In one of the many news reports about Liz Cheney's decision to end her bid for the U.S. Senate, Gov. Matt Mead was quoted as saying, "Name recognition and dynasties — that just doesn't fly in Wyoming."
He was trying to explain why the 47-year-old former State Department official, who also happens to be the daughter of Dick Cheney (a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Wyoming for six terms before becoming vice president), didn't catch fire with local voters. Mead's implication was that Wyoming voters think for themselves and aren't swayed by such trivial concerns as family lineage.
But the truth is, dynasties don't actually do so badly in Wyoming. Relatives of previous officeholders don't always win when they run, but they don't always lose either. Mead's grandfather, it turns out, served as both governor and senator (as the New York Times story noted). Former Sen. Alan K. Simpson's father was both governor and senator as well, and his brother Pete served for several years as a member of the state Legislature.
This is not just a Wyoming phenomenon. Americans like dynasties. Being the wife of a president (like Hillary Rodham Clinton) or the son of a president (like John Quincy Adams or George W. Bush) or a senator (like Al Gore) may not guarantee a future in politics, but it doesn't appear to hurt.
Liz Cheney's real problem was probably not a popular backlash against her famous name. Of more significance, we suspect, was her belief that she could waltz into a state where she had not lived for many decades, purchase a house (which she did in 2012) and run for office against a popular incumbent on the strength of her family ties. The Cheney name may be famous in Wyoming, but it was not lost on voters that she went to high school in Virginia, college in Colorado and law school in Illinois. She lived in the Washington, D.C., area until the Senate race began and would have ended up there again pretty quickly had she won.
There were plenty of other missteps that could have led to her drop in the polls, including her very public spat with her lesbian sister, Mary, over the issue of same-sex marriage. There was a disagreement between the Cheneys and the popular former Sen. Simpson. There was her decision to run not for a local seat but directly for the U.S. Senate in her first bid for public office.
When she withdrew from the race Monday, Cheney cited "serious health issues" in her family.
We disagreed with plenty of the positions she took; she ran to the right of a solidly conservative incumbent. But that's not the point. The point is that her effort to win the hearts of the people of Wyoming without really being one of them was ham-fisted and presumptuous — and, unlike Hillary Clinton's successful carpetbagger race for U.S. Senate in New York in 2000, it was recognized as such by the voters. Frankly, that's heartening.