The race for Wyoming’s single House seat is coming down to the wire, with polls showing Democrat Gary Trauner continuing to gain on six-term Republican Rep. Barbara Cubin.
Cubin has run a particularly bare-knuckled campaign for months, but has potentially skated on to thin ice – frosted with ethnic insinuations – with a recent television ad highlighting Trauner’s “New York” background.
“New Yorkers march to a different drummer,” the narrator states. “Maybe that’s why Trauner is so out of step with Wyoming. He’s from New York, not Wyoming!”
While the ad doesn’t mention that Trauner is Jewish, it paints the Democrat, who has lived in Wyoming for more than 15 years, as an outsider who can’t be trusted.
And interestingly, a story about the ad in the New York Daily News last Wednesday stated that Trauner was “born in the Catskills” – which the Democrat says is not correct. (He grew up in Scarsdale, a town also not exactly without Jews.)
In an interview with the Forward on Friday night, Trauner said that several people have suggested to him that Cubin’s ad may be obliquely playing on his Jewish background.
“It’s possible,” Trauner said, adding that the Cubin campaign is aware of his faith. But he said that he doubted many Wyoming voters would catch the reference.
“I think the subtlety is lost on most people in Wyoming,” he said.
Messages were left on Monday morning with both the Cubin campaign and the writer of the Daily News story.
If elected tomorrow, Trauner would be the first Jewish representative from Wyoming, a state that has not sent a Democrat to the House since 1973.
He has been steadily gaining ground throughout the campaign season, and particularly since late October, when Cubin threatened to slap libertarian wheelchair-bound candidate Thomas Renkin after a debate.
A Wyoming Tribune-Eagle poll released on Friday shows Trauner with the support of 40.4 % likely voters, versus Cubin’s 44 %. Libertarian candidate Thomas Rankin garnered 5% and 8% were undecided. The margin of error was 4.2%.
In his interview with the Forward, Trauner said he had not been aware that he could make history as Wyoming’s first Jewish representative.
And what would that mean for him?
“To be blunt, probably not a lot.” Trauner said. “Being Jewish is a part of who I am, but really, I’m doing this not because I’m Jewish … but because I’m worried about the future of our country,” he said.
Reflecting a little further, however, Trauner said he had grown up in a Reform Jewish household where his parents raised their sons “to believe we can make a difference.”
The Democrat said he had first traveled to Wyoming at 13, when one of his best friends took Trauner on a vacation to his family’s ski cabin. Today, he lives in Wilson with his wife, Terry, who is Catholic, and their two children, who are being raised Jewish. Trauner’s elder son will be Bar Mitzvahed in March. (The family participates in a havurah in Jackson.)
While acknowledging that Wyoming is a “red state,” Trauner emphasized that the state’s brand of conservatism trends toward libertarian.
“The conservatism that exists in Wyoming is a very different conservatism than might exist in Tennessee or Alabama,” Trauner said. Here it’s a “keep the government off my back, let me live my life kind of thing.”
He added, “People have a tendency not to really care what their neighbors are and not to really know” – meaning that religion, either his or Cubin’s, has not overtly been an issue in the race.
Now in the homestretch, the candidate said his camp is focused on getting out the vote … and hanging on.
“I’m as tired as a human being can possibly be right now,” Trauner said, “but I know this is what I was meant to do.”