Sole Congressional Race in Wyoming Expected to Test the Dynamics of the Republican Party
Liz Cheney is still grappling with Trump’s shadow while facing several election challengers
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Apr 04, 2022
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming's lone member of Congress, is facing election challenges from several rivals while still grappling with the aftermath of her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump. (Courtesy photo)
By Shen Wu Tan
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Nearly a year and a half after Donald Trump stepped down as president, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is facing a crowded field of rivals eyeing her seat as she still wrestles with Trump’s political shadow, having recently defended her role in his impeachment and the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“I can tell you with absolute confidence that our democracy is fragile and the institutions that make up our democracy,” said Cheney at a recent moderated event in Jackson. “We have a duty. People have fought and have died for this constitutional republic and we cannot just throw it away because our politics don’t match the outcome of an election. We must not do that.”
Chuckling, she told audience members, “Look, I’m Republican. Eh, well. I pause because I’ve been kicked out of some party organizations. But I’m a Republican. And I believe in what the Republican Party stands for…And my chuckle was thinking about my fellow Republicans who think they have kicked me out and can take over my party, which they can’t.”
What’s at stake is no laughing matter; Cheney is running again for Wyoming’s sole seat in the House, but it’s not just a statewide election for voters concerned about how they are represented in the U.S. House of Representatives on such important matters as land management policies and affordable healthcare. Cheney’s fight for reelection also holds national implications about the direction of the Republican Party from which she was ousted from her leadership position for her role in supporting Trump’s impeachment.
“Cheney’s continued involvement with the January 6 special committee and her public statements will rankle the Trumpist supporters, but also may embolden other Republicans as well as Democrats and independents to support and vote for her,” said Erich Frankland, a political science instructor at Casper College, in an interview with the Wyoming Truth. “I think the race is representative of the ongoing struggle around the country between the Trumpists and others in the Republican party. Cheney’s previous high visibility and power in the party in the House has been lost due to both national and state leadership. These decisions to demote her and sanction her actually undermine Wyoming’s ability to impact legislation and spending in the House.”
Given the events surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and climbing gasoline prices, U.S. energy independence is likely to be a prominent issue for voters highlighted during the House race, said Jim King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming. Other issues for voters that will be in focus include gun rights, abortion, voter and election legislation, immigration and government spending.
“There will be few differences in the policies advocated by the various Republican candidates,” King said. “The question for voters in this regard will be which candidate they believe will be best at pushing these policies in Washington.”
Five other Republican candidates are vying for Cheney’s seat in the Nov. 8 election, according to the Federal Election Commission: attorney Harriet Hageman; state Sen. Anthony Bouchard; veteran Denton Knapp; Cheyenne resident Bryan Keller; and paralegal Robyn Belinskey. State Rep. Chuck Gray, who is listed by the FEC as a candidate, suspended his campaign in September.
“I am a Wyoming native, I love my state and I love my country,” Knapp told the Wyoming Truth. “I served 30 years active duty in the U.S. Army to and want to continue to serve as Wyoming’s U.S. Congressman. I have the experience and expertise to represent Wyoming in Washington, D.C., to take back the House, replace Nancy Pelosi as speaker, and regain a conservative America, intact with our heritage, values, and pride.”
Belinskey told the Wyoming Truth, “As a grassroots, God-fearing, conservative Republican, I am planning with the help of Wyoming residents to be the voice of common sense and relatability. My mission is to run a ‘grassroots’ campaign and earn the open U.S. House of Representatives seat for Wyoming in 2022. Representing the best interest of each Wyoming resident is my goal.”
Other candidates did not respond to requests for comments.
Cheney has lost some of her megadonors to her opponents but still raised more than $7.1 million for her campaign, far outstripping her rivals. Hageman trails with about $745,000, according to public figures. Bouchard has raised about $639,000 in campaign funds.
“This election will be one of the most, if not the most, expensive U.S. House races in Wyoming history, though I’m not sure that all of that money, in-state and out-of-state contributions, will significantly affect turnout, which is usually much lower in midterm election years,” said Frankland of Casper College.
King of the University of Wyoming said Cheney has a “good chance” of staying in office despite the numerous candidates vying for her seat and the hostile stance of the GOP.
“The party activists who have been so vocal in opposition to Cheney do not comprise the entirety of the Republican primary electorate,” King told the Wyoming Truth. “She certainly faces a more serious challenge than in the 2018 primary, but Cheney has had a solid standing within the state. Her opposition to Trump has lost her some support, but I don’t think it is enough to deny her a plurality in the Republican primary.”
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, won her first term in Congress in 2016 with 62% of the vote; in 2018, she was elected with nearly 64%. And in 2020, she ran away with the general election with 69%.
King added there are some individuals in Wyoming who identify as independent but participate in the Republican primary—people who are least likely to support Trump or to object to the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The political science professor considers Hageman Cheney’s strongest challenger, saying she’s grabbed more attention since she announced her candidacy and received Trump’s endorsement.
“Liz Cheney cast her lot with the Washington, D.C. elites and those who use their power to further their own agenda at our expense,” Hageman said on her campaign website. “She doesn’t represent Wyoming and she doesn’t represent conservatives. We deserve better. We demand better. I am running to represent Wyomingites and take our state back from big government.”
Despite the Trump endorsement, King noted this is Hageman’s first election campaign, while Cheney is a more experienced campaigner who has garnered about ten times more in campaign funds.
“She’ll likely raise more money, but she’ll never match Cheney in this regard,” King said. “Anthony Bouchard, the first challenger to Cheney, has faded since Hageman entered the race. The winner of the Republican primary–be it Cheney, Hageman, or Bouchard–is almost a lock to win the general election.”
King said there will certainly be a Democratic challenger in the House race, but not someone with the needed background or resources to challenge the Republican nominee. A Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. House election in Wyoming since 1976.
Frankland of Casper College said he is unsure if Cheney’s position on Trump will hurt her enough to lose the race.
“Cheney’s voting record has largely been in accordance with the interests and needs of Wyoming voters with the primary exception being her principled vote to impeach the former president and willingness to investigate the January 6 storming of the Capitol through the House special committee,” he said.
Cheney, who serves as the vice chair of the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, was removed from a top leadership role in Congress for her criticism of Trump and censured by the Wyoming GOP in February 2021 for her vote to impeach Trump. The state party also voted in November to no longer recognize Cheney as a Republican.
“Representative Cheney has violated the trust of her voters, failed to faithfully represent a very large majority of motivated Wyoming voters, and neglected her duty to represent the party and the will of the people who elected her to represent them,” said the resolution from the Central Committee of the Wyoming GOP to censure Cheney.
When asked about the House race, Kathy Russell, the executive director of the Wyoming Republican Party, said the state party will not address questions about the race during the run-up to the primary election Aug. 16.
Cheney has described her vote to impeach Trump due to the Jan. 6 riot as a way to protect the Constitution.
“It is one of the most tragic things, certainly in recent history, maybe in our nation’s history, that people were betrayed by a sitting president of the United States,” Cheney said at the event in Jackson. “And people were told that if they came to Washington on Jan. 6 somehow things could change. And the president went to war with the rule of law…and it has become more clear in the time since then that then President Trump provoked the mob that attacked the Capitol.”
The filing period for candidates vying for the U.S. House of Representatives begins May 12.
“The question,” King said, “will be more whether Wyoming reflects national trends within the Republican Party, either nominating a candidate in the pro-Trump wing of the party or if Cheney and others who challenged Trump were able to remain successful in their own constituencies.”