(Bloomberg) -- For many Wyoming voters, the only question left to be answered in Tuesday’s Republican primary is what Liz Cheney will do next.
Cheney, who has held the state’s sole seat in the US House since 2017, is all but certain to lose to top challenger Harriet Hageman, who leads the incumbent by almost 30 percentage points in the latest polling.
In Teton County, where Cheney lives outside Jackson Hole, there is keen recognition that the contest is really between Cheney and former President Donald Trump. Trump has endorsed Hageman and engaged in a sustained campaign of mutual hostility with Cheney stemming from her role on the Democrat-dominated panel investigating last year’s insurrection at the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters.
People who attended an invitation-only get-together for Cheney last week at a tony private residence in the foothills of the Teton Range, said they were struck by how the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney seemed to be already charting a rebound. Much of the speculation among friends and foes is whether that might mean a run for another office, even president, in two years.
“I wouldn’t say she is resigned to losing. But my impression was, generally, that she’s probably thinking more about 2024 than 2022,” said Teton County Commissioner Luther Propst, who attended the event and is among the state’s Democrats crossing party lines to support Cheney.
Cheney’s vocal and persistent criticism of Trump following last year’s Capitol attack has made her both a national political figure and a Republican Party pariah. She’s the last of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the riot to face Republican voters. Four of that group declined to seek re-election and three lost their primaries in the face of vociferous attacks by Trump.
Wyoming’s primary and another in Alaska on Tuesday will offer a tableau of Trumpian party politics. There is Cheney, 56, the staunch conservative critic of the former president. In Alaska voters will be passing judgment on moderate GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski, one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump in his Senate trial, and Sarah Palin, whose run as the Republican candidate for vice president presaged Trump’s rise and is now seeking a comeback as Alaska’s representative in the House.
Cheney’s staff rebuffed repeated requests for an interview. Her spokesman, Jeremy Adler, said Cheney has repeatedly stressed that she’s made no decision yet about a presidential bid in 2024.
Mary Martin, chair of the local Teton County Republican Party, who declined to say who she is supporting in the primary, said she has little doubt.
“Those blinders have come off,” Martin said. Going after Trump after the Capitol riot “was the opportunity to be in the presidential race, so she took it.”
Trump, who appeared at a May rally in Casper to support of Hageman. continues to hold a tight grip on a state he carried in 2020 election over Joe Biden with nearly 70% of the vote.
Hageman, 59, grew up in Fort Laramie and unsuccessfully ran for the GOP nomination for governor in 2018. She’s been a natural resources lawyer based in Cheyenne and is now with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a conservative group that says it exists to “Protect Americans from the Administrative State.”
She’s driven thousands of miles criss-crossing the state and held hundreds of events, according to supporters. Hageman declined an interview after arriving in Jackson last week, but she has characterized Cheney as obsessed with her personal vendetta against Trump.
In campaign debate June 30 featuring Cheney, Hageman and three other candidates, Cheney said Hageman won’t say the 2020 election wasn’t stolen because she is beholden to Trump. Hageman responded there were “serious concerns” about the vote and Republicans were unfairly being targeted for “exercising their first amendment rights.”
Even before her high-profile role as a Trump critic, Cheney had alienated some Wyoming Republicans. The scion of a politically powerful Wyoming family, Cheney’s career was mostly based in Washington and she didn’t move back to the state until 2012. She unsuccessfully sought election to the Senate in 2014 before winning the state’s House seat in 2016.
Members of both parties characterize Cheney as aloof and distant with most Wyoming voters. And any goodwill she had been allowed was shredded when she broke with Trump.
John Fox, a Teton County Republican who is a member of Hageman’s leadership committee, said he wrote a check for Cheney’s campaign a couple of years ago. But now, he said, Cheney’s “obsession” with Trump cost her not only a House GOP leadership position, but made her afraid to meet voters she’s supposed to represent, and rendered her “useless to Wyoming.”
Martin, the Teton County GOP chair -- who has lived and worked in Teton county since 1975 -- said she has never had a single conversation with the congresswoman. She also said Cheney also hasn’t attended most local GOP events in four years.
“I’ve always cut her slack in that I know she is an incredibly busy woman -- she’s got children, she’s a mom, she’s really busy with her job in D.C., and that whenever she came back to Jackson she was resting,” Martin said. “I didn’t find her not being out and involved in the community like her father anything to give one pause.”
Cheney campaign events mostly have been private, invitation-only events. She is accompanied by a Capitol Police security detail and in some cases the location isn’t revealed to attendees until 24 hours before the event.
Adler, Cheney’s spokesman, declined to discuss whether the security is related to threats.
Despite her solid conservative record on social issues and national security policy, Wyoming Democrats have been crossing over to support Cheney in the GOP primary. It’s not likely not enough to carry her to victory.
Brian Harnisch, director of the University of Wyoming’s Wyoming Survey and Analysis, said that while as many as 20,000 GOP primary votes statewide could come from recently or currently registered Democrats, there are about 200,000 GOP primary voters and his latest poll showed 57% support Hageman, while only 28% support Cheney.
Democrat Propst said he has “strong disagreement with Cheney” on many issues but admires her “for her support for democratic processes.” Tuesday’s primary, he said, could be both an end and a beginning.
“You know, people are strongly drawn to comeback and redemption stories,” Propst said.
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