ELECTION RESULTS: Republicans dominate Wyoming races as GOP likely to regain control of U.S. House
Harriet Hageman is poised to join a Republican House majority when she heads to Washington in January
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Nov 09, 2022
Environmental attorney Harriet Hageman thanked supporters at an intimate victory party in Cheyenne after formally winning the election to serve as Wyoming's next representative to the U.S. House. (Wyoming Truth photo by Shen Wu Tan)
By Jacob Gardenswartz and Shen Wu Tan
Special to the Wyoming Truth
CHEYENNE — Wyoming voters yesterday turned out overwhelmingly on behalf of Republican candidates in this year’s general election, with the conservative state again electing GOP candidates to lead all branches of state government. At the national level, the GOP appeared likely to regain narrow control of the U.S. House of Representatives; as of early Wednesday morning, control of the U.S. Senate remained undecided with key races still uncalled.
Natural resources attorney Harriet Hageman was officially elected Wyoming’s next member of Congress in the U.S. House, besting her Democratic opponent, activist Lynnette Grey Bull, by 45 points. Hageman’s election also marked the end of Rep. Liz Cheney’s career in Washington, at least for the time being. After losing to Hageman in the primary, Cheney, the three-time member of Congress and vocal critic of former President Donald Trump, will vacate her House seat on Jan. 3 when Hageman is officially sworn into office.
Back in the Equality State, Republican Gov. Mark Gordon was reelected to a second term, easily beating Democrat Theresa Livingston. Gordon, recently found to be tied with Vermont’s Phil Scott as the most popular governor in the country, weathered a number of crises during his first term, including the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and plunging oil prices that have ravaged the state’s economy. He’s promised to continue efforts to diversify the state’s revenue sources during his second term.
Wyoming voters also elected Megan Degenfelder as the new superintendent of public instruction, thrusting her into a position overseeing the state’s public school system at a time when educational issues have become central to the culture war conversation nationally and locally. Degenfelder defeated sitting state Superintendent Brian Schroeder, who’s taken aim at books touching on sexuality and gender, in a contentious primary in August.
State Rep. Chuck Gray, who ran unopposed, was officially selected as the state’s next secretary of state. Gray’s support for unproven theories of election fraud in 2020 prompted many local Republicans to oppose his candidacy, though such efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful. Gray, a close ally of Trump, will now oversee the state’s election system as the former president appears poised to announce next week another White House bid.
Lower down the ballot, Kristi Racines was elected state auditor and Curt Meier treasurer. Each Republican ran unopposed.
Hageman heads to Washington a rising conservative star
Hageman’s victory Tuesday makes official her ascent to Washington and cements her status as a rising star within the GOP.
An environmental attorney and former Republican National Committee official, she waged an unsuccessful bid for Wyoming governor in 2018, losing the primary to Gordon. In September 2021, she announced that she’d challenge Cheney for Wyoming’s sole seat in the U.S. House, pointing to Cheney’s criticism of Trump as proof that Cheney “betrayed Wyoming, she betrayed this country, and she betrayed me.”
Despite her familial ties to former Vice President Dick Cheney and her one-time position as chair of the House Republican Conference, the third highest-ranking post in GOP leadership, Cheney’s outspoken criticism of Trump in connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection quickly made her persona non-grata within her party. Cheney, who served as vice chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, repeatedly and forcefully denounced candidates who called into question the results of the 2020 race. That included her primary opponent, Hageman, who claimed without evidence that the election was “rigged” against Trump.
In recent weeks, Hageman and Cheney ventured beyond Wyoming to campaign for candidates on opposite sides of the aisle. In Iowa, Hageman rallied for Republican state Sen. Zach Nunn, who ran for Congress. Cheney, meanwhile, endorsed several Democrats facing Trump-backed challengers, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, Tim Ryan in Ohio, and Elissa Slotkin in Michigan.
“If we want to ensure the survival of the republic, we have to walk away from politics as usual,” Cheney said in a campaign event for Slotkin in East Lansing last week. “This is our time of testing. Not a single one of us in this room and not a single one of us across this country can be a bystander.”
One Democrat Cheney did not endorse, however, was Hageman’s opponent, Grey Bull, despite public calls for such a move from the Wyoming Democrat for Congress. The Grey Bull campaign felt Cheney’s endorsement could have helped turn out Democrats who’d switched parties to support her in the primary.
“I believe that we should not have representatives who don’t believe in the functioning of our democracy, particularly with regards to the last presidential election,” said one such voter, Jacob Fields, to the Wyoming Truth after casting a ballot for Grey Bull.
But in Wyoming, which broke for Trump in 2020 by a higher margin than any other state in the nation, Cheney’s criticism was a bridge too far for most voters.
“I was pretty disappointed with Liz Cheney’s actions,” Mark Pacheras, 58, said in an interview at an intimate watch party organized by the Hageman campaign Tuesday night.
“Her whole battle with Donald Trump just went overboard,” Pacheras added. “And I don’t think I’m the only one with that opinion, based on the voting. But now her supporting Democratic candidates in other states against the Republican, her [vice]chairmanship of the Jan. 6 committee… it was just ridiculous.”
On election night, Hageman was joined by about 50 supporters in a private room at Cheyenne’s Office Bar and Grill. Attendees snacked on pulled pork, fried mac and cheese bites and an assortment of cheeses as they watched results come in.
“I will commit to you that I will represent you,” Hageman said to cheers from the crowd. “I will represent you well, and I will be your voice in Washington, D.C… We need to return power to the states where it belongs under our Constitution. I will spend every waking moment fighting those battles, fighting for you, fighting for our country.”
Though Hageman’s election means Wyomingites may see a decline in the institutional power of their representative, Hageman’s close ties with GOP leadership also mean she’s likely to wield influence in key policy debates, experts say.
“At least within the Republican Conference, Hageman will probably have more influence than Cheney. Though Hageman will only be a freshman member, Cheney has, to say the least, burnt a lot of bridges on the GOP side,” said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, to the Wyoming Truth.
With Republicans likely to retake the House, “Hageman would at least start off as a member of the majority party, which could put her in more of a position to deliver for Wyoming,” Coleman added.
Gordon hopes to capitalize on popularity, as Degenfelder confronts a contentious climate
Gordon’s reelection, called by the Associated Press just two minutes after polls closed in Wyoming, comes as the incumbent governor charted a path of neutrality during an election season which brought significant media scrutiny to the nation’s least populated state.
Despite fielding attacks from his GOP primary opponents on the matter, Gordon declined to take a side in the Republican House primary, and snubbed Trump by opting not to join him when he rallied for Hageman in Casper.
“When President Trump called me and said, ‘Please come to my rally,’ I said, ‘I’m glad to meet you at the airport, President Trump, but I am not going to take sides in this particular race,’” Gordon said of their exchange. Trump, for his part, has said the governor “has not been too helpful,” though he did not elaborate on how Gordon was unhelpful.
On the campaign trail, Gordon highlighted his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason voters should support him again, noting that Wyoming held more in-person school days during the 2021 school year than any other state in the country. Cheyenne resident Cheryl Bean, 63, told the Wyoming Truth Gordon had done an “excellent job” overall and did his best to address the pandemic shortly after she cast her ballot for him.
Degenfelder, who handily bested Democrat Sergio Maldonado in the race for state superintendent, has walked a tightrope on hot-button educational issues. In an interview with the Wyoming Truth in September, she argued that parents should have a greater say in their children’s education but said she wouldn’t go as far as her predecessor to push back against federal anti-discrimination policies for transgender youth.
“The crux of these conversations should really be at home between the parent and the child,” Degenfelder said. “But in our Wyoming schools, we’re able to make individual accommodations while still not impacting the larger student body, and that’s what we do in all of these situations.”