The Republican primary race unfolding in Wyoming between incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi and Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is a duel proving itself worthy of the wild west.
Wyoming's a small and (usually) congenial state. The kind of place where "fishing buddies" and family names can go a long way. That is why this GOP primary, a contest of homespun versus homecoming, already tops lists of GOP confrontations to watch ahead of 2014. Though unlike 2012 races in Indiana or Missouri, this Republican primary isn't expected to lead to a Democrat stealing the seat; no matter who tops the August primary, solidly-conservative Wyoming is still expected to send a Republican to Washington.
The aftermath of the bitter contest, however, is starting to splinter the state's Republican Party. Already the race has ripped apart long-time friendships, left local party bosses scratching their heads and attracted outsiders to weigh in.
After 16 years in the Senate, Enzi, a former Gillette, Wyo., mayor and state legislator, is without a doubt fending off his savviest primary challenger yet.
Liz Cheney's got a family pedigree, of course, but her political astuteness and established political team are what have made her a formidable opponent. She has outraised Enzi with more than $1 million in her first quarter, raking in big checks from Republican Party stars like former secretary of defense Donald Rumseld and dad Dick Cheney.
But all the money in the world may not be able to help Liz Cheney navigate around her central obstacle, which is that she doesn't have the long-standing record of service in the state.
Cheney's announcement in July that she would seek the Enzi's seat, shocked Wyomingites who have got a certain affection for the familiar.
"I don't think people are looking to trade Enzi in for someone they don't know or trust," says Liz Brimmer, a GOP strategist and Enzi campaign volunteer in the state. "It's a choice of made-in-Wyoming versus made up in Washington."
Cheney's tried to paint herself as the consummate Washington outsider, but its tough when her name is tied to her father's old-guard GOP legacy. She helped write his memoir, after all.
Cheney's spent the major part of her adult life outside of the "cowboy state," working in Washington at the State Department and then co-founding Keep America Safe, a hawkish foreign policy think tank inside the beltway. Cheney is also no stranger to the cable news circuit where she often appeared to discuss and bolster her family's tough foreign policy positions.
So it's not surprising she's caught a lot of flack for what some allege are shallow roots in Wyoming.
Cheney, who had raised a family just outside of Washington in the suburbs, bought a house outside of Jackson Hole, Wyo., just last year, leaving many to question her motives.
"It looks like pure ego. Buying a pair of cowboy boots doesn't make you a cow girl," Brimmer says.
Cheney's reinforced the outsider stereotype as well - paying property taxes late (although according to a Casper Star-Tribune report Mike Enzi also was late three times paying his property taxes in 1999, 2000 and 2008) and getting an "in-state" - and therefore discounted - fishing license even though she did not meet the minimum one-year resident statute to qualify for the perk. Even her own sister, who is gay, posted on Facebook that Liz Cheney's stance against gay marriage was "dead wrong."
But Cheney has drowned out the critics. She might come from Wyoming political royalty, but she recognizes what she'll have to do to win. It's about putting mileage on her car and out-handshaking Enzi.
Bouncing around Wednesday between meetings and a Rotary Club luncheon, Cheney told U.S. News over the phone that her main focus remains getting out on the road everyday.
"The person-to-person piece of it will make all the difference," she says. Even before she announced her candidacy, she was laying the groundwork for a run, meeting with local conservatives and making her rounds at party banquets.