Barrasso widens money lead with out-of-state backers

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By Angus M. Thuermer Jr., WyoFile.com

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso raised $2.7 million for his reelection campaign in the last three quarters, only 5.5 percent of which appears to come from Wyoming-based donors.

Wyoming individuals and political action committees donated $152,270 to Barrasso in the last quarter of 2017 and the first half of 2018, according to WyoFile calculations from FEC filings. Filings are current through June 30.

The 5.5 percent of Wyoming-based contributions marks an uptick in the portion of contributions from his home state compared to the beginning of the 2017-2018 election cycle. During the first three quarters of 2017, Barrasso appears to have raised only 2.2 percent of $2.9 million.

Barrasso’s fundraising from October 2017 through June 2018 outpaces his nearest opponent, Dave Dodson, by more than $1.6 million.

Barrasso raised $2,755,796 million during that period, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Dodson, a Teton County resident, raised $1,116,134 since launching his campaign in 2018.

Four other challengers in the Republican primary — John Holtz, Anthony L. Van Risseghem, Charlie Hardy and Roque ”Rocky” De La Fuente — do not appear in FEC reports for this election cycle, indicating they did not report any direct contributions before June 30.

Democrat Gary Trauner of Wilson is the sole candidate for the nomination of his party. He will meet the winner of the Republican primary in the general election race. He raised $578,405 between December, 2017 and June 30, 2018.

Barrasso had 382 contributions in the last three quarters from donors who listed Wyoming as their home, according to calculations from the FEC filings. Dodson’s six contributors ponied up $282,621 this year, including one $250 contribution from Wyoming.

The candidate donated $56,183 of his own money and loaned his campaign $800,000, FEC filings show. Dodson said first he would run as an independent, then decided to file as a Republican and challenge Barrasso in the GOP primary.

Last year Barrasso’s chief of staff Dan Kunsman said the senator had not begun focusing fundraising in Wyoming. “We expect to add significantly in 2018 to the more than 1,000 individual Wyoming donors since the last election,” he wrote WyoFile at the time. WyoFile did not receive a response to recent requests to Barrasso’s campaign for comment.

But Dodson said he believes the race is competitive. “We’ve done our own polling that confirm[s] this is a real race,” he wrote in an email. He said that internal polling followed an online Casper Star Tribune poll that put him ahead of the incumbent.

Dodson sees other indicators of a close race, including a Barrasso fundraising letter, a Twitter endorsement of Barrasso by President Trump, and radio ads attacking Dodson, the challenger said.

“He’s realized voters are tired of seeing him having his picture taken with Mitch McConnell,” Dodson said.

In the undated fundraising letter headlined “John Barrasso, US Senate,” the incumbent writes “I’m in the thick of a tough race. In a Republican-red state like Wyoming, where Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton by a 3:1 margin, you may find that statement surprising … but it’s true.” WyoFile was unable to confirm that the Senator’s campaign “Friends of John Barrasso” sent the letter (see document below).

A Barrasso donor discounted the letter’s language nevertheless. “Even if he’s ahead by 50 points, that’s not an unusual thing to do,” said Rob Wallace, a Beltway veteran who was, among other things, chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop. Candidates do not want their supporters to become complacent or take a race for granted, Wallace said.

Dodson interpreted Trump’s endorsement as a grasp at straws. It shows the race “slipping through [Barrasso’s] fingers and asking a favor from the White House,” Dodson said. The challenger said he would look forward to working with the president, if elected, “so he can have some legislation to sign.”

Radio attack ads that name him personally are another indication Dodson is in the running, he said. An incumbent wouldn’t mention an opponent’s name unless a contest was close, Dodson said.

“As a result of what we’ve seen in our internal polling and the actions of John Barrasso we’re stepping on the gas because we know this is a winnable race,” Dodson said.

Barrasso has campaigned as a conservative and on the benefits of GOP tax cuts, according to a profile he completed for the Casper Star Tribune. He touted the GOP administration’s reduction of “excessive Obama-era rules and regulations that targeted Wyoming jobs,” and the repeal of parts of the Affordable Care Act. “I helped lead efforts to repeal the individual mandate tax so that you aren’t forced to buy insurance you don’t want or can’t afford,” he wrote.

When he was appointed by Gov. Dave Freudenthal to fill the unexpired term of the late U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, Barrasso shepherded two conservation bills launched by Thomas. The Wyoming Range Legacy Act put large amounts of the Wyoming Range off limits to oil and gas leasing. The Snake River Headwaters Legacy Act protected 387 miles of the Snake River and its tributaries in Wyoming from dam building and degradation.

Protecting the environment is not part of the conservative main course, however. After completing Thomas’s unfinished business, Barrasso turned right and has since earned the chairmanship of the GOP policy committee. His proximity to the center of influence is apparent in his frequent photograph and video appearances standing next to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as McConnell makes comments to the media.

But to Dodson, the incumbent is “among the least productive senators in America.” Barrasso has passed one bill he sponsored — to establish a federal courthouse in Jackson — Dodson said. Teton County has since purchased the building from the federal government.

Barrasso has legislation pending. One bill would revamp the Endangered Species Act. Another would allow Wyoming to drain more water out of Fontenelle Reservoir. He’s a co-sponsor of other legislation, too.

Dodson said 114 pieces of proposed Barrasso legislation have gone nowhere. In addition to Barrasso’s successful courthouse bill, two bills he co-sponsored to mint commemorative coins also became law, Dodson said. “After a decade of service, $2 million in salary, we have two commemorative coins and a courthouse in Wyoming,” Dodson said. “I think we deserve more.”

Meantime the Center for Responsive Politics lists Barrasso as the 14th wealthiest U.S. senator with an estimated net worth of $7.9 million.

Barrasso has spent $1.7 million on his campaign since the beginning of 2017, FEC data says. Friends of John Barrasso raised $4.9 million during that same period.

Dodson has spent $939,857 in operating expenses, FEC filings show.

A Stanford graduate and lecturer in management at the institution’s school of business, Dodson calls himself a “serial entrepreneur,” who has raised money for, bought and managed companies in diverse fields including alarm systems, auto parts and environmental services. He is a founding partner at Futaleufu Partners that runs Project Healthy Children in Honduras.

The son of a school teacher and sugar beet businessman, his youth was “an insulated life in a farming community” near Laporte Colorado, about 35 miles southwest of Cheyenne, Dodson said.

“I’m not beholden to anybody,” Dodson said about his largely self-financed effort. He is running because of “love for my state, concern for my country.”

Barrasso’s years working as a medical doctor, a state legislator and volunteer prepared him to serve in Washington, he wrote in his Casper Star Tribune profile. “These experiences and jobs prepared me to contribute conservative ideas to the broad set of issues and challenges we face,” he wrote. “They taught me the important lessons of hard work and community that lead to solutions closest to the people. These jobs taught me to listen first.”

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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