A Political Analyst’s Perspective of the U.S. House of Representatives Race in Wyoming

Race described as “Safe Republican,” struggle for Rep. Liz Cheney as she fights to retain her seat

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jun 09, 2022

J. Miles Coleman is the associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan newsletter of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. His interest lies in the “horse race” aspects of politics, and he has been following several races this year, including the U.S. House of Representatives race in Wyoming. (Courtesy photo)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

With the Wyoming primaries less than three months away, the Wyoming Truth caught up with political analyst J. Miles Coleman for his insights on the upcoming U.S. House of Representatives race, in which Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, three other Republicans and three Democrats are seeking to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney.  

Coleman is the associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan newsletter of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. His interest in national politics dates back to the 2008 presidential election when, at age 16, he was drawn to what he calls the “horse race” aspects of campaigns and electoral geography. Coleman has been blogging and tweeting about politics since the midterm races in 2010, but he didn’t formally publish his own articles until 2014 when he was hired by Decision Desk HQ, a provider of national and international election results. Coleman spent a year at the Federal Bureau of Investigation  and then worked as a defense contractor for several years.  

In 2019, Coleman joined the UVA Center for Politics after grabbing the attention of director and political analyst, Larry Sabato.  

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Coleman said that to New Orleans natives, politics is right up there with carnival and sports as their favorite pastimes.  

Here’s Coleman’s take on the upcoming congressional race in Wyoming.  

How would you describe the dynamics of the U.S. House of Representatives race in Wyoming?  

Coleman: It is a highly unusual situation. Because of her stances against now-former President Trump, in the span of about a year, Rep. Liz Cheney has gone from one of the highest-ranking Republicans on Capitol Hill to almost a pariah within the GOP conference. House Republicans have endorsed one of her challengers, Harriet Hageman, en masse. That type of institutional support for a challenger is rare. 

Rep. Liz Cheney is facing four Republican challengers in the primary: Trump-backed attorney Harriet Hageman; state Sen. Anthony Bouchard; veteran Denton Knapp; and paralegal Robyn Belinskey. Despite the large gap in campaign funding, Hageman appears to be Cheney’s most serious challenger.  How do you think Hageman and the other Republican candidates will fare against her in the August 16 primary?  

Coleman: Though the Q1 campaign fundraising reports are a bit dated by this point, aside from Cheney and Hageman, none of the other candidates had a serious amount of money on hand. Bouchard, despite spending almost $600,000 until that point, only had a measly $50,000 on hand, and for all his spending, Hageman is still the most visible anti-Cheney candidate. For Cheney’s part, though she had nearly $7 million on hand, she has universal name recognition — and still seems to be in trouble. Cheney may see some diminishing returns on her spending. I’d be interested to see if any of the lesser-funded candidates have regional or personal appeal. For example, Bouchard represents parts of Laramie and Goshen counties in the state Senate. Does he perform especially well in either? 

Three Democratic candidates have thrown their names into the race for the House seat: Fort Washakie resident Lynnette Grey Bull who previously ran for the position in 2020; Rock Springs resident Meghan R. Jensen; and Casper resident Steve Helling. As of May, Republicans made up 70% of the registered voters in Wyoming. Does the winner of the Democratic primary stand any chance against the Republican primary winner in the Nov. 8 general election?  

Coleman: No. The Crystal Ball rates the race as “Safe Republican.” Democrats have not been competitive in Wyoming since 2008. That year, Republicans were defending the seat that the controversial Rep. Barbara Cubin was leaving open. Democrats also had a formidable candidate Gary Trauner, who nearly upset Cubin in 2006, and an overwhelmingly favorable national environment. Still, now-Rep. Cynthia Lummis held the seat by a 53%-43% margin in 2008. Since then, Republican House nominees in Wyoming have won by margins of over 30 points.   

With President Biden’s overall job approval rating in the low-40s, national Democrats will likely be struggling to defend several high-priority marginal districts across the country. So, a state like Wyoming, where Biden was already deeply unpopular, would look even less attractive to them. 

Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think the outcome of the race will be? The power of incumbency is real.   

Coleman: It is true that, generally speaking, House incumbents tend to fare well for reelection. Over the past few decades, upwards of 90% of incumbents are typically reelected in a given election cycle. However, in 2020, which wasn’t even a post-redistricting year, there was an unusually high number of incumbents ousted in primaries. Some of 2020’s primary casualties were simply out of touch with their party on key issues. Dan Lipinski, a pro-life Chicago Democrat, was one such case. Lipinski’s stance on abortion could parallel Cheney’s stance against Trump. 

So far, five incumbents have lost primaries this year—Carolyn Bourdeaux, Kurt Schrader, Madison Cawthorn, David McKinley, and Van Taylor. But only two, Bourdeaux and McKinley, were a result of redistricting; they both lost to other sitting members in new districts. So 2022 could be another year with above-average incumbent primary loss rates, and Wyoming could well play into that. 

To what extent, can we trust polls ahead of primaries and general elections? A May poll from WPA Intelligence that was commissioned by the Club for Growth gave Hageman a 56%-26% lead over Cheney. How reliable is this poll and others that try to predict the outcome of a race?  

Coleman: Polling for primaries is notoriously tricky, which is part of the reason why the Crystal Ball only handicaps general elections. Primary polling can also be scarce. As far as I know, that WPA poll has been the only publicly-released Wyoming survey this calendar year. It is perhaps telling that the Cheney campaign, with the large sums of money that it’s raked in, hasn’t put out their own poll showing their candidate in a better position. Sure, polling isn’t cheap, but I have to think that if Cheney wanted to refute WPA’s or any other firm’s numbers, they could afford to. But perhaps their own internal data also [have] her in a bad position. 

Let’s say Cheney loses her seat in this election. What are her options if she wants to stay in politics?  

Coleman: Before her time in elected office, she was active in the nonprofit space …and appeared regularly on Fox News. Given the decidedly pro-Trump bent that Fox News has taken on, it seems unlikely she’d be invited back to that channel, but I could certainly see another major cable news network hiring her. She is certainly passionate about defense issues, especially since her father was George H. W. Bush’s Defense Secretary. If she opts to stay in the D.C. area, there is certainly no shortage of defense contractors or causes that she could work, or advocate, for.  

I have a hard time seeing her running for any local Wyoming offices like governor. She is too much of a national figure at this point. I’ve seen her mentioned as a potential presidential candidate for 2024, or beyond. That may keep her name in the national discourse, but it would likely be an uphill campaign. 

What differentiates this race for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat from previous races? 

Coleman: Over the past few decades, except in open-seat situations, Republican incumbents had an easier time in the primary than Cheney [does] now. Barbara Cubin, who was an electoral underperformer, was pushed in her 2004 and 2006 primaries, but still won with over 55% of the vote in both cases. When [Cynthia] Lummis held the seat for four terms, she was renominated with huge majorities. 

Hageman is reported to be a former anti-Trumper. Why would President Trump endorse someone who reportedly made negative comments about him rather than select another Republican candidate?  

Coleman: Perhaps Hageman has just done the best job of consolidating the anti-Cheney vote or has run the best campaign. Trump does like to back winners, after all. And as Ohio Senate candidate J. D. Vance’s primary win shows, Trump will sometimes come around to supporting candidates who have been critical of him in the past. 

What is Harriet Hageman’s appeal to Wyoming voters? Is it Trump’s endorsement and/or something else?  

Coleman: She’ll often frame the race in state vs. national terms, which I can see resonating with Wyoming voters. She often emphasizes that her family has been in the state for several generations, while the Cheneys have “gone Washington.”  

Any other insights about Wyoming’s U.S. House race?  

Coleman: If the Cheney brand isn’t what it once was in Wyoming, neither is the Bush brand in Texas. Last month, George P. Bush, Jeb’s son, lost in a landslide to Ken Paxton, the Trump-endorsed incumbent, in the state Attorney General runoff. In 2020, Prescott Bush, George H. W. Bush’s grandson, did not fare well in a Republican primary for a Houston-area district. I just think it’s interesting that, on a historical note, George Bush and Dick Cheney were the dominant players in Republican politics 20 years ago, but, in more recent races, relatives of both have struggled in their home states. 

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