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Gary Trauner has front porch mojo that you really have to see to believe. We met him in Cheyenne for a very chilly few hours of block walking in an "undecided" precinct. Undecided my ass. It was the middle of the day, Tuesday, so I wondered how much luck we'd have finding people at home. About half the houses were empty, but at the others the most remarkable thing happened. "Gary Trauner! How're you doing? You've got my vote. My husband's/wife's too! And we're Republicans!" At door after door people bounded out to say hello and to tell him how sick of Barbara Cubin they are. All but maybe three people he met reacted this way--not only recognizing him, but offering their support.

A few had to rib him a little. One guy said, "I just heard on the radio you're going to take my guns away." After a few minutes of chatting the told Gary he'd voted early, and voted for him. Another wanted to know if he supported "socialized" medicine (this from a self-employed small businessman who doesn't have insurance because he and his wife couldn't afford the $800 a month premium for the family of six). But in just a few minutes he volunteered that his mind was already made up--he was sick of the negative ads Cubin was running ("That may work down in Denver, but not in Wyoming") and was voting for Gary.

Door after door Gary had this conversation. The reaction of Cheyenne voters proved the wisdom of Gary's campaign approach. They decided early on to stay low-key. They haven't played a single negative ad (and denounced the independent "Slap" ad) and have conducted an old-fashioned retail campaign.

Gary put over 60,000 miles on his car crossing through the state and back again. His strategy has been to spend three or four days in every town he could get to, going door-to-door and getting out his message, relying on a viral strategy of neighbors talking to each other, backed up by radio ads.

It's been remarkably successful. He's raised $950,000 for the race (an incredible amount for Wyoming - the 2004 Dem raised just $350,000 which was the previous record). It's worked, if you can judge by the fact that just about every person we met Tuesday afternoon recognized him.

More on the flip.

It also helps that he's remarkably upbeat, affable, and energetic. If you meet him, you can't help but like him. That has helped to diffuse what were probably the biggest liabilities he had going into the race--he's a Jewish guy from New York who lives around Jackson. How can a New Yorker understand Wyoming? And most of the rest of the state thinks that all the ills that beset the state emanate from Jackson--that's where all the rich out-of-staters pouring into the state end up, driving up property taxes and generally just ruining things. (In the case of Cheney, I suppose they have a point.) Gary is straight forward about it. "I can't help where I was born, but I got here as quick as I could." He's lived in the state for 17 years and is raising his family there, points in his favor on that count. By the time he gets through all this, people have mostly forgotten their objections.

"I'm just a normal guy who got fed up," Gary says when I ask him what made him decide to run. He talks about his brother who died years ago of cancer. He had a brilliant career ahead of him in business, but decided instead of going for an MBA to try his hand at professional golf--his one true passion. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he didn't have one regret. When Gary decided something had to be done, and he was the one to do it, he did. So far, no regrets. The fact that he loves every minute of this experience (with the exception of having to spend so much time away from his family) shows in every conversation.

If the voters in the precinct in Cheyenne we walked are any indication, the fact that Democrats are outnumbered more than 2 to 1 (61% R, 29% D, 10% I) isn't going to hold Trauner back. He joked after the incredible canvass that he should be running for Cheyenne City Council. He'd take that race in a walk. But I think he's doing just fine where he is now.

CQ has rated the race a toss up. A huge part of that is how toxic Barbara Cubin is. All those Cheyenne Trauner supporters talked about her lack of accomplishments in Congress, how negative she's been in the campaign against Trauner, and how divisive she seems to be. Cubin has been forced to go heavily negative. She really doesn't have much else to run on, as plenty of people we talked to pointed out. She has the third worst absentee record in the House. She slipped into office in 1994 in a bitter eight person primary, and has been able to skate since, probably because she curtailed her rather skewed sense of humor [pdf] once she got to D.C. She's famous in Wyoming political circles for having once distributed penis-shaped cookies to male legislators when she served there. Then there was her "guess who's crotch" game in which she got pictures of male legislator's crotches and put them up for people to try to identify.

Her latest, an attack ad paid for by the NRCC, paints Trauner as a New York liberal, and has gotten attention from some unlikely sources:

The New York Daily News ran an article Wednesday about the ad under the headline "Wyo. incumbent: I HATE New York!"

"The GOP is getting so antsy about the Democrat running for Dick Cheney's old House seat in Wyoming that they've started airing attack ads lobbing the worst sort of insult at him," the article says. "They are branding him (gasp! hide the children!) a 'New Yorker.'"

From what I've seen, this last ditch effort to smear Gary is unlikely to make up for "the slap," for years of incompentence, and for an electorate that really doesn't appreciate negativity. Judging by the handful of voters we talked to in Cheyenne, Wyoming is ready for change.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Nov 03, 2006 at 07:11 AM PST.

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