It's not often a Democrat gets to pick his next Republican opponent, but that may have been what Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal did yesterday.
Mr. Freudenthal, required by state law to choose a Republican to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the recent death of Republican Sen. Craig Thomas, yesterday named state Sen. John Barrasso to the post.
Mr. Barrasso, a 54-year-old orthopedic surgeon, will serve 18 months, after which the seat will be filled by the winner of a November 2008 special election. The winner will serve the remainder of Mr. Thomas' term, which expires in January 2013.
Mr. Barrasso said yesterday he plans to run for the seat in the special election. His Democratic opponent in that race could be Mr. Freudenthal.
Now serving his second and final term as governor, Mr. Freudenthal is regarded as a top prospect for the Democratic nomination to the Senate, although he has yet to announce his plans.
The governor gave no explanation for his choice to fill the Senate seat, and Mr. Barrasso was not present for the governor's announcement.
"There are many factors that went into this decision, and it was the sum of these factors that led me to this choice," Mr. Freudenthal said. "While I don't intend to indulge the speculation on why I made this decision, I will say that I hope I made the right choice."
The governor added that he would "do all that I can to make sure he is a successful senator."
Mr. Barrasso, scheduled to be sworn in Monday, said he would make rural health care one of his top legislative priorities. He added that he plans to visit all 23 Wyoming counties before Labor Day.
"I plan to continue the things that Craig Thomas did that made him someone who was re-elected with 70 percent of the vote," Mr. Barrasso said. "That's the way to get re-elected in Wyoming."
The governor chose Mr. Barrasso from a list of three finalists chosen by the Wyoming Republican Central Committee. The other two nominees were former state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis and former Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Environment Tom Sansonetti.
Mr. Barrasso was regarded as somewhat less conservative than the two other candidates, although he has supported limited government, lower taxes and other bread-and-butter Republican causes in the state legislature.
Mr. Barrasso was elected to the state Senate in 2003, where he served as chairman of the Senate Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Committee.
In 1996, he ran unsuccessfully against Mike Enzi for the Republican nomination to fill the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Alan K. Simpson.
Mr. Enzi, who went on to win the seat, praised Mr. Barrasso yesterday, calling him "a capable person with legislative experience."
"He is quiet, but capable and efficient," he said. "We work well together and I'm excited and ready to lead our Wyoming team in Washington now that we have a full roster."
Mr. Thomas, 74, died June 4 while being treated for leukemia. His Senate career began in 1994, and he previously served three terms in the House.
Mr. Barrasso said he spoke yesterday with Mr. Thomas' widow, Susan, and that she gave him her support.
"She said Craig would have been very happy with the process and the outcome," he said.