VOTE TODAY: What’s At Stake in Wyoming’s Most-Watched Election in Decades

The GOP primary race for Wyoming’s House seat has attracted a national spotlight, but the election is about more than Donald Trump

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Harriet Hageman's closing ad argues that the primary election is not about her opponent, Rep. Liz Cheney, but rather the people of Wyoming, though Hageman's campaign has centered on critiques of her rival. Cheney's closing ad lambasts Donald Trump's "insidious" claim that the 2020 election was stolen. (Courtesy photo via YouTube/Harriet Hageman for Wyoming and Liz Cheney for Wyoming)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

As voters across Wyoming head to the polls Tuesday for the state’s primary election, the media scrutiny that the nation’s least-populated state has amassed is, in a word, unprecedented.

“We literally have the world watching,” said Dr. Joe McGinley, a radiologist and former chairman of the Republican Party in Natrona County. “You have a small group of individuals deciding, basically, a fate that the world is concerned about.”

Rep. Liz Cheney’s bid to retain her seat against challenger Harriet Hageman has come to represent a referendum on former President Donald Trump and the future of the Republican Party. If Cheney wins, so the prevailing wisdom goes, it will show that Republican voters are fed up with Trump and ready for the party to move on. If she loses, Trump’s enduring grip on the party will be all but indisputable.

Trump’s shadow has hovered over the race since he endorsed Hageman nearly a year ago, in no small part due to Cheney’s role as vice chair of the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection. But voters casting ballots today are not there to determine the fate of the GOP; rather, their task is to decide who they want to serve as Wyoming’s sole representative in the U.S. Congress. With so much of the candidates’ focus on Trump, some feel their positions on other issues aren’t as clear as they could be.

“You know where Liz Cheney stands, she has a record,” said McGinley, who is supporting Cheney in the primary. “Harriet Hageman does not.”

Cheney, Hageman, and the ‘Big Lie’

If one issue has come to dominate Wyoming’s House primary, it’s election integrity. Cheney has repeatedly called out Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of a stolen election as “dangerous,” emphasizing the need for politicians to be honest with their constituents.

“The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious,” she says in her campaign’s closing ad. “This is Donald Trump’s legacy, but it cannot be the future of our nation.”

Hageman, meanwhile, spent much of her campaign walking a tightrope on the matter, bolstering Trump’s unproven allegations of fraud without outright claiming that the election was stolen. That changed earlier this month.

“Absolutely the election was rigged,” Hageman said during an Aug. 4 event in Casper. “It was rigged to make sure that President Trump could not get reelected.”

Numerous recounts and court cases have found no irregularities sufficient to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Yet a recent poll from the University of Wyoming and Wyoming Public Media revealed that 39 percent of Wyomingites believe President Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate, with 46 percent of Republicans supporting the claim. The same poll found Hageman leading Cheney by nearly 30 points.

A bipartisan group of Senators has already introduced legislation to clarify the Electoral Count Act, seeking to prevent a repeat of 2020 when Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the will of the voters and delay the certification of the election. Cheney expressed support for such efforts, though she did not explicitly endorse that proposal. Hageman, meanwhile, has not commented on the pending legislation.

Hageman’s greatest asset: she’s not Liz Cheney

In her campaign’s closing ad, Hageman’s message to voters is clear: The election is “not about Cheney, it’s about the people of Wyoming.”

Yet in speeches and campaign press releases, Hageman has spent quite a bit of time discussing her rival.

She’s criticized Cheney’s vote for a bill to boost semiconductor research and production, her support for gun reforms, her defense of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the military and her shift on women’s participation in the draft military service. Of the 45 statements Hageman’s campaign has released since she announced her candidacy last September, nearly half focused primarily on critiques of Cheney.  

What Hageman might do differently as a member of Congress, beyond her steadfast support of Trump, is unclear. Despite her many criticisms of the former president, Cheney voted with his policies 93 percent of the time. So as some Democrats consider switching parties to support Cheney in the GOP primary, others feel no need.

“I just don’t know what the difference would be between Representative Cheney and Ms. Hageman,” said Pete Gosar, Albany County Commissioner.

But Hageman’s past holds some clues to her policy leanings. Her unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial bid centered on her experience as a natural resources attorney, where she pledged to “reform federal land management and access” by rolling back environmental regulations.

During this campaign, Hageman has attacked Cheney for not serving on the House Natural Resources Committee, while positioning herself firmly against environmental regulations and for the transfer of federal lands to states. In a July Casper Star-Tribune editorial, a coalition of Wyoming residents decried Hageman as a “danger to our public land freedoms.” 

And yet, even Hageman’s anti-conservation positions do not put her at great odds with Cheney, who has supported similar public lands transfer efforts and has criticized attempts to address climate change.

It appears, then, that Hageman’s greatest asset is the most obvious one: She’s not Liz Cheney.

“Hageman is the leader among the ‘not Cheney’ candidates,” said Jim King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming. “While she benefited from Trump placing her center-stage, Hageman’s supporters are probably more anti-Cheney than pro-Hageman.”

Interviews with Hageman-supporting voters bolstered King’s analysis.

Asked why he was supporting Hageman, John Roberts, a trucking company owner in Rozet, responded, “Well, we’ll see how it goes.”

Roberts added, “You know, she’s a Wyomingite, It’s more of just breaking the chain [of Cheney’s tenure], but if she goes [to Washington], we’ll see if she can live up to her promises.”

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