By Joel Funk
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE – The candidate field in the Republican primary in Wyoming’s U.S. Senate field just got a little bigger, as Jackson’s Dave Dodson jumped onto the ticket Friday.
Dodson was previously running as an Independent candidate in the race, where U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., will defend his seat in Congress. Wyoming’s junior senator will be a powerful incumbent, but as the candidate filing period wrapped up Friday, five Republicans had filed to run against Barrasso. Gary Trauner of Wilson is the race’s sole Democrat and therefore will coast to the Nov. 6 general election.
Running as an Independent candidate never meant Dodson didn’t consider himself a conservative in one of the nation’s reddest states. He touted himself a Republican in the ilk of President Ronald Reagan and former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson, R-Wyo., when he kicked off his campaign. Though he said he would caucus with Republicans if elected to the Senate, Dodson said he wanted to be considered independent because he wouldn’t walk the GOP line.
But over the last three months, Dodson said the message he’s heard from conservative voters is that he risked giving Trauner an advantage in the general election if he ran as an Independent.
“Republican voters in the state asked me not to risk a three-person race,” he said.
Despite his decision to affiliate with the Republican brand, the values of Dodson’s campaign “haven’t changed an inch,” he said Friday. Challenges in health care, political corruption in Washington, D.C., and the Wyoming economy will remain Dodson’s focus in the coming months. But rather than moving straight to the general election, Dodson must now overcome a vote split by five candidates looking to unseat the incumbent.
Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne criticized Dodson’s candidacy in a statement in February, calling it an insult.
“In announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Mr. Dodson has already insulted the Republican Party and shown himself to be a hypocrite,” Eathorne’s statement read. “Dodson is running as an Independent, claiming to be Republican, sounding like a Democrat.”
Eathorne threw his support behind Barrasso in the statement.
The criticism, Dodson said, likely came from a place of supporting the established GOP candidate against a third-party challenger. Now that he’s running within the party structure, however, Dodson said the GOP “owes the voters a fair fight.”
Dodson was adamant that any notion he is trying to be politically advantageous by joining the Republican race is incorrect.
“I’m not a calculated career politician,” he said. “I’m a businessperson, a Wyomingite, that just wants to make some changes. Any suggestion it’s a political calculation is giving me too much credit.”
Accusations that Dodson is using the conservative label to infiltrate the congressional seat with a progressive view are also dubious, he said. At the State Republican Party Convention in Laramie in April, Barrasso pointed to Dodson’s history of campaign contributions, including Democrats, as evidence he’s not true to his stated values. But Dodson said there are reasonable explanations as to why he donated to President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign and the 2016 presidential primary campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“I gave money to Mitt Romney twice, and my now-ex-wife asked that we give the same amount to the other candidate, which seemed fair,” he said.
“My daughter, a political science major, asked me twice to support the Democratic (primary) candidate (in 2016). I love my daughter, I support her. It wasn’t a political calculation – I’m not a career politician, I’m just a dad and a businessman.
“It’s interesting how quick politicians are to mislead the voters by failing to mention I’ve given money to (U.S. Sen.) John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Romney.”
Wyoming’s primary election will take place Aug. 21.