Liz Cheney braces for defeat as Trump is tested in Wyoming and Alaska

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a leader of the Republican opposition to former President Donald Trump, is fighting for her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday as voters weigh the GOP’s direction.

Cheney’s team is bracing for a loss to a Trump-backed challenger in the state where he won by the widest margin during the 2020 campaign.

Win or lose, the 56-year-old daughter of a vice president vows to stay in national politics as she ponders a presidential bid in 2024. In the near term, however, Cheney faces a serious threat from Republican opponent Harriet Hageman, a Cheyenne ranch industry advocate who has harnessed the full wrath of the Trump movement to oust Cheney from the House of Representatives.

“I’m still confident that the poll numbers are wrong,” said Landon Brown, a Wyoming state official and a vocal Cheney ally. “It would really be a shame if she loses. It shows how much of a stranglehold Donald Trump has on the Republican Party.”

Tuesday’s contests in Wyoming and Alaska offer one of the final tests of Trump and his brand of hard-line politics ahead of November’s general election. So far, the former president has largely dominated the battle to shape the GOP’s image, helping install loyalists in key matchups in general elections from Arizona to Georgia to Pennsylvania.

This week’s contests come just eight days after the FBI issued a search warrant at Trump’s Florida home and seized 11 classified records. Some were labeled “departmental sensitive information,” a special category designed to protect the nation’s most important secrets. The Republican Party initially backed the former president, although reaction became somewhat mixed as more details emerged.

In Alaska, a recent change in state election law gives a periodic Trump critic, US Senator Lisa Murkowski, a chance to survive the former president’s wrath even after she voted to sentence him in his second impeachment trial.

Alaska’s top four primary Senate candidates, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election, where voters will rank them in order of preference.

In all, seven Republican senators and 10 members of the Republican House of Representatives, along with every Democrat, backed Trump’s impeachment in the days after his supporters stormed the US Capitol as Congress sought to confirm President Joe Biden’s victory.

Only two of those 10 House members won their GOP primary this year. The rest lost or declined re-election. Cheney would be only the third to return to Congress if she defies expectations on Tuesday.

And Murkowski is the only pro-impeachment senator running for re-election this year.

She faces 18 opponents – the most prominent of whom is Trump-backed Republican Kelly Tshibaka – in her bid to retain a seat she has held for nearly 20 years. Trump railed against Murkowski on social media and in her home state of Alaska, where he hosted a rally with Tshibaka in Anchorage last month.

Unlike vulnerable Republican candidates who snuggled up to Trump in other states this summer, Murkowski continues to tout her bipartisan credentials.

“When you bring the ideas from both sides together, a bit of compromise in the middle, that’s what endures beyond governments and leadership changes,” the Republican senator said in a video posted to social media over the weekend . “That enables stability and certainty. And it comes about through non-partisanship.”

Across the GOP tent, Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, is hoping to spark a political comeback on Tuesday.

Backed by Trump, she came first out of 48 candidates to qualify for a special election to replace Rep. Don Young, who died in March at the age of 88 after 49 years as Alaska’s only member of the Congress House of Representatives died. Palin is actually on the ballot twice on Tuesday: once in a special election to end Young’s term and another for a full two-year term in the House of Representatives beginning in January. She’s running against Republican Nick Begich and Democrat Mary Peltola in the special election, and against a larger field in the primary.

Always an outsider, Palin has spent the last few days attacking Murkowski, another Republican, and those who introduced the open primary and ranked voting system in 2020.

“I’ve been saying all along that the preference vote should benefit Democrats and RINOs, particularly Sen. Lisa Murkowski (who had no chance of winning a Republican nomination), along with other family members of the Alaskan political dynasty,” Palin wrote a recent statement calling for the law to be repealed.

Back in Wyoming, Cheney’s political survival may depend on convincing enough Democrats to vote in their Republican primary. While some Democrats have rallied behind her, it’s unclear if there’s enough in the state to make a difference. Biden received just 26% of the vote in Wyoming in 2020.

Many Republicans in the state — and across the country — have essentially excommunicated Cheney for her outspoken criticism of Trump. The house GOP ousted her as house leader No. 3 last year. And more recently, they censured the Wyoming GOP and the Republican National Committee.

Anti-Trump groups like Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s Country First PAC and the Republican Accountability Project have been working in recent weeks to encourage independents and Democrats to support Cheney. They are clearly disappointed with the expected outcome of Tuesday’s elections, although some are hopeful about their political future.

“What’s remarkable is that she never faltered once in the face of almost certain defeat,” said Sarah Longwell, executive director of the Republican Accountability Project. “We watched an American national figure being forged. It’s funny how small the election feels — the Wyoming election — because now it feels bigger.”

Cheney appears to have welcomed the defeat, using almost all the resources at her disposal to end Trump’s political career since the uprising.

She served as chair of the congressional committee investigating Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack, bringing genuine bipartisan credibility to the Democrat-led panel. She has also devoted most of her time to the committee rather than going home to campaigning, a decision that still draws murmurs of disapproval from some Wyoming allies. And she capped the main campaign with an unabashed anti-Trump message.

“In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been a person who has posed a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump,” former Vice President Dick Cheney said in a recent ad produced by his daughter’s campaign.

He continued, “There is nothing more important she will ever do than lead efforts to ensure Donald Trump is never near the Oval Office again.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Liz Cheney braces for defeat as Trump is tested in Wyoming and Alaska

Dais Johnston

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