Cheney Trails Hageman as GOP Primary Election Nears

With two weeks until the Aug. 16 primary, incumbent Rep. Liz Cheney is down 22 points, fueling talk of a possible presidential bid

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Aug 01, 2022

An ad by a Harriet Hageman-supporting super PAC ties Rep. Liz Cheney to Democratic House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, while a new Cheney campaign ad takes aim at Hageman's comments undermining the 2020 election results. (Wyoming Truth photos via the YouTube / Wyoming Values PAC and Liz Cheney for Wyoming)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

As the race to determine who will win Wyoming’s sole Congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives enters its final months, the writing appears to be on the wall for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).

The incumbent Republican and vocal critic of former President Donald Trump trails her Trump-endorsed challenger, natural resources attorney Harriet Hageman, by over 20 percentage points, according to a recent poll by the Casper Star-Tribune.

“It looks like Cheney is in for a very difficult reelection campaign,” said Jim King, a professor of political science at the University of Wyoming and co-author of a prominent volume on “Equality State” politics.

Rep. Liz Cheney’s congressional office in Washington may soon no longer bear her name as she trails GOP challenger Harriet Hageman by more than 20 percentage points. (Wyoming Truth photo)

Representatives for Cheney’s political campaign and congressional office did not respond to requests for comment.

The Aug. 16 primary election to determine Wyoming’s GOP nominee to represent the nation’s least populated state in Congress has attracted a national spotlight, as the contest has come to represent something of a referendum on Trump and the future of the Republican party.

Cheney, once the third-highest ranking member in GOP leadership who is seeking her fourth term in Washington, has become persona non grata in many Republican circles for using her post as vice chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection to repeatedly beat the drum against Trump’s alleged role in the Capitol riots.

But in conservative Wyoming, which broke for Trump in the 2020 election by a higher margin than any other state in the nation, Cheney’s persistent attacks on the former president appear to have disaffected many voters.

Hageman, who joined Trump at a May rally in Casper, has made Cheney’s leading role on the committee a central line of attack; Hageman has frequently tied Cheney to Democratic Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and accused Cheney of neglecting her Wyoming constituents.

“Liz Cheney left behind Wyoming and our conservative values a long time ago,” begins a new ad from a Hageman-supporting super PAC. “Hageman will fight the Cheney-Pelosi agenda the Wyoming Way.”

In a statement to the Wyoming Truth, Hageman painted Cheney’s role on the Jan. 6 committee as intended solely to bolster her political ambitions: “The overwhelming sentiment I hear is that people are fed up with Liz Cheney, who is using our only House seat to further her own political agenda and do Nancy Pelosi’s dirty work on the January 6th Committee.”

“I am confident that on August 16th Wyoming will choose someone for Congress who will defend our values and always remember who hired them for the job,” Hageman’s statement added.

Cheney’s participation on the committee — she is one of just two Republicans to do so and the only seeking reelection in 2022 — came up frequently in conversations with Wyoming voters in recent weeks.

“I believe Hageman cares more about what’s going on in Wyoming, while Cheney is more focused on January 6th,” said Will Collier, a real estate agent and former coal miner in Gillette.

Nonetheless, Cheney has refused to back down from fervently defending the legitimacy of the 2020 election and sounding the alarm about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

Her campaign’s latest ad highlights remarks from Hageman and two of her other GOP challengers — Robyn Belinskey and Anthony Bouchard — in a recent primary election debate and criticizes their comments alleging voter fraud and election anomalies.

“We have to elect leaders who will take their oath of office seriously, leaders who won’t simply say what they think people want to hear,” Cheney says in the ad’s conclusion.

Though Cheney’s fundraising significantly outpaces Hageman’s, a majority of her donors are from out of state. Of the $13 million Cheney raised through June 30, just $260,000 came from Wyoming residents, according to a recent analysis by the Los Angeles Times. While Hageman only raised $3.7 million in total, $1.2 million of that was from Wyomingites — more than four times what Cheney raised in her home state. In an apparent effort to make up some ground, the Cheney campaign has sent mailers to registered Democrats in Wyoming with instructions on how to change their party registration and support her in the Republican primary. 

David Martin, communications director for the Wyoming Democratic Party, said that he’s had no direct communication with the Cheney campaign, but he understood some Democrats in the state “may want to vote their conscience” and change their registration for the election.

Starting Tomorrow

“Voters are intelligent, and, you know, they’re motivated by a number of different issues,” Martin said. “And should they decide to [change their registration], I mean, we’re not going to punish or criticize anybody for doing that.”

According to data from the Wyoming Secretary of State, the number of registered Democrats has fallen significantly since 2021, while the number of registered Republicans has increased. In August of last year, there were just over 46,000 registered Democrats and 195,000 registered Republicans; as of July 2022, there were 43,000 registered Democrats and 200,000 registered Republicans.

Still, King predicted that so-called crossover voting is unlikely to play a major role in the outcome of the election: “If it’s a situation where the race between Hageman and Cheney comes down to a few hundred votes, yes, any group that participates is going to be influential.”

“But if it’s a 5,000-vote difference either way, no, those people really won’t have an effect on the outcome,” King said.

With the election 15 days away, political observers have highlighted Cheney’s conspicuous absence from the state as evidence that she may already be looking to what comes next after a primary defeat. Cheney was “nowhere to be seen” during the first week of  Cheyenne Frontier Days, a 10-day rodeo and celebration of western culture, the Associated Press reported.

But Cheney is not without political victories. Her bipartisan bill to expand telehealth services overwhelmingly passed the House on Wednesday, something Cheney lauded as a win for her constituents throughout Wyoming.

Even if Cheney loses the Aug. 16 primary, many believe she will not exit the political stage. She has repeatedly declined to rule out running for president in 2024 as a Republican or independent, most recently telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that she’ll make a decision on 2024 “down the road.”

If Cheney does mount a presidential bid, some are already lining up to support her, including Bob Loevy, a journalist-turned-political scientist who once served as Cheney’s professor at Colorado College.

He recalled how even as a young college student, Cheney had a detailed career trajectory planned out to prepare her for government service. If Cheney decides to run in 2024, the longtime Republican said he’d support her enthusiastically.

Watching Cheney become a nationally-recognized congressional figure when he once taught her about American politics is, Loevy said in a recent telephone interview, “like being a geologist in the middle of an earthquake or a volcanic eruption.”

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