CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Although many state and national political observers believe Wyoming's senior U.S. senator, Mike Enzi, is invulnerable to criticism of his voting record in his campaign for a fourth term, some disagree.
The 69-year-old former state legislator and Gillette mayor faces a formidable challenge for the Republican nomination next year from Liz Cheney, the older daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Liz Cheney, 46, is a former commentator for FOX News, an attorney, a strong conservative and a staunch critic of President Barack Obama. She and her family moved to Wilson about a year ago from Virginia.
Enzi has been often described as a low-profile, well-liked senator who receives high marks from conservative organizations and has done little or nothing to warrant being usurped by a newcomer to the state.
But Dave Marcum, political science instructor at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, said he doesn't believe Enzi is as invulnerable as others claim.
"If you go back and look at his voting record in the Bush administration, the big cost programs that drove up the debt significantly, Mike Enzi voted for," Marcum said.
Those yes votes included the expansion of Medicare Part B, the original TARP legislation and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"All these programs drove up the debt significantly and gave rise to the Tea Party movement," Marcum said.
The Troubled Asset Relief Program of 2008 originally authorized expenditures of $700 billion for the government to purchase assets and equity from financial institutions to strengthen the financial sector.
Marcum said Enzi and the other members of Wyoming's congressional delegation, Sen. John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, also are vulnerable to the charge that they didn't do enough to insulate Wyoming from the effects of the sequester.
"Then there's this Two Elk thing," Marcum said. "Here you have this huge ... program and the only result it produced is a high salary for the CEO and for Enzi's son."
The Two Elk project was initially proposed in 1996 as an $800 million coal-fired power plant south of Gillette that was supposed to begin generating electricity by the end of 1999. For a variety of reasons, including the economic slowdown, the project never was developed.
Enzi's son, Brad Enzi, has been one of the principals in the Two Elk effort.
The Department of Justice, according to published reports, is conducting an investigation into some alleged accounting irregularities related to the stalled project.
Marcum said he would be surprised if Liz Cheney doesn't raise the Two Elk issue during the Republican primary election campaign that ends in August 2014.
But Sen. Enzi voted against the stimulus that went to fund Two Elk, spokesman Coy Knobel said Wednesday in an email.
Knobel also defended the senator's voting record.
"He has voted to support our troops, but his overall record is of voting for and sponsoring bills that will reduce spending and debt. You can ask the National Taxpayers Union, which said that Senator Enzi has the top money-saving plan out there — his Penny Plan," Knobel wrote.
Enzi advocates cutting one penny for every dollar the government spends every year for three years to balance the budget.
As for the sequester, Knobel noted it was proposed by the president, who, after it went into effect, directed different parts of his administration to "make it hurt."
Enzi, he added, has advocated for prioritizing spending and cutting the worst first.
Pete Gosar, chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party, said Enzi has not been consistent in his votes.
It is easy, he said, to follow the logic of someone who has been a deficit hawk all along.
"But to have no problems with increased spending when there's a Republican administration and all of a sudden to find religion on the deficit when a Democratic administration is involved, it makes people wonder," Gosar said.
He said another questionable Enzi vote was against the Violence Against Women Act.
Yet Gosar, a state pilot who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010, said Liz Cheney would be no better in the Senate seat.
Gosar said he is certain the Democratic Party will have a candidate who will be in sharp contrast to whoever wins the Republican primary. But he offered no names and said he was too busy with the job as state chairman to become a candidate himself.
"It's going to take a lot of money," Gosar said. "This is the problem with politics in America today. You have to have millions of dollars to be competitive. It allows someone to come into a state and try to take a Senate seat."
Knobel said in response to Gosar: "When you have a long record of service in and for Wyoming, when you get things done, people are naturally going to be able to cherry-pick a few things out to criticize, especially when it’s the head of the opposing party."