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Wyoming Voters Deal Lopsided Loss to Cheney
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Wyoming Voters Deal Lopsided Loss to Cheney

Harriet Hageman wins the state’s lone House seat following Donald Trump’s full-court press against Liz Cheney.

Liz Cheney’s tenure as Wyoming’s lone, at-large member of Congress will soon come to an end. Shortly after polls closed at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, it became clear that Cheney would lose by well more than 30 points to her Trump-endorsed challenger, Harriet Hageman.

Jim King, who has taught political science at the University of Wyoming since 1992, was not surprised.

“Trump definitely brought many Wyomingites to his side while in office,” he told The Dispatch.

For most of her career, Cheney was considered a rock-ribbed Republican with the pedigree and voting record to prove it. Her father, Dick Cheney, once held her same seat in Congress before going on to eventually become George W. Bush’s vice president. Liz Cheney supported both of Donald Trump’s presidential bids, but her votes to certify the 2020 election results and impeach Trump in the aftermath of the January 6 storming of the Capitol turned Republicans in Wyoming and across the country against her. 

“Two years ago, I won this primary with 73 percent of the vote,” Cheney reminded her supporters in remarks shortly after the polls closed Tuesday. “I could easily have done the same again. The path was clear. But it would have required that I go along with President Trump’s lie about the 2020 election. It would have required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attack the foundations of our republic. That was a path I could not and would not take.”

Dave Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College, told The Dispatch last month that “the definition of conservatism has changed a bit in the Trump years.” 

“What counts as being a true conservative has become more about cultural issues and more about fidelity to Trump himself than it’s been about size of government,” he said.

Hageman was once a sharp critic of Trump but reinvented herself as a loyalist, even hiring former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien as one of her advisers. She has repeated the baseless claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against Trump.

Cheney’s refusal to hew closely to that party dogma on Trump and January 6 put her on the outs with most Republicans in her state, and the Wyoming GOP censured her on February 6, 2021—a few weeks after her vote to impeach Trump. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader with whom Cheney served before she was removed from her post as Republican conference chair, spent the last few days in Jackson actively campaigning against her—a different tack than he has taken with some of the other Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. (For example, McCarthy’s PAC bought TV ads for Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer in his failed bid to fend off a Trump-backed challenger.)

Ginger Bennett, chairwoman of the Fremont County GOP, told The Dispatch she was personally involved in the effort to censure Cheney—an effort which began at the county level before being adopted by the state party. She said hearing from people who had been at the Capitol on January 6 influenced her decision. One man she spoke to “explained how Antifa pushed that crowd forward” and talked about how a mysterious figure with a Black Lives Matter mask “was telling him to move forward onto the Capitol steps.” (Claims that members of Antifa led the mob as part of a “false flag” operation have been shown to be false, in part through the work of the committee Cheney is vice chair of in the House.)

Bennett said she planned to vote not just against Cheney, but for Hageman. 

“I feel that Harriet Hageman has a strong understanding of how the regulation and the bureaucratic overreach affects the people, and that’s something that’s missing from Liz Cheney’s repertoire,” she said. “When you grow up in Washington, D.C., versus when you grow up in Fort Laramie, you have a different understanding of how these things work.”

Thousands of Democrats and independents switched their party registrations in order to vote for Cheney in the Republican primary. But those efforts were ultimately fruitless in the face of the more than 30-point margin in Hageman’s favor. Hageman will face Democrat Lynnette Grey Bull in November, and she will almost certainly prevail: Democrats haven’t won a congressional race in Wyoming since 1976. 

And it’s not just Hageman. Chuck Gray defeated Tara Nethercott in the Republican primary for secretary of state. According to WyoFile, while Nethercott was aligned with outgoing Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, who has defended the security of the 2020 election in Wyoming, Gray’s view is that “there’s tremendous problems.” He has also promoted the documentary 2,000 Mules, which includes several debunked theories about election fraud in 2020

“I’ve been an election judge for a long time, and our elections are run by the book down the line,” Vickie Goodwin, the chair of the Converse County Democratic Party, told The Dispatch. “None of our machines are connected to the internet, there’s no way that they could be hacked. So I find [Gray] a little out there in what he says is going on.”

The secretary of state contest was more competitive than the Cheney-Hageman matchup, perhaps due to Nethercott’s support from prominent state and local Republican leaders, including the president of the state Senate and speaker of the state House.

Goodwin said Wyomingites may be “more likely to vote for somebody they know and feel good about rather than whether they’re extreme right or extreme … not extreme, moderate.”

If ideology were the only determining factor, Liz Cheney’s reelection bid would have gone swimmingly. But whatever advantage her ideological purity or family history might once have offered evaporated once she took her stand against Trump.

When she leaves office in January, her message to her fellow Republicans through the work of the January 6 committee will still be relevant: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

Price St. Clair is a former reporter for The Dispatch.