UW professor announces run as Democrat for U.S. Senate seat

CHEYENNE – Merav Ben-David, a University of Wyoming ecology professor for the past 20 years, announced her candidacy Saturday for the U.S. Senate seat that will be up for grabs in the 2020 election.

She becomes the second Democratic Party candidate to join the race.

Ben-David declared her intentions to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., during the Southeast Wyoming Women’s March in downtown Cheyenne on Saturday morning.

Prior to her public announcement, Ben-David spoke with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on Friday about her campaign priorities, with climate change at the top of the list.

After spending her career researching everything from hunting dogs in Kenya to oil spills in Alaska, Ben-David realized she wanted to get more involved in the political decision-making that impacts ecosystems around the world.

“We are facing environmental challenges, whether we all recognize them or not,” Ben-David said. “My goal is to work in Washington to make sure that we can develop other sources of income and industries in the state that will allow us to succeed in the future.”

A native of Israel, Ben-David has lived in Wyoming for 20 years, though she said her international experiences could be advantageous in the political arena.

“Wyoming is home for me, but I do have the perspective of other places and how various challenges and problems can be addressed,” Ben-David said. “I’m always grabbing at opportunities as they come, and that’s how I was able to gain these experiences.”

Ben-David is the second Democrat to announce a run for the Senate seat. Yana Ludwig, a community organizer in Laramie, announced her candidacy back in June.

While Ludwig considers herself a socialist, Ben-David said she wouldn’t even call herself a Democratic socialist, the political label that some, like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, have embraced. However, she said her economic priorities are driven by one fundamental goal: achieving equality.

She referred to the U.S. gender wage gap, which continues to be a particularly tough issue in Wyoming, as an example of the inequalities that need to be addressed through federal legislation.

Ben-David also pointed to a guaranteed jobs proposal, which would ensure all adults who want employment can get it, as a federal program that she would support.

Access to reliable health care will also be among the top priorities of her campaign. Ben-David said rural states need to be more included in the national discussions about potential changes to the American health care system.

When asked whether she supports a Medicare-for-all proposal, Ben-David said she would support any measure that achieves universal health care coverage, though she added the details will need to be fleshed out before she supports a specific initiative.

“I can tell you that research proposals that I write never work in the field the way I envision them at the table,” she added. “These proposals that people are putting forward, they will change.”

Of course, any effort to win a statewide election as a Democrat in Wyoming will be an uphill battle. In 2018, the Democratic candidate for Senate, Gary Trauner, won just 30% of the vote against incumbent Republican Sen. John Barrasso.

In terms of her strategy to win as a Democrat, Ben-David said she has one advantage that most newcomers don’t have.

“I’ve been working, teaching and training the young people of Wyoming for the last 20 years, hundreds of students who share the same vision and interests as me,” she said. “They’re all over the state.”

Ben-David said she hopes to use her statewide network to do as much outreach as she can before the Aug.18 primary election. During her candidacy, she doesn’t plan to hold any “traditional campaign events.” Instead, her campaign will hold outdoor activities and other unconventional events to promote her message.

On the Republican side of the race, Ben-David’s announcement comes just a few days after U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney announced she would not enter the Senate race. In July, former Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis announced her plan to run in the Republican primary.