CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Wyoming's John Barrasso, a rising power among U.S. Senate Republicans, coasted to victory over two minor challengers in Tuesday's primary election and will face Albany County Commissioner Tim Chesnut in November.
Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming's sole voice in the U.S. House of Representatives, faced no opposition in her GOP primary but vowed to campaign hard for re-election against Democrat Chris Henrichsen to call attention to national issues in the presidential election.
Barrasso, seeking re-election for the first time, handily defeated Emmett A. Mavy of Alpine, a management consultant, and Thomas Bleming of Lusk, a self-described "soldier of fortune."
Barrasso's Washington profile has risen as chairman of the Senate Republican Party Committee. A surgeon, he has made his mark as a leading opponent of the federal health care overhaul.
"I'm going to continue to run a positive campaign focused on the future, traveling around the state, and listening to what people have to say," Barrasso said. "It's what I've done since the day I was sworn into the Senate. And I'm going to continue to do that, because elections aren't reward systems, they're job applications."
Chesnut, of Laramie, defeated perennial candidate Al Hamburg of Torrington and William Bryk, a New York attorney who has filed as a protest candidate in several states, in the Democratic primary.
Chesnut said he wants to end overspending in Washington, work to stop the war in Afghanistan and get both political parties to stop bickering and deliver straight talk to Americans about complicated issues like health care.
"There is a lot of misinformation out there," he said. "This country is so split right now and not working, and a lot of the country is concerned about what's going to be shoved down their throat."
Recent filings with the Federal Elections Commission show Barrasso has received roughly $3.4 million in contributions while spending $1.1 million. Chesnut said last week he had raised a little over $800 in the race and spent more than $300.
Chesnut said he planned to travel extensively throughout the state but has no illusions about pitting his tiny bankroll against Barrasso's campaign war chest. "I'm not delusional about that," he said.
Lummis, Wyoming chairwoman for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign, said she believes the November election is about choosing between two possible futures for the country.
"Will we continue to manage our decline, which is what we're doing now, or will we choose an opportunity society? And I don't mean equal outcomes for everyone. I mean equal opportunity for everyone," Lummis said.
Henrichsen, a political science instructor from Casper, said he will focus on jobs and other issues important to Wyoming families.
"I think that the chief concern should not be party majorities. It should not be Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Our chief concern should be Wyoming families," said Henrichsen, who has distanced himself from the national Democratic Party.
In state legislative races, Republican primary candidates far outnumbered Democratic contenders -- underscoring the weakness of the Democratic Party in this overwhelmingly Republican state and signaling that the GOP will keep its control of both chambers next year.
Republicans outnumber Democrats 26-4 in the Senate and 50-10 in the House. Out of 15 Wyoming State Senate seats being contested Tuesday, Republicans ran in 14 primary races and Democrats just three. Republicans were running in 57 of 60 House primary races and Democrats in 22.
Democrats last controlled both houses of the Wyoming Legislature in 1936, according to the Wyoming Secretary of State's website.
Some of the hardest-fought campaigns featured veteran Republican incumbents and conservative challengers.
Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, the longest-serving member of the Legislature, beat back an aggressive primary challenge from Rep. Bob Brechtel of Casper in a race dominated by discussion of abortion and the federal health care law.
"I think the opposition to me is more hard right on the social issues," Scott said.
Brechtel has unsuccessfully pushed legislation to restrict access to abortion services. He also noted in his campaign that Scott, chairman of the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, effectively killed a Brechtel bill that would have made it a crime for any state employee to implement the Affordable Care Act.
Scott, who was first elected to the House in 1979, said recently that he killed Brechtel's bill because he thought it would make the state look extreme and silly. Brechtel couldn't be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Scott said Tuesday he faced criticism in the campaign from the National Rifle Association for voting against legislation allowing Wyoming citizens to carry concealed handguns without a permit. The proposal recently went into effect.
"It was a close election, and I think it should be looked at as a reminder to people of what can happen if you don't vote," Scott said.