I would think, obviously, with her passion for this race, that she would be thinking of [running] again at some point when it’s more appropriate for her family.”