CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Few U.S. Senate races are as lopsided this year as the one in Wyoming, where Republican incumbent John Barrasso dominates two challengers in funding and name recognition.
In the nation's capital, Barrasso ranks fourth among Senate Republicans and is a widely recognized critic of the federal health care law. In Wyoming, he's still known to many as a former state senator — and as the orthopedic surgeon from Casper who dispensed health tips during the local evening news.
Records show Barrasso had spent more than $1.1 million through Aug. 1 and still had $2.9 million.
Challengers Tim Chesnut of the Democratic Party and Joel Otto of the tiny Wyoming Country Party said they have spent about $1,000 each. Neither has held a statewide office.
This is Barrasso's first campaign for a full term.
Barrasso, 60, was appointed in 2007 after Sen. Craig Thomas died in office. He was elected in 2008 to finish Thomas' term.
The economy and the national debt top Wyoming voters' concerns, he said.
"The question that I continue to hear is, 'Why can't they do it in Washington like we do it in Wyoming, where we know what works?' Low taxes, reasonable regulations and balancing our budget every year," Barrasso said.
Wyoming's vast coal, gas and oil wealth have helped here. But Barrasso said the national debt urgently needs to be brought under control. Medicare and Social Security, he added, need changes to help ensure that future costs are manageable.
"We have to take a look seriously at these programs and how to best design them for the long term so that everybody currently on those programs gets everything that they've paid in for," Barrasso said. "But make sure that for people under age 55, we can make these sustainable."
Like most incumbents, Barrasso has been a money-raising machine, bringing in some $7.4 million from corporations and individuals since 2007. He said he had to prepare for the possibility of a challenger able and willing to spend millions from a personal fortune.
That hasn't happened, but University of Wyoming political science professor Jim King said it's common for incumbents to hedge.
"Incumbents, always fearing the worst, raise money in advance," King said. "Incumbents never assume they're going to win, or at least win easily."
Chestnut, 46, said his 14 years as an Albany County commissioner prepared him for federal elected office.
"Working on a county level, you affect people's lives every day, and you see those people's faces," he said.
Chesnut supports reducing the deficit. Cutting military spending also should be a priority, Chesnut said.
"I think what we're looking for in the 21st century is not a larger military, it's a smarter military," Chesnut said. "We need to invest money into research and development, and not so much manpower."
Otto, 50, is a Lander rancher with an engineering degree who homeschools his children. The Wyoming Country Party shares many views with the Libertarian Party but doesn't endorse what Otto calls some of its more extreme positions, such as legalizing drugs.
"I, of course, am running for federal office. But I really just kind of wanted to get a message of smaller government out there as best I could," he said.