CHEYENNE - Democrat Gary Trauner has enjoyed the advantages of running a second time for Wyoming's seat in the U.S. House, despite the agonizingly close loss that kept him out of the office two years ago.
The 49-year-old Wilson businessman said his higher profile has allowed him to focus on campaign issues as he's traveled around Wyoming, knocking on doors, speaking at candidate forums and addressing business and citizens' groups.
"I think I spent most of the (2006) campaign, if not all of it, introducing myself to people, number one, and then trying to convince them that in fact I was a serious, credible candidate, number two," Trauner said. "I think that is not as much of an issue this time around."
Trauner fell just short in 2006, losing to incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Cubin by 1,102 votes, or half a percentage point. This time around, Cubin isn't seeking re-election and Trauner is running against Republican nominee Cynthia Lummis, a former state treasurer and state legislator.
"I think people are more fed up this time around than they were last time around, just with what's going on in our country," Trauner said. "My challenge obviously is to get people that don't pay a lot of attention and tend to go party line not to do that. All I can do is go out there and give them a clear choice."
Trauner has cast himself as a moderate Democrat, touting his career in business, his support for gun rights and advocacy for an energy plan that incorporates conventional sources like coal and sustainable sources like wind. He also says government should stay out of Americans' personal lives and health decisions; he's for abortion rights.
Trauner's close showing in the 2006 race caught the attention of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has targeted Wyoming's U.S. House seat as one of its "Red to Blue" races. The group has given Trauner more than $15,000 - a fraction of the $1.3 million he has raised - according to the latest information from the Federal Election Commission.
Trauner said he welcomes national Democratic support, but not if it comes with strings attached.
"Basically, I looked at them and I said, 'I need your money, your financial support, because it makes a difference,' " Trauner said. " 'But if you're going to tell me how to run the race, you're going to tell me what I need to think or what issues should be important to me in Wyoming, don't need it.' "
As he makes his case to voters, Trauner is often critical of a faction of the conservative movement that he says has characterized government as "inherently evil." He blames that point of view for the economic crisis gripping the world's economy and has said the government should regulate financial markets to ensure transparency and accountability.
"The problem here is that we have been told that the free market will solve all," Trauner said at a recent forum. "We've had a philosophy in this country, the people running this country in the last 10 years or so - I liken it to a football game: We got rid of all the rules and we took the refs off the field, and we told the players to go play. And when you do that, you can get chaos."
After growing up in suburban New York and starting his career working in consulting and finance for two major public companies, Trauner and his wife, Terry, moved to Jackson Hole 18 years ago because of the "lifestyle and values that we thought Wyoming had to offer," Trauner said. The couple has two sons, ages 15 and 9.
In Wyoming, Trauner started a consulting firm to advise startup companies. In that role, Trauner said he has worked with companies involved in pursuits as diverse as building ice rinks at shopping malls and selling mail-order wine.
Trauner also served three years as vice president of operations and finance for Teton Trust Co., a money management firm, and helped establish OneWest.net, an Internet service provider that sold out after five years to a bigger company. Since his 2006 run for Congress, Trauner has co-founded a pet food company called Mulligan's Stew Pet Food.
Trauner said his business experience taught him two main lessons that would be valuable as a congressman. First, he said, a good businessman has to be "color blind," in the sense that he will work with people he doesn't necessarily agree with on all issues.
"You learn to listen to people really well and figure out what works and what doesn't work," Trauner said. "And in D.C., that's not the way we work our government, right? If you're a D, you don't listen to R's and if you're an R you don't listen to D's, and nothing happens, or nothing good happens, generally."
Second, Trauner said his experience working in startups has instilled a tenacity that he would take to Washington.
"I mean, things go up and things go down, it's not easy, especially in startups where you're on the edge, a lot of the time, of survival," he said. "The ability to sort of band together with other people, find ways to get things done, find common ground, and frankly, do the hard grunt work of governing, matters."
Trauner has also held elected positions in Jackson Hole, including serving on the Teton County school board from 2002 to 2006, and on the board of a local water and sewer district.
Janine Teske, who was elected to the school board at the same time, said Trauner was good at forging consensus in a community with "loud opinions." Trauner served as board president during a two-year period in which the board fired an unpopular superintendent and hired a new one.
"You can reach a point where consensus isn't necessarily possible, and so then what is the best solution? And I think Gary did a marvelous job of working with people to make those kinds of things come out," said Teske, a registered Republican who said she plans to vote for Trauner.