By Catalina Camia and Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Former vice president Dick Cheney's eldest daughter said Tuesday she will challenge incumbent GOP Sen. Mike Enzi next year, immediately setting off a Republican Party battle in Wyoming.
Liz Cheney, a former State Department official in George W. Bush's administration, grew up in Virginia but moved to Jackson Hole last year with her family and has been making the rounds at political events.
"I believe it is necessary for a new generation of leaders to step up to the plate," Cheney said in her campaign announcement video, making no mention of Enzi by name.
"Wyoming needs a strong voice in Washington," she said, as she railed against President Obama and his policies on a host of issues. "Someone who isn't afraid to fight for what's right. I will never compromise when our freedom is at stake."
Enzi, known for his work on health care issues, said Cheney's decision to challenge him does not affect his intention to run for a fourth term in 2014. He said her announcement goes back on an earlier pledge.
"She said that if I ran, she wasn't going to run, but obviously that wasn't correct," Enzi said on Capitol Hill. Cheney did not give Enzi a head's up that she was jumping in the race.
"I thought we were friends," Enzi said.
Enzi, 69, said Cheney's political pedigree and fundraising network could be a challenge - especially if Dick Cheney campaigns for his daughter. "He hasn't talked to me about it at all, but I expect that he would be. It's his daughter," he said.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, pledged the Senate GOP campaign arm will back Enzi. Moran said he knew Cheney was mulling a Senate bid but did not know her announcement was coming Tuesday.
"The purpose of the Senate campaign committee is to support Republican incumbents, and we will be doing everything we can to be of assistance to Sen. Enzi," Moran said.
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming's other senator and a member of the Republican leadership, also said he'd support his home-state colleague. "He's my friend, he's my mentor. He's a tremendous senator for the people of Wyoming," Barrasso said.
Asked for his thoughts about Cheney, Barrasso replied, "She's very talented and has a bright future."
The Cody Enterprise denounced Cheney's aspirations in an editorial last week, saying other Republicans in the state have paid their political dues.
"It'll be the end of her in Wyoming politics," the newspaper editorial said. "But at 46 she has plenty of time. There's a long list of good candidates around the state waiting for an appropriate opening to run for one of Wyoming's eight statewide elective offices. And even with her heady attributes, given her liabilities, plenty of them could beat her."
Enzi was a member of the "Gang of Six," a group of three Republicans and three Democrats that tried to work out a bipartisan deal on health care in 2009. Those talks dissolved, and Enzi voted against the national health care law signed by President Obama.
Dick Cheney was Wyoming's lone congressman from 1979 to 1989 and is still revered in the state. He and Enzi are fly-fishing buddies.
Liz Cheney has recently been a commentator on Fox News and a popular speaker in GOP circles. She has a law degree from the University of Chicago and worked at the Agency for International Development.
Moran said he had no concern a GOP primary could open the door for Democrats in Wyoming, where Republican Mitt Romney defeated President Obama last year by nearly 41 percentage points. The primary would probably take place next summer.
"I have nothing but the expectation that Wyoming will be represented by a Republican," Moran said.
The non-partisan Cook Political Report rates the Wyoming Senate race as "solid Republican," meaning there's little chance for a Democrat.
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