CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A top Republican Party donor and fundraiser who hasn’t held major elected office before but who is wealthy and has national political connections is running for governor of Wyoming.
Foster Friess’ entry Friday upended Wyoming’s deep-red politics much like Liz Cheney’s brief run against fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi in 2013 and 2014. Cheney, who previously spent most of her life in Virginia, abandoned that race but was elected Wyoming’s lone congresswoman in 2016.
Friess, 78, faces a similar challenge: Convincing Wyomingites he’s one of their own. Across sparsely populated Wyoming, many look somewhat suspiciously at Jackson Hole, the posh and not-exactly-rural ski destination where Friess and Cheney live.
“Wyoming is what America could be,” Friess told the convention just before his announcement. “We’re civil to one another, we’re not nasty to one another. We have the opportunity to build that model for the rest of the country.”
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Friess lavished praise on President Donald Trump, calling him a “great example” for the GOP.
Republican Gov. Matt Mead is term-limited. Other Republicans running include Cheyenne businessman Sam Galeotos and State Treasurer Mark Gordon.
Friess isn’t well-known in Wyoming but is widely known as a behind-the-scenes force in national Republican politics. He has made almost $3 million in soft-money political contributions since 2011, according to the Federal Elections Commission, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more in recent direct candidate donations.
He served in the U.S. Army before becoming an investor in the 1970s.
At the state convention, Friess spoke more about national Republican branding than issues facing Wyoming. He suggested Republicans stop talking about “defunding” Planned Parenthood in favor of “reallocating” its federal funding to other health programs that benefit women.
One big role for any governor, he said, is promoting a state to attract business.
“I’m not a big fan of all these tax incentives that are given by states,” Friess said. “It’s the private sector that’s going to put up the money, not the government.”
He enters Wyoming politics amid a new push to diversify the state’s economy away from fossil-fuel extraction. Wyoming faces an $850 million deficit caused by weak demand for coal and a slowdown in oil and natural gas development.
Friess said late last year that he was thinking about running against Wyoming Republican U.S. Sen. John Barrasso amid encouragement from former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
Despite rumors Friday that he was running for governor, Friess made no such announcement in a 45-minute lunchtime speech at the convention. Friess said he couldn’t announce any campaign because other Republican candidates hadn’t been given similar floor time.
“If I were to announce running, I feel that it would be an honor to serve the people of Wyoming,” Friess told the audience. “I’m sad to be a little bit vague right now.”
He told reporters and others immediately afterward that he is running.
Former Wyoming State Rep. Mary Throne seeks the Democratic nomination for governor.
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