Tuesday’s congressional primary in Wyoming could end Rep. Liz Cheney’s congressional career, with the expectation of the pollsters and strategists that she will be beaten by challenger Harriet Hageman, but she suggested she was just getting started.
Today is “certainly the start of a battle that will continue. And as a country, we face a time when our democracy is really under attack and under threat,” Cheney told CBS News’ Robert Costa soon after. having voted in Jackson, Wyo.
“I am very proud of all the work I have done with the people of Wyoming over the past six years and truly understand and recognize that there is nothing more important than defending our Constitution,” she said.
Former President Donald Trump supports Hageman and has been heavily involved in the effort against Cheney since she voted to impeach him after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Since the attack, his high-profile rebuke of Trump and his allies — and his leadership role on the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 — has only heightened that animosity.
“Liz Cheney helped the radical Democratic Party weaponize the national security state and law enforcement against MAGA and the supporters of MAGA, who are hard-working, amazing people,” Trump said at a rally in Casper, Wyo., in May. “The bogus narrative that Liz Cheney is pushing has been the radical left’s pretext for its all-out war on free speech. The January 6 persecution of political prisoners.”
Hageman is a longtime Wyoming-born attorney who takes pride in her cases battling environmental regulations.
In the past, Hageman has made anti-Trump comments and endorsed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for president in the 2016 Republican primary. She placed third in the GOP primary for governor in 2018, and has previously supported Cheney and called her a friend. But she believes Cheney “betrayed Wyoming” with his impeachment vote.
Hageman’s anti-Trump comments in 2016 didn’t stop her from winning Trump’s endorsement on September 9, 2021.
His presence in the primary brought a tough change against Cheney of the Wyoming Republican Party, who censored and disavowed Cheney, a symbolic measure. At the national level, the Republican National Committee did a similar action against Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who also voted to impeach Trump and joined the House committee Jan. 6.
Seven of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump will not return to Congress. Four retired: Kinzinger, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, John Katko of New York and Fred Upton of Michigan, and three lost their primaries: Tom Rice of South Carolina, Peter Meijer of Michigan and Jamie Herrera-Beutler of Washington.
Two qualified for the November general election: David Valadao of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington.
The former president’s antipathy toward Cheney also turned the House Republican leadership and House Republicans against her. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who helped lead efforts to oust Cheney of his role in the leadership of House GOP. The House Republican conference generally backs the incumbents, but took the unusual step of refusing to back Cheney, instead support Hageman and even organized a fundraiser for her this spring with more than 50 House Republicans in attendance.
Longtime Wyoming GOP activist April Poley, who has worked with another leading candidate, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, said she wishes Trump “kept his nose out of the Wyoming race.”
“We didn’t need him to come in here and tell everybody how to vote. To get to where if you don’t vote like he tells you, you kind of feel disloyal to him,” Poley said. .
While Hageman acknowledged Trump and McCarthy’s support, his argumentative closing campaign ad the race isn’t all about them — or Cheney alone.
“Our current representative is neither from Wyoming nor is he represented in our interests. And I’m here because I want to be accountable to you to resolve the issues that are important to you,” Hageman said during a Natrona County Republican Women’s event in August. 3. She said at this same event that she believed in the 2020 elections was “rigged”.
A survey by the University of Wyoming’s Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center found that 48.6% of likely GOP primary voters believe there was “strong evidence” of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
In 2020, Cheney and Trump both got just under 70% of the vote. Multiple lawsuits challenging the 2020 election results have failed in court, and there was no credible evidence widespread fraud that altered the election results.
Cheney hasn’t shied away from his role on the committee or his fight against Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen in his campaign ads. In a announcement, she focused on her main opponents showing doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election during a debate.
In another one, his father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who represented the state for 10 years in Congress, spoke directly to the camera and said Trump was a “threat” to the country. He said Trump “tried to steal the last election by using lies and violence to hold himself in power after voters rejected him.”
In her closing message, Liz Cheney made it clear that she remained focused on Trump: “The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious. He attacks those who love their country. It is a door that Donald Trump has opened to manipulate Americans. to abandon their principles, to sacrifice their freedom, to justify violence, to ignore the decisions of our courts and the rule of law.”
“I don’t think she’s ever changed. I think the perception of her has changed,” said Poley, who added that she never voted for Cheney.
Cheney held the fundraising advantage over Hageman, with over $15.1 million high this cycle compared to Hageman’s $4.1 million. But, with spending by pro-Hageman groups like the Wyoming Values PAC and the Club for Growth Action, it has kept pace with Cheney’s ad spending, according to AdImpact data.
Yet, while independent and internal polls showed Hageman with a nearly 30-point lead over Cheney, with some saying the result could be closer than expected.
“I would expect her to get maybe 30% of the vote, maybe that’s an understatement, but I wouldn’t be surprised,” Poley said.
Cheney has almost 40% in its first primary for the seat in 2016 when there were nine other Republicans on the ballot. There are five other candidates on the ballot this election, though Cheney and Hageman were the only ones to consistently vote in more than double digits.
Andrew Garner, a professor at the University of Wyoming, warned that polls in the state show an unpredictable race, in part because of that Wyoming law that allows voters to switch parties on primary election day.
Garner and others say the quirk of the state law hasn’t had a huge impact on Wyoming’s primary results in the past, but was still a law for Trump and other Wyoming Republicans. unsuccessfully pushed to change.
“Statewide contests are already difficult to poll accurately. Primary elections in small states are even more difficult,” Garner said. “A lot depends on how many Democrats vote for Cheney. If only a few show up, Hageman will likely win by a huge margin. If more Democrats than expected show up, the margins would be closer.
Cheney’s campaign and other organizations reported this opportunity for Democrats and other non-Republican registered voters to switch parties and vote for her.
And it seems to work. According to Wyoming voter registration figures in January and August, there was an increase in registered Republicans of 11,495 voters and a decrease in registered Democrats of about 6,000 voters. This is at a significantly higher level of changes compared to other midterm elections, according to the Casper-Star Grandstand.
The number of voters registered as “unaffiliated” decreased by around 1,575, while the total number of registered voters increased by around 4,000.
Cheney, who had to be safe with her after several death threats, held several small, intimate campaign events at house parties in the final weeks of the race.
Republican Natronal County Committee Member Joseph McGinley, a Cheney supporter, said the congresswoman didn’t really mention Trump or the Jan. 6 committee at an event she hosted in Casper in July.
“If people ask, she’ll talk about Trump. And she’ll talk about the committee, but she’s not burying that in her speech,” McGinley said.
McGinley said that while he didn’t believe the polls that showed Hageman in the big picture, and that he believed the more populous and moderate parts of the state would turn to Cheney, he acknowledged it was a race. difficult for the three-term MP.
“His challenger is approved by Trump, [she] receives a ton of support from extremists within our state. [Hageman] has a strong campaign here,” he said. “But again, looking at the number of cross-votes, it’s different from previous elections.
Cheney, whose national profile has risen throughout his crusade against the former president, has not close the door on a presidential race in 2024. While some anti-Trump Republicans have acknowledged there is an open path for a Republican like Cheney in 2024, she only polled 2% in a recent Morning Consult survey on the 2024 primary.
“I think it’s way too early to tell how the 2024 primary will go,” Garner said. “That may sound like a cop, but think how much the political environment has changed in the last two months alone. In two years? It could be completely different in ways no one can anticipate.”
Musadiq Bidar contributed to this report.