WASHINGTON – Liz Cheney’s sudden exit from her Wyoming Senate race brought a surprise end to a high-profile campaign that touched off a bitter fight within the Republican Party as well as a public spat with her lesbian sister over gay marriage.
The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney cited unspecified “serious health issues” in her family rather than her uphill race to unseat three-term GOP Sen. Mike Enzi in her announcement on Monday.
“My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and they will always be my overriding priority,” she said in a statement. One of Cheney’s daughters has Type 1 diabetes.
Cheney, who moved with her husband and five children from Virginia to Wyoming to run for the seat, offered voters a familiar name – her father served as the state’s congressman for 10 years – but faced solid opposition from mainstream Republicans who rallied around Enzi as he fought off her challenge from within the GOP.
The 47-year-old Cheney – a former State Department official, founder of a Washington nonprofit organization and onetime Fox News contributor – cast herself as an outsider and the 69-year-old Enzi as a lawmaker co-opted by his years in Washington.
Her campaign, however, failed to attract the backing of the major outside conservative groups such as the Senate Conservatives Fund and Club for Growth that have endorsed challengers from the right in some other Republican primaries.
So a clash between tea party activists and establishment Republicans never materialized against the conservative and popular Enzi. He had served as Gillette, Wyo., mayor for seven years and a state legislator for 10 before his election to the U.S. Senate, and he cruised to re-election with 76 percent of the vote in 2008.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee and Wyoming’s other senator, John Barrasso, had loudly proclaimed their support for Enzi, and GOP senators from other states also stood behind their colleague. Although Cheney’s fundraising has been robust, polls showed her trailing by double digits.
In November, Cheney said she opposed gay marriage, sparking a public feud with her sister, Mary, who is a lesbian and married to a longtime companion, Heather Poe.
Mary Cheney wrote on Facebook: “’Liz – this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree, you’re just wrong – and on the wrong side of history.”
Poe went farther. She wrote that Liz Cheney had always supported the lesbian couple and their two children, and “to have her say she doesn’t support our right to marry is offensive.”
The high-profile dispute led Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, to weigh in, saying their daughters loved each other, but “Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage.”