WASHINGTON — Liz Cheney abruptly ended her campaign to oust a veteran Wyoming senator of her own party Monday, citing “serious health issues” in her family.
The decision by the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney ends a brief, long-shot election bid that tested her father’s clout in the Republican Party and her relationship with her lesbian sister, Mary Cheney, over the issue of same-sex marriage.
A statement by Liz Cheney released Monday did not specify whose health was at risk or the nature of the problem, but implied it involved one of her children.
“My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign, and their health and well-being will always be my overriding priority,” she said.
Cheney, 47, announced in July that she would challenge three-term incumbent Sen. Michael B. Enzi, 69, in the Republican primary, citing the need for a “new generation” of leaders to fight for conservative principles.
Her most immediate problem was reestablishing a connection to Wyoming, where she grew up and which her father once represented in the House of Representatives. She had returned after years of living in the Washington area and struggled to overcome criticism that she had come only to seek office.
A more significant hurdle was developing a case against Enzi, a staunch if low-profile conservative without the apparent liabilities that have inspired primary challenges to other Republican incumbents whom the right deems too moderate. A shift among the party’s grass roots away from Dick Cheney’s neoconservative foreign policy views also loomed as a campaign issue.
The former vice president had been playing an active role in the campaign, recently appearing at a Washington fundraiser to support a “super PAC” being started to boost the effort. He offered pointed criticism of Enzi in interviews, even disputing in one that the two men had been fishing buddies, as the senator had suggested.
Despite efforts by Cheney and her father to build support, many Wyoming Republicans and some of Enzi’s Senate colleagues stood by him. A poll by a Republican super PAC in November, looking ahead to the August primary, found Enzi with a 52-percentage-point lead.
Cheney also had sparked a feud within her own family when she restated her opposition to same-sex marriage, after a conservative super PAC ran a television advertisement that questioned her position.
Her sister, Mary, who is married to a female partner, responded that Cheney was “dead wrong” on the issue and later that she was “on the wrong side of history.”
Dick Cheney and his wife said they were pained to see family divisions that they had “dealt with privately for many years” playing out publicly.
Now, Cheney is citing family issues of a different sort for ending her candidacy.
“Serious health issues have recently arisen in our family, and under the circumstances I have decided to discontinue my campaign,” she said.
The Casper Star-Tribune reported that one of Cheney’s children has Type 1 diabetes and noted that she had canceled some recent campaign appearances.
Regardless of how a prolonged primary fight would have played out, it probably would not have harmed the victor’s ability to win the general election in one of the most solidly Republican states.
In a statement, Enzi said he had “tremendous respect” for Cheney’s decision.
“While it is not always easy, Diana and I have always believed in putting family first,” he said, referring to his wife and offering his thoughts and prayers for Cheney’s family. “I remain as committed as always to the job the people of Wyoming have elected me to do. I look forward to continuing my campaign for reelection in the coming months.”
Marti Halverson, a member of the Wyoming Republican Party’s executive committee who was neutral in the primary, said in an interview that most Republicans in the state were willing to let the race “play out,” even though it was bitter at times.
By cutting her campaign short, Cheney could preserve the ability to make a future run for office in Wyoming.
“I think she’s built up a lot of credibility in the state,” Halverson said. “If she stays in Wyoming, I think her future is bright here.”