- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — This state’s lone House seat has been held by Republicans since Vice President Dick Cheney began his political career here in 1978, but the seven-term Republican incumbent is struggling for her political survival.

Rep. Barbara Cubin is clinging to a slim lead after she reportedly told Libertarian candidate Thomas Harkin, who has multiple sclerosis, that she would “slap” him if he weren’t in a wheelchair.

In a House race that’s ordinarily a “gimme” for Republicans, CQ Politics recently downgraded her chances from “leans Republican” to “no clear favorite.” A poll released Oct. 29 found Mrs. Cubin with a 44 percent to 40 percent lead over her Democratic opponent, Gary Trauner.

That’s within the margin of error, prompting the National Republican Campaign Committee to sink $250,000 into her campaign two weeks ago for an ad buy calling Mr. Trauner “dead wrong for Wyoming.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Cubin’s foes immediately began running ads playing up the “slap” incident.

A television spot says that Mrs. Cubin “threatened to slap her opponent when he pointed out that she’d taken money from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and indicted congressman Tom DeLay.”

“Barbara Cubin, that’s just a slap in the face to all of us. Ouch!” says the ad, run by the pro-Democrat Public Campaign Action Fund.

Mr. Harkin said that after an Oct. 22 campaign debate, Mrs. Cubin walked over to him and reportedly said, “If you weren’t sitting in that chair, I’d slap you across the face.”

The Cubin campaign said she was offended after Mr. Harkin accused her during the debate of accepting donations from Mr. Abramoff and Mr. DeLay. Mrs. Cubin has received $22,500 from Mr. DeLay’s political action committee, but has said she will not return the money unless he is convicted of a crime.

Mrs. Cubin later insisted what she actually said was, “If you had said that to anyone else, they probably would have smacked you.”

Still, analysts agreed the damage had been done.

“She’s never been as popular as other Wyoming officeholders,” said University of Wyoming political science professor Oliver Walter. “This kind of reinforces people’s reactions to her, which is that she’s not coming across well.”

A survey released last week by the university’s Statistical Analysis Center found that 31 percent of respondents said she was doing an “excellent” or “good” job, while 63 percent said she was “fair” or “poor.”

The Cubin campaign attributes the tight race to the national pro-Democratic tide.

“It was always going to be relatively close,” said Cubin spokesman Joe Milczewski.

Her campaign has swung back by letting voters know that Mr. Trauner hails from New York, not Wyoming. The NRCC ad accuses Mr. Trauner of being a New Yorker who’s “out of step with Wyoming values.”

The Cubin campaign got a boost Saturday from Mr. Cheney, who appeared with her at a Republican rally in Laramie.

“We live in a two-party state,” said Mr. Cheney. “But I’ve got a feeling Wyoming Democrats don’t find much in common with Democratic leaders like Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi.”

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