CODY - In a conservative town in one of the country's most conservative states, the Democrat running for Vice President Dick Cheney's old House seat isn't having a hard time finding supporters.
"Oh, you have to win, you just have to," said an elderly woman who answers the door as Gary Trauner canvasses a tree-lined block in Cody. "Somebody's got to do something for this country."
Another neighbor raking leaves in his yard waves Trauner away as he approaches, saying he already has his vote. One man, Dave Warden, heard the Democrat was in the area and approaches him, asking to have his picture taken with the candidate. "We need some new blood, new ideas," Warden said.
Trauner is running neck-and-neck with Republican Cynthia Lummis, a former state treasurer and legislator, to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Barbara Cubin. Though it may seem unlikely in this fiercely Republican state, he has a real shot at becoming the first Democrat to win Wyoming's only House seat since 1978, when Cheney replaced Democrat Teno Roncalio.
In 2006, Trauner came within half of a percent of defeating Cubin. He has campaigned for the seat ever since, working hard to separate himself from the national Democratic party, championing gun rights and saying he will fight for Wyoming's lucrative energy industry.
He compares himself with popular Gov. Dave Freudenthal, the only Democrat to hold a top office in Wyoming in the past decade.
"We are in a lot of the same places in issues and in attitude, so if I can let people see that, it could be a big help," Trauner said.
Mid-October polls show the race tied, and Trauner has held a consistent fundraising edge over Lummis, a former state treasurer and state legislator. Lummis recently put $100,000 of her own money into the fight, and national Republicans are clearly concerned about the race, having invested more than three times that amount into Wyoming in the past week.
Trauner, who grew up outside New York City and now lives near tony Jackson Hole, still faces obstacles. Two years ago voters were frustrated with Cubin, whose popularity suffered while she tended to her ill husband and missed more floor votes than nearly everyone else in Congress.
"I have my own record, and I am my own person," Lummis said of the comparisons to Cubin. "I have a record of working hard and showing up for work."
Republicans outnumber Democrats two to one in Wyoming, and many of them feel that Lummis - a Cheyenne attorney who grew up in a longtime ranching family just outside Cheyenne - better represents the state's voters. Holding statewide office, she has name recognition, and the state's coffers flourished during her tenure.
In Cody, the hometown of former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, some voters feel that Lummis will be closer to the state's oil industry. Jim and Pam Betters, parents of two sons who work in oil fields, say they worry that Trauner is too close to environmentalists.
But another Cody Republican is switching sides to vote for Trauner.
"I've met Cynthia Lummis before and I think she would also do a good job," said Bucky Hall, a Republican Park County commissioner. "I'm willing to give Gary a shot just for the change."
Around the state, many voters have been struggling with the decision.
In a coffee shop in Lander, Jeff Hutson said he considers Trauner more of an "outsider" to the state, but he is uncertain about Lummis' leadership qualities. Stan Fairbank of Casper, a Republican, said he feels Trauner understands Wyoming, and he likes him more than he did two years ago, but he agrees with Lummis on many issues.
In Gillette, coal industry worker Warren Evan said he wants to know more about how each candidate will promote coal before he decides.
William Pidgeon, a retired mining industry worker in Gillette, said he voted for Cubin in the past but is concerned about Lummis' proposal to partially privatize Social Security.
Trauner has hammered Lummis on that issue, though Lummis has repeatedly said her proposal would only affect those who have not yet entered the work force or who were born after a certain date.
To win, Lummis will need to have a strong showing in rural, highly Republican counties like Crook, in the northeastern part of the state. Even downtown Sundance, Crook's county seat, appears undecided, as two neighboring businesses display rival signs for Trauner and Lummis.
Suzette Moline, a local Farm Bureau insurance agent who knows Lummis personally, is wearing a button for the Republican candidate as she works. She said she's a strong supporter of Lummis because she's "a Wyoming girl" and she will make a "phenomenal team" with the state's two Republican senators in Washington.
Next door, Pat Goodson, part owner of an engineering and consulting firm, is a registered Republican voting for Trauner. She said she thinks he is running a more positive campaign.
"I think people are tired of negative campaigning," she said.
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