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(Bloomberg) -- Liz Cheney’s starring role in making the case against Donald Trump in nationally televised hearings has made this stalwart conservative a pariah among Republicans and won her few friends in her home state of Wyoming, where her family is considered almost royalty.
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It’s an unenviable position for the 55-year-old daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — once the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress — to be in as she fights for re-election to her seat in the House. Her Trump-backed primary opponent, Harriet Hageman, is ahead in a campaign run by former Trump advisers and indirectly backed by top state GOP officials.
Cheney’s last-ditch hope, paradoxically, is for Democratic-leaning Wyomingites who’ve rarely voted for her before to do so now in what is a safely Republican and sparsely populated state.
At the Little Pokes Summer Rodeo opener in Laramie, admirers could be found in the grandstand, constituents who say they are proud of her Trump bulldogging, evoking a Wild West image of a cowboy wrestling a steer.
“I did not support Liz prior to all of this because she’s a very conservative Republican — she voted with Trump 93% of the time — but I do now,” Shelly Newman, 69, said as the goat-tail untying competition got underway in a dusty ring. Newman, a retired corporate training director, said she plans to sign up as a Republican to vote for her in the Aug. 16 primary.
Cheney will be counting on people like Newman to rescue her political career in a state where Republicans hold a four-to-one registration advantage over Democrats and Trump won 70% of the vote in 2020. If she succeeds, Cheney will have sent a flare to other Republicans queasy at the prospect of Trump running again in 2024 as unbeatable in a GOP primary.
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Campaign donations are flowing toward her from out of state as her profile rises in the congressional hearings on the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that resume today and show Trump playing a key role in inciting the violence that culminated in the deadly attack on the Capitol.
As vice chair and one of two GOP members of the nine-member committee, Cheney has been unsparing in her criticism of Trump and his enablers, using the sort of blunt rhetoric that caused the state and national party to sanction her and congressional colleagues to strip her of leadership positions.
“I won’t waver or back down,” Cheney said in a statement on Tuesday. “I won’t surrender to pressure or intimidation. I know where to draw the line, and I know that some things aren’t for sale.”
The hearings resume Tuesday with the committee hearing from state officials, including Georgia’s Republican secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, who Trump called asking him to “find” enough votes to overturn the election there. It’s not clear how many Wyoming Democrats or independents are going to newly enroll as Republican for the primary and vote for Cheney — and later switch back — despite Cheney’s anti-abortion, pro-fossil fuels, big-defense-spending conservative record.
In a state where registration data show Republicans outnumber Democrats 197,868 to 44,643, winning the primary is tantamount to an election victory. Rules vary by county in Wyoming but generally allow voters to switch parties back and forth.
“In this election I do think a lot of Democrats and independents are going to come out and vote in the Republican primary,” said Joe McGinley, a Natrona County GOP state committee representative. “I’m proud that she is standing up for what’s right. Whether that’s going to affect things in Wyoming — that’s hard to say.”
But Tuesday morning, the Wyoming Republican Party sent out a donor appeal slamming cross-over voting, saying it damages election integrity and leads to “stuffing the ballot with votes cast by people faking their principles and political values.”
Trump last month drew thousands at a rally in Casper where he described Cheney as a driving force behind a lawless and dangerous “witch hunt” by the Jan. 6 committee.
That view found ready support at the Luxury Diner in downtown Cheyenne, steps from where 150-year-old transcontinental locomotives still rumble. “She won’t be back in office. Because I know I won’t vote for her again — the way she’s going about all of this,” Scott Sibert, 58, a retired oil refinery worker and Republican, eating at the diner. His stance is echoed by a friend, Stuart Engen, 53, who says he still believes the 2020 election was stolen.
Neither are actually watching the hearings intently, but keeping tabs through media accounts. In fact, many of the Republicans interviewed over two days in Cheyenne, Laramie and other areas said they weren’t watching the hearings at all.
The state’s Republican party chairman, Frank Eathorne, pushed for the state party to censure Cheney last year in response to her vote to impeach then-president Trump in one of several reprimands that eventually saw her get booted from the No. 3 elected party post in the House Republican Conference. Eathorne has declared he’d go “through barbed wire” for Trump.
NBC News reported that Eathorne was on restricted US Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6 riot, based on images and videos of that day. He's since said he did make "a brief stop in the vicinity of the Capitol building property" but did not confirm he was in a restricted area. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment on published reports he is part of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government extremist group with members who have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their actions on Jan. 6.
Hagemen’s approach meanwhile has been mainly to underscore that she is not Liz Cheney, that she is a constitutional conservative, and that Trump has endorsed her.
Cheney’s prominent role on the committee and her battles with Trump have drawn out-of-state campaign dollars, for both candidates. FEC data show less than 9% of donations greater than $200 to Cheney’s campaign or Political Action Committee during the two-year election cycle came from people who live in Wyoming. By comparison, just over a quarter of Hageman’s campaign fundraising from donors giving in the same time period live in the state.
Ultimately, Cheney’s survival will hinge on support from people who now see her as something of an unlikely liberal hero. Kathryn Valido, a former president of the Wyoming Education Association, said in an interview while watching the latest hearing that “they’re really clarifying that we were really in a dangerous place in this country.”
Valido, a Democrat, also said she’s receiving calls and literature from the Cheney campaign. She’s switched parties to vote in primaries before, and says she plans to do so again to vote for Cheney.
(Adds statement from Wyoming Republican Party.)
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