CASPER, Wyo.—Wyoming’s Big Sky deserts, high plains, and glacier-gilded peaks are the backdrop for a mid-August showdown in a summer of discontent within the Republican Party.
Former President Donald Trump and his claims of a stolen election are not on trial in crimson red Wyoming, where he won 69.9 percent of the vote in 2020, more than in any other state.
Instead, Wyoming’s only U.S. House member, three-term Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), is the one on trial for her vocal criticism of the former president, voting with 10 fellow House Republicans for his impeachment, and serving as co-chair of the chamber's committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol breach.
Trump is backing challenger Harriet Hageman, a Fort Laramie natural resources attorney, in the Aug. 16 Republican primary and taking an active role in the election, including lobbying Republican Gov. Mark Gordon in March to endorse a bill closing state primaries to “crossover voting” and staging a May rally in Casper for Hageman.
While Hageman is Trump-endorsed, she hasn't made his claims of a “stolen election” central to her campaign. She has focused on inflation, the economy, energy policy, and the fact that Cheney is rarely in Wyoming, choosing to probe Trump’s role in Jan. 6 events instead of meeting with and greeting the constituents she is supposed to be representing.
Hageman hadn't conclusively spoken about a "stolen election" at a campaign event until Aug. 3, when she said that the 2020 election was “rigged” in favor of President Joe Biden.
“Absolutely, the election was rigged. It was rigged to make sure that President Trump could not get reelected,” Hageman said at Washington Park, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. “What happened in 2020 is a travesty.”
Dick Cheney's Anti-Trump AdMeanwhile, Cheney has her own list of impressive endorsements, including from former Wyoming U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Wearing a white cowboy hat and speaking to the camera, Dick Cheney said: “[Trump] tried to steal the last election, using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him. He is a coward. A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters. He lost his election and he lost big. I know it, he knows it and deep down I think most Republicans know it.”
Dick Cheney said he's proud of his daughter for “standing up for the truth, doing what is right, honoring her oath to the Constitution when so many in our own party are too scared to do so."
"Liz is fearless. She never backs down from a fight,” he said.
The former vice president concluded by saying the Hageman–Cheney primary battle is bigger than the candidates—and that Liz Cheney gets it.
“There is nothing more important she will ever do than lead the effort to make sure Donald Trump is never near the Oval Office again. And she will succeed,” Dick Cheney said.
The Hageman campaign in a statement on Twitter didn't directly address the ad.
'Crossover Voting'Gordon confirmed during a July 28 GOP gubernatorial primary debate with his three rivals that Trump made a “couple of phone calls” this spring about a proposed bill that would have closed Wyoming primaries and ended so-called crossover voting.
“This critically important bill ensures that the voters in each party will separately choose their nominees for the General Election, which is how it should be!” Trump said in a February statement.
The measure, House Bill 74, sponsored by Rep. Chip Neiman (R-Hulett), was adopted by the Senate in February but failed to advance in the House Appropriations Committee before the session expired in March.
Challenger Rex Rammell said Gordon isn't committed to ending crossover voting and didn't push hard enough to get the measure passed. Gordon said he advocated for HB 74, which didn't survive its first committee hearing.
“I think Republicans ought to vote in Republican elections and Democrats ought to vote in Democratic elections,” Gordon said. “People in Wyoming have the opportunity to make their choices, and right now the law says that they can do that.”
Crossover voting, where registered members of one party change affiliation to vote in another’s primaries, has been a long-practiced by Democrats in Republican-dominated Wyoming.
Wyoming voters can change their party affiliation at the polling place on Election Day, or in advance.
It became an issue during the 2018 Republican primary for governor, with some—including Rammell—maintaining that it contributed to Gordon’s victory by 9,000 votes over Trump-endorsed conservative businessman Foster Friess.
How much “crossover” voting could influence the Aug. 16 GOP primary is uncertain. According to the Wyoming secretary of state’s office, as of July 1, there were 200,579 registered Republicans (71 percent), 43,285 registered Democrats (15), and 34,925 unaffiliated who are eligible to vote in the primary.