05.30.09

Congresswoman Cheney?

Wyoming or Virginia? Liz Cheney's media joyride is boosting talk of a possible congressional run. Benjamin Sarlin has the inside scoop on where she’d run—and if she can win.

With the position of top Republican talking head up for grabs, it's been Liz Cheney's turn to wear the crown this month. In just a short time, the former State Department official under George W. Bush made dozens of media appearances defending the administration's policy on torture and calling on President Obama to block efforts to prosecute her father, Dick Cheney.

Liz Cheney's strong performances on cable news debating her father's critics have raised her profile to new highs. With Obama's Supreme Court nominee pushing interrogation policy off the headlines this week, Cheney has shown no signs of leaving the spotlight, instead taking to the airwaves to attack Obama's judicial philosophy as “ dangerous.” Her newfound media ubiquity is feeding buzz that she might run for Congress, a notion she has deflected with distinctly candidate-like non-answers.

“I would list [Connolly] as a substantial favorite over her,” University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato told The Daily Beast in an interview. “He'd run against the Bush-Cheney administration and that would be enough to kill it right there.”

"It's not something I'm focused on right now, I do have five little kids and I'm helping my dad to write his memoirs," Cheney told Fox News on Tuesday. She added, “So I have a pretty full plate right now, but it's certainly something I could—" before being cut off.

The Daily Beast called Cheney on Thursday to expand on her comments, but she said she was too busy to talk at that moment and instead asked to be interviewed later in the day. She then went into hiding: Repeated calls over the next 24 hours went unanswered and unreturned.

With Karl Rove and friends of Cheney boosting her chances in the press, there's little doubt that there is interest among Republicans in the former vice president's daughter as a potential candidate. But is the notion of a congressional run by Liz Cheney a serious possibility or a pipe dream?

In pursuing a campaign, she would have to address where she might run. The most obvious choice would be in Northern Virginia, where, according to her latest FEC filings from 2004, she lives with her husband and five children. Assuming she'd be willing to (slightly) uproot her family to move to the right district, she would have some options. In Virginia's 8th District, the hawkish Cheney would certainly make for an interesting contrast with incumbent Democratic Congressman Jim Moran, who's been an outspoken opponent of the Bush administration on national-security issues. But the liberal makeup of the district would likely make any run there largely symbolic, especially against an established and well-funded candidate.

A more intriguing choice would be the 11th District, where the freshman Democratic congressman, Rep. Gerry Connolly, won an open seat in 2008 after the incumbent, Republican Rep. Tom Davis, retired last year. But while the district narrowly voted for her father's ticket in 2004, it has since trended more solidly Democratic along with the rest of Northern Virginia, and gave Obama a solid majority in last year's election. “I would list [Connolly] as a substantial favorite over her,” University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato told The Daily Beast in an interview. “He'd run against the Bush-Cheney administration and that would be enough to kill it right there.”

According to Sabato, her best bet in Virginia might be to wait for Republican Congressman Frank Wolf to retire in the 10th District, but even then it could be a struggle as the area's makeup is by no means overwhelmingly conservative. Much of her success would depend on the timing of her run.

“If it's a heavily Republican year, maybe,” Sabato said, “but 2010? Forget about it.”

Of course, the Virginia-raised, Colorado-educated Cheney could pick up her carpetbag and try for her father's old seat in the more conservative Wyoming, where her last name might be less of a liability. Unfortunately for her, she missed arguably her best chance to take the seat in 2008's open election, where Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis defeated the Democratic candidate, Gary Trauner, in a hard-fought race. A primary run against Lummis would likely be an uphill climb given the incumbent's fundraising prowess and popularity.

Even in an open race or a run for another statewide position, Cheney would have a difficult time, according to University of Wyoming political-science professor Jim King.

“The last couple of Democratic House candidates were people who moved to the states as adults and that was a criticism of them by Republican candidates,” King told The Daily Beast. “It could come right back against Liz Cheney: She went to school in Virginia, in Colorado, so is she from Wyoming?...I could just hear the same campaign theme being directed against a Republican rather than a Democrat.”

Certainly these tactics figured prominently against Trauner in the 2008 race. The NRCC ran ads taunting Trauner as “from New York, not Wyoming” and blasting him for being “out of step” with Wyoming values.

And while King says the Cheney brand “still has strength” in Wyoming, there's strong evidence that the name is not quite the draw it used to be. Polls taken shortly before Obama's inauguration put Dick Cheney's approval rating at an anemic 30% in his home state.

Then there are external factors. There are signs that Republican strategists are less than thrilled with the Cheneys' latest media tour, ranging from anonymous quotes in stories, to a National Journal poll of Republican insiders showing 57% opposed to Dick Cheney's return to the spotlight.

A run by Liz Cheney could become a flashpoint for conflict if top Republicans decide that having the Cheney name on the ballot might hurt the party's chances nationally in the midterm elections and take a more active role in pushing her out of the spotlight.

Of course, Liz Cheney's goals are known only to her—she could simply be defending her father's legacy or pursuing the even more modest goal of keeping him from being indicted for conspiracy to torture. But if elected office is her game, the landscape is looking bleak. Given her feisty performances lately, a TV show on Fox News might be the better bet.

Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.