Trauner won’t concede race
Cubin declares herself winner with 700-vote margin; recount possible.
Gary Trauner works two cell phones while listening to election returns come in during a party at the Hard Drive Cafe in Jackson. NEWS&GUIDE PHOTO / BRADLY J. BONERView our entire photo gallery >>
By Noah Brenner
November 8, 2006
With all but a few precincts reporting, U.S. Rep. Barbara Cubin declared victory over Democratic challenger and Wilson resident Gary Trauner just after midnight Tuesday.
According to the results available at 1 a.m., Cubin led Trauner by a mere 700 votes; 91,385 to 90,685. A win by fewer than 913 votes would automatically trigger a recount under Wyoming state law.
“I’m calling it,” she told the Associated Press early Wednesday morning. “I just feel really gratified that we’re ahead, and I’m sure that we won the election.”
Despite the looming recount, Cubin for Congress spokesman Joe Milczewski said the incumbent representative was confident she had won.
“We got some information from Carbon County from folks watching the polls that, including late absentee ballots from Natrona County, she was up 640 votes,” he said “She felt comfortable she had won and looks forward to the next two years.”
Trauner was not ready to concede the election early Wednesday.
“All the votes aren’t counted,” he said. “I don’t know how you can say you won.”
Even if the race is not close enough for a mandatory recount, Trauner did not rule out asking for one.
“I think right now we are going to keep all our options open,” he said.
Libertarian Thomas Rankin won 7,298 votes or about four percent.
In a seesaw election that saw Trauner take the lead several times, a snafu in Carbon County held up the final count. At 1:15 a.m., Rawlins Daily Times Publisher Dave Perry said he was sending his paper to the press without knowing the outcome of the race or other races for Carbon County seats.
Perry made the decision when he learned the vote count would not be complete until an estimated 3 or 4 a.m. The Carbon County Clerk’s Office reported at midnight that paper ballots had to be counted manually, a task that was supposed to take several hours, Perry said.
The county used both touch screens and paper ballots to gather votes. The machines that scanned the paper ballots were malfunctioning, Perry said.
“We’re putting our paper to bed with no local results,” Perry said.
Trauner, who recently sold his stake in a regional Internet provider, declared his candidacy in January and immediately began campaigning. In a whirlwind tour of the state, Trauner knocked on more than 15,000 doors in an effort to build name recognition.
In his campaign, he emphasized energy independence, the growing national debt, and health care reform, all the while reinforcing his image as a pro-business, pro-gun Democrat.
But at the heart of his campaign, Trauner was trying to ride an anti-Cubin wave. That wave has its roots in past gaffes by the representative and a sentiment that she has become part of a corrupt political culture in Washington and lost touch with Wyoming voters. Trauner promised over and over not to dip into personal attacks and to run a campaign based on how he could help Wyoming.
Cubin emphasized a few main issues in her campaign including the war in Iraq and its implications for the war on terror, immigration reform and her accomplishments in office. Cubin’s main issue, however, was Trauner himself. Cubin’s ads largely laid out what she believed to be his views and the reasons he was incompatible with Wyoming voters, including that he was originally born in New York.
The ads frequently drew criticism from Trauner’s campaign as misleading and mudslinging.
Cubin’s campaign defended the ad campaign, saying that she had a voting record voters could look at to learn about her positions and Trauner did not.
But it was Trauner’s campaign that caught the eye of voters in Wyoming and media across the nation. Trauner’s folksy style and work ethic, as well as a perception that Cubin had low approval ratings and was vulnerable, caught the attention of the Democratic National Committee, which featured him on its Web site in late spring.
Door by door, Trauner’s campaign began to attract more and more attention statewide. When second-quarter campaign finance reports came in showing that he had more money than Cubin did and there was growing Democratic momentum, Washington, D.C., publications began to take notice and change their rankings of the race from a Republican shoo-in to a competitive race. A perceived poor showing by Cubin in her primary against unknown Bill Winney and a leaked Cubin fundraising letter saying she was “nervous” about Trauner added to his momentum.
The world took notice of the race on Oct. 23 with reports that Cubin threatened to slap Libertarian candidate Thomas Rankin after the debate the previous night. Rankin had chastised Cubin for refusing to return money to disgraced U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas. Rankin, who has multiple sclerosis and is confined to an electric wheelchair said that Cubin told him if he had not been sitting in that chair she would have slapped him.
Cubin’s camp apologized but did not deny the incident occurred.
While media outlets latched on to the slap threat, political analysts within Wyoming questioned whether or not it would actually sway enough voters to be the difference in the election. Trauner supporters said the slap threat just reinforced Cubin’s reputation for putting her foot in her mouth and questioned whether this was who Wyomingites wanted to represent them. Cubin’s camp said it was just another example of media exaggeration.
While Cubin and other Republicans would never admit that they were anything other than confident about her re-election prospects, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent about $250,000 on attack ads portraying Trauner as a liberal New Yorker.
The Cubin campaign also replaced its spokesman Eric Cullen with Joe Milczewski, who used to work for Cubin in Washington and then transferred to Republican Ray Hunkins’ campaign for governor and an NRCC assignment mobilizing Republican voters in Tennessee.
Trauner tried to persuade Wyoming voters with endorsements from popular former Democratic governor Jim Sullivan and current Democratic governor Dave Freudenthal, but failed to match Freudenthal’s popularity with Republican voters on election night.
Cubin’s emphasis on gun rights, tax cuts and immigration resonated with Wyoming voters at the polls, Milczewski said.
“People have known her in Wyoming for a long time,” he said. “They know she will vote for tax cuts, defend the Second Amendment and will vote the right way for Wyomingites.”
Conversely, Trauner said he felt many people in Wyoming were sick of politics as usual.
“I think people feel there is a disconnect between them and Washington D.C. – at least that’s what I heard,” he said. “Obviously a fair amount of people felt that way and some didn’t.”