By STEVE PEOPLES and MEAD GRUVER, Associated Press
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Polls closed across Wyoming Tuesday night as Rep. Liz Cheney, a leader in the Republican resistance to former President Donald Trump, fought to save her seat in Congress 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.”
As polls closed, festive Hageman supporters crowded into an events box at a sprawling outdoor rodeo and Western culture festival in Cheyenne, many wearing cowboy boots, hats and blue jeans. Four hundred miles to the west, Cheney’s team had set up a small stage and podium on the edge of a vast field flanked by mountains and bales of hay.
Earlier in the day, Wyoming’s voters were eager to speak out against 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 elections 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.
Trump spent much of the day attacking the FBI on social media, but he briefly weighed in on the Wyoming contest.
“If Liz Cheney loses tonight, the Fake News Media will do everything within their power to play it down and pretend that it was not a referendum on the Unselects – That it was no big deal,” Trump wrote. “Actually, it would be a very big deal, one of the biggest!” That’s a reference to Cheney’s role as vice chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In Alaska, meanwhile, another Trump ally, former Gov. Sarah Palin, hoped to spark a political comeback.
The 58-year-old 2008 vice presidential nominee was actually on the 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.
On the other side of the GOP’s tent, periodic Trump critic, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, had an opportunity to survive the former president’s ire, even after voting to convict him in his second impeachment trial. The top four Senate candidates in Alaska, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election, where voters will rank them in order of preference.
Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are going extinct.
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 Tuesday.
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.”
Peoples reported from New York. AP writer Thomas Peipert in Cheyenne contributed.
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