Some 2,500 kilometers from Washington, D.C., the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol still looms large in the minds of Wyoming voters who will be heading to the polls on August 16 to decide if Republican Liz Cheney should keep her seat in Congress.
Wyoming’s only representative in the U.S. House, two-term Congresswoman Cheney has staked her political career on being one of the few Republicans to openly criticize former President Donald Trump. But she has an uphill fight to win her party’s nomination in a state that delivered Trump his most lopsided win of the 2020 election, with almost 70% of the vote.
The Wyoming Republican Party primary has pitted Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, against the Trump-endorsed candidate, former attorney Harriet Hageman. The least-populated state in the nation, Wyoming has been solidly Republican for decades. But the debate over Trump has forced voters to decide exactly what it means to be a loyal Republican and has turned the primary contest into a test for the former president ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in 2021 for inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol and has served as vice chair of the House select committee to investigate the January 6th attack. She was expelled from the state Republican Party for continuing to call Trump’s claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election “the Big Lie.”
“Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office, to ignore the ongoing violence against law enforcement, to threaten our constitutional order. There is no way to excuse that behavior,” Cheney said during a January 6th Committee hearing last month. She has also suggested Trump should face federal charges for his actions in the aftermath of the 2020 election.
“We need a leader like Liz,” Jan Cartwright, a retired health care executive from Cheyenne, told VOA. “I think that it's important for us to look at what happened with both the Trump presidency and then January 6, and I think that truth has to overcome lies. I believe that that's what she's trying to do, is to get to the truth.”
Trump has criticized the work of the January 6th Committee, suggesting it is unfair that the two Republicans investigating his actions also voted to impeach him.
“Liz Cheney hates the voters of the Republican Party, and she has for longer than you would know,” Trump said at a Casper, Wyoming, rally for Hageman in May.
"Wyoming deserves a congresswoman who stands up for you and your values, not one who spends all of her time putting you down and going after your president in the most vicious way possible.”
But some Wyoming voters have been turned off by Trump’s messaging, saying Cheney’s determination is a Wyoming value. Independent voter Don Maloff told VOA he is switching his party registration just so that he can vote for Cheney.
“Cheney is being stepped on by Trump, which is wrong in every which way,” Maloff said, adding that he admires Cheney’s work on the January 6th Committee even though he doesn’t think it will change anyone’s mind.
In their only debate, on July 1, the two candidates focused on Trump, with Cheney suggesting Hageman knew Trump’s election fraud claims were false.
"The election was not stolen. She knows it wasn't stolen. I think that she can't say that it wasn't stolen because she's completely beholden to Donald Trump,” Cheney said.
But Hageman contended Cheney was ignoring her constituents by focusing on the investigation into the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
"Our republic is not in danger because of President Donald J. Trump. President Trump was an excellent president for the United States of America and especially for the state of Wyoming,” Hageman said in the debate.
Polling in the days leading up to the Tuesday primary has Hageman leading Cheney by a significant margin, an indication that Hageman’s criticism of the January 6th Committee is connecting with many Wyoming voters.
“She cannot like Donald Trump. She can do whatever she wants to try to get him where he can't run again, the whole January 6 — whatever that whole nonsense is all about — but the voters in Wyoming stand — for the majority — stand solidly behind Trump,” Randy Mulkey, a Cheyenne voter who works for a roofing company, told VOA.
Hageman is running television advertisements suggesting Cheney wants to be re-elected as the state’s sole U.S. House representative because she is comfortable among the Washington elite.
That argument resonates with Kelly Krakow, an insurance salesman from Alban, Wyoming, who is concerned about the state of the economy.
"Cheney's just stepped over the line on too much stuff,” Krakow said. “And really, she doesn't live in Wyoming. She hasn't for a long time. And I don't think she has the Wyoming values behind her.”
Cheney’s father, meanwhile, is campaigning for his daughter. The former vice president, who also represented Wyoming in Congress in the 1980s, recorded a television ad in which he calls Trump “a coward” who lied to his followers about his 2020 election loss, and praises his daughter for “standing up for the truth.”
Even if she loses her primary, Cheney is expected to continue the January 6th investigation in Congress until the end of her term early next year.