Liz Cheney, unrepentant underdog in Wyoming primary
Laura Lundquist/Courthouse News
(CN) — Representative Liz Cheney faces an uphill battle to retain her congressional seat in Wyoming’s Aug. 16 primary election. While her role on the special committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection likely plays a part, her opposition to former President Trump might not be the only factor.
With the Wyoming primary just days away, Cheney doesn’t have much time to quell the tide of opposition to her candidacy that has grown since the beginning of the year.
Recent polls have her trailing her Republican challenger, attorney Harriet Hageman, for Wyoming’s lone congressional seat. A Caspar Star Tribune poll from early July put Cheney about 20 points behind, an unusual spot for an incumbent who’s served three terms and is the third-ranking leader in the House.
“There’s no question that I’m the underdog in this race, certainly,” Cheney told Wyoming Public Radio on July 29. “But I haven’t changed. My view of policy hasn’t changed, and my view of my obligation to the Constitution hasn’t changed. That’s very much how I’m working for every single vote across our state. But I’ve also been clear that I’m not going to lie, I’m not going to tell people what they want to hear. Certainly, my opponents in the race are doing that, and I think that’s disrespectful of the people of Wyoming and it’s dangerous for our Constitution.”
Cheney is far from your average incumbent.
Previously seen as a stalwart Republican — she won her 2020 race with 69% of the vote — Cheney cast three congressional votes at the beginning of her third term that put her at odds with Wyoming Republicans. She cast two votes to certify the Biden win in a couple of states and then she joined Democrats and nine other Republicans in voting to impeach Trump one week after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
While pundits predicted the impeachment vote likely doomed those 10 Republicans, they were surprised when three recently survived their primaries. Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse in Washington state survived challenges by two Trump-backed opponents. They join Representative David Valadao of California, who will also move on to the general election.
However, Beutler and Newhouse likely benefitted from Washington’s Top-2 election system, where all candidates run against each other and the top two advance, regardless of party. Such systems tend to favor candidates with more crossover appeal, rather than the most extreme of the left or right, which are increasingly favored in regular primaries like those in Wyoming.
A month after the impeachment vote, 90% of the Wyoming Republican Central Committee voted to censure Cheney.
“We need to honor President Trump. All President Trump did was call for a peaceful assembly and protest for a fair and audited election,” Darin Smith, a Cheyenne attorney who lost to Cheney in 2016, told The Associated Press. “The Republican Party needs to put her on notice.”
Undaunted, Cheney agreed in June 2021 to be one of two Republicans to sit on the nine-member House Special Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
That prompted the National Republican Committee to censure Cheney and the other Republican, Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, this past February. The censure called for the party to refuse to recognize Cheney and Kinzinger as Republicans. Kinzinger is not running for reelection.
Not surprisingly, Trump endorsed Hageman in September, even though Hageman participated in efforts to block Trump’s nomination in 2016. At the time, Hageman also endorsed Cheney, calling Cheney “a proven, courageous, constitutional conservative, someone who has the education, the background and experience to fight effectively for Wyoming on a national stage."