Cheney braces for loss as Trump tested in Wyoming and Alaska
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a leader in the Republican resistance to former President Donald Trump, is fighting to save her seat in the U.S. House on Tuesday as voters weigh in on the direction of the GOP.
Cheney is bracing for a loss against a Trump-backed challenger in the state in which he won by the largest of margins during the 2020 campaign.
Win or lose, the 56-year-old daughter of a vice president is vowing to remain an active presence in national politics as she contemplates a 2024 presidential bid. But in the short term, Cheney is facing a dire threat from Republican opponent Harriet Hageman, a Cheyenne ranching industry attorney who has harnessed the full fury of the Trump movement in her bid to expel Cheney from the House.
“Today, no matter what the outcome is, is certainly the beginning of a battle that is going to continue,” Cheney told CBS News after casting her vote Tuesday, standing alongside her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. “We’re facing a moment where our democracy really is under attack and under threat. And those of us across the board — Republicans, Democrats and independents who believe deeply in freedom and who care about the Constitution and the future of the country — have an obligation to put that above party."
Many of Wyoming's voters don't seem to agree with their three-term Republican congresswoman.
“We like Trump. She tried to impeach Trump,” Cheyenne voter Chester Barkell said of Cheney. “I don’t trust Liz Cheney.”
And in Jackson, Republican voter Dan Winder said he felt betrayed.
“Over 70% of the state of Wyoming voted Republican in the last presidential election and she turned right around and voted against us,” said Winder, a hotel manager. “She was our representative, not her own.”
Tuesday's contests in Wyoming and Alaska offer one of the final tests for Trump and his brand of hard-line politics ahead of the November general election. So far, the former president has largely dominated the fight to shape the GOP in his image, having helped install loyalists in key general election matchups from Arizona to Georgia to Pennsylvania.
This week's contests come just eight days after the FBI executed a search warrant at Trump's Florida estate, recovering 11 sets of classified records. Some were marked “sensitive compartmented information,” a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets. The Republican Party initially rallied behind the former president, although the reaction turned somewhat mixed as more details emerged.
In Alaska, a recent change to state election law gives a periodic Trump critic, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an opportunity to survive the former president's wrath, even after she voted to convict him in his second impeachment trial. She is the only Senate Republican running for reelection this year who backed Trump's impeachment.
The top four primary Senate candidates in Alaska, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election, where voters will rank them in order of preference.
In all, seven Republican senators and 10 Republican House members joined every Democrat in supporting Trump's impeachment in the days after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress tried to certify President Joe Biden's victory.
Just two of those 10 House members have won their GOP primaries this year. The rest have lost or declined to seek reelection. Cheney would be just the third to return to Congress if she defies expectations on Tuesday.
Murkowski is facing 18 opponents — the most prominent of which is Republican Kelly Tshibaka, who has been endorsed by Trump — in her push to preserve a seat she has held for nearly 20 years.
On the other side of the GOP's tent, Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential nominee, hopes to spark a political comeback on Tuesday. She's actually on Tuesday's ballot twice: once in a special election to complete former Rep. Don Young’s term and another for a full two-year House term starting in January.
Back in Wyoming, Cheney’s political survival may depend upon persuading enough Democrats to cast ballots in her Republican primary election. While some Democrats have rallied behind her, it's unclear whether there are enough in the state to make a difference.
As of Aug. 1, 2022, there were 285,000 registered voters in Wyoming, including 40,000 Democrats and 208,000 Republicans.
Ardath Junge, of Cheyenne, said she recently changed her registration from Democratic to Republican.
“I did it just to vote for Cheney because I believe in what she’s doing,” said Junge, a retired schoolteacher.
Many Republicans in the state — and in the country — have essentially excommunicated Cheney because of her outspoken criticism of Trump. The House GOP ousted her as the No. 3 House leader last year. And more recently, the Wyoming GOP and Republican National Committee censured her.
Anti-Trump groups such as U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger's Country First PAC and the Republican Accountability Project have worked to encourage independents and Democrats to support Cheney in recent weeks. They are clearly disappointed by the expected outcome of Tuesday's election, although some are hopeful about her political future.
“What's remarkable is that in the face of almost certain defeat she’s never once wavered,” said Sarah Longwell, executive director of the Republican Accountability Project. “We’ve been watching a national American figure be forged. It’s funny how small the election feels — the Wyoming election — because she feels bigger than it now.”
Cheney has seemingly welcomed defeat by devoting almost every resource at her disposal to ending Trump’s political career since the insurrection.
She emerged as a leader in the congressional committee investigating Trump's role in the Jan. 6 attack, giving the Democrat-led panel genuine bipartisan credibility. She has also devoted the vast majority of her time to the committee instead of the campaign trail back home, a decision that still fuels murmurs of disapproval among some Wyoming allies. And she has closed out the primary campaign with an unflinching anti-Trump message.
“There is nothing more important she will ever do than lead the effort to make sure Donald Trump is never again near the Oval Office," Dick Cheney said in a recent ad produced by his daughter’s campaign.
Cheney’s allies were struggling not to lose hope in the hours before polls closed.
“I’m still hopeful that the polling numbers are wrong,” said Landon Brown, a Wyoming state representative and vocal Cheney ally. “It’ll be a crying shame really if she does lose. It shows just how much of a stranglehold that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party.”