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Pete Gosar
Democratic candidate for governor Pete Gosar hands out campaign cards during the annual Central Wyoming Fair Parade recently in downtown Casper. Gosar, a former University of Wyoming football player, is running his first political campaign. (Courtesy photo)

CASPER — Stifling in a pair of black slacks below a blistering mid-morning July sun, Pete Gosar hustled along the lines of people straddling Casper’s Center Street for the annual Central Wyoming Fair Parade.

“Pete Gosar, running for governor,” he said, handing out campaign cards that looked a bit like University of Wyoming football schedules. “Here’s some shameless self-promotion.”

“Are you a ball player?” one kid asked him quizzically, looking at the card’s black-and-white picture of two football players colliding.

“I used to be,” Gosar said. “A long time ago.”

In 1986, a sandy-haired UW freshman from Pinedale tried out for the Cowboys football team. During his four years as an outside linebacker, he won four varsity letters and was named twice to the Western Athletic Conference’s academic first team.

Every year, UW now presents the Gosar Family Award to the year’s best walk-on player in honor of Pete and his two brothers, who were also walk-ons.

Now, Gosar has again come out of nowhere to take on a new challenge — a bid to become Wyoming’s next governor.

His first challenge is to win the Democratic primary over four other candidates, including Leslie Petersen, the recently resigned state Democratic chairwoman who has advantages in several basic campaign essentials: money, name recognition and campaign experience. Even if Gosar scores a primary upset, he’ll then face an even better-funded and better-known Republican candidate in an election year that’s shaping up to hurt Democrats nationwide.

That leaves Gosar with the one option that helped him make the cut once before: outwork the competition.

“What you do as a walk-on is you stay another day,” Gosar said. “And people will tell you, it can’t happen for you because that means too small, too slow, you don’t have what it takes. And you just stay around another day.”

But, because neither Pete nor his brother Kevin, who serves as campaign manager, has been involved with a political campaign before, they’re learning Campaigning 101 on the fly.

Halfway through the parade, the wind picked up, tearing off the Gosar campaign signs and American flags that had been fixed to an old Lincoln Continental.

“Welcome to the Gosar campaign!” Kevin Gosar said to a reporter, laughing as he and others hurriedly grabbed the signs, eventually carrying them by hand for the rest of the parade.

The parade finally over, the Gosars drove over to the Parkway Plaza Hotel for a lunchtime Democratic Men’s Club candidate forum.

Gosar is running on a motley crew of issues, from attacking Wyoming’s gender wage disparity to offering child-care services for state employees to seeking a more progressive state severance tax.

And, when he’s asked about an issue or topic, Gosar, despite a lack of political experience, always tries to find a way to mention some related life experience he’s had.

If asked about education, Gosar will talk about his days as a high school teacher. If asked about jobs, he’ll bring up how hard it was for his father, an oil field geologist, to support a wife and 10 kids in Wyoming’s boom-and-bust economy.

He also frequently draws attention to his football career, explaining how his walk-on success is a metaphor for his chances in this campaign.

But, while his football career gives him a certain amount of name recognition around the state, Gosar’s task now is to show people that he’s not just a jock.

“You get pulled in, and you talk to them if you see the foothold” of being UW football fans, Gosar said.

“But then they may see this is a guy who talks about issues and talks about them plainly.”

These days, Gosar works as operations officer for the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s aeronautics division. He also is a WYDOT senior pilot.

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At the heart of Gosar’s campaign is a populist desire to champion the little person against the rich and powerful.

“This is our state. And, for too long, it’s benefited a few at the expense of the many,” he said, talking to a couple of volunteers at Metro Coffee Shop after the forum.

Before entering the race for governor, Gosar said, he “was part of the problem.”

“Because I wasn’t involved. I voted, and I tried to be attuned to candidates,” he said.

“But that became part of the reason I’m running for governor — there’s a lot of stuff going on in my state. And people don’t see it, but it should be seen.”

Whatever Gosar’s fortunes, he said he plans to remain involved with Democratic Party politics.

“Coming to the party, it’s kind of been a wide awaking for me because it wasn’t as organized, we’re finding, as it could be,” he told the volunteers, LeRon Coleman and Amanda Roy of Casper.

“And it needs that. Because already (the voter registration ratio) is 2-to-1 Republicans to Democrats.

“You’ve got to go out and get as many Democrats as you can get.”

Contact Jeremy Pelzer at 307-632-1244 or jeremy.pelzer@trib.com.

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