Jan. 6 hearings loom large in Wyoming's referendum on Cheney and Trump

·9-min read

CASPER, Wyo. — Few in Wyoming seem all that confident predicting what will happen in Liz Cheney’s primary election, even though the general consensus is that she faces an uphill battle to retain her seat in Congress.

Only a few polls have been released, and they’ve shown Cheney down by large margins. Most Wyoming political insiders say it’s hard to poll the state, especially when it’s hard to know how many voters will turn out and who they will be. But they also agree that even if the polls are off to some degree, it’s clear that Cheney is well behind her main opponent, Harriet Hageman, who has the backing of former President Donald Trump.

Rep. Liz Cheney
Rep. Liz Cheney at the House select committee hearing on Tuesday. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

But with a month to go before the Aug. 16 primary, in a House election that has major implications for the future of the national Republican Party, there is a sense among some that there are ripples of movement that are hard to detect except through private conversations.

“If you’d have asked me six months ago whether Cheney stood a chance, I would have said, 'Not in the world.' But now I think that she’s developing support,” Tom Lubnau, a Republican former state House speaker, told Yahoo News. “She’s way far behind. I don’t know if there’s enough time or momentum to beat Hageman.”

The Jan. 6 committee hearings in Washington, Lubnau said, are “starting to peel back the layers” of how the assault on the Capitol was also an attack on democracy.

Lubnau, who now practices law and has endorsed lesser-known GOP primary candidate Denton Knapp, a retired Army colonel who is his childhood friend, said there are a few different types of voters in Wyoming.

Some of these voters respect Cheney for standing up to Trump and have no problem saying so. Others, who support Hageman, feel Cheney betrayed them by confronting Trump over his attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, or “can’t separate being mad over Jan. 6 with an entire endorsement of the Democratic agenda.”

And then there is another group that is “keeping their mouth shut and don’t want to get in an argument but are going to vote for Cheney,” Lubnau said. That last group “is growing, but I don’t know if it’s growing large enough to overcome the hole that Rep. Cheney dug for herself.”

Republican congressional candidate Harriet Hageman
Republican congressional candidate Harriet Hageman. (Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

“I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but about 60% of us make our decisions based solely upon emotions, and Rep. Cheney is one of those rational decision makers who makes her decisions based upon the facts. And so I don’t know if she can develop enough emotion to sway the emotional voters,” Lubnau said.

Other Cheney supporters are less sanguine and express concern about her chances of winning.

“I’m cautious and concerned ... I’m not optimistic, but I’m hanging in there,” said Joanne Tweedy, a Cheney backer from Gillette. “I call people every day. Anybody I can talk to and change their mind, I do.”

Tweedy told Yahoo News that she does not even have a Cheney sign up in her yard. “I have neighbors that may or may not be happy if I put one up, so I just don’t want the hateful thoughts and comments.”

“I know a lot of quiet people who say, ‘We're going to vote for Liz, we just don't want our name on those surveys,’” Tweedy said. “I just don't know how many that is.”

Numerous Cheney supporters expressed hope that the congresswoman’s political career will merely enter another chapter if she loses to Hageman, managing their expectations for the near term while also predicting that she will run for president in 2024 no matter what.

“Don’t worry about her. Don’t get concerned about her. Whatever she is doing, she knows exactly what she’s doing, and if it doesn’t work, there’ll be something else she’ll be doing,” former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, a Cheney supporter, told Yahoo News.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson
Former Sen. Alan Simpson at his home in Cody, Wyo. (Bill O'Leary/Washington Post via Getty Images)

Simpson also said that the Jan. 6 committee, which Cheney helps lead, is gradually giving her a boost. “Every day that goes by, they strip some of the sheen off of Donald J. Trump. When this primary comes up, Aug. 16th, they will have stripped the emperor's clothes,” he said.

Simpson added that the simplicity of Cheney’s recent challenge to Hageman — daring her to acknowledge that the 2020 election was legitimate and not stolen — is sapping Hageman’s momentum.

In the July 1 debate between Cheney, Hageman and three other candidates for Wyoming’s lone seat in the House of Representatives, Cheney laid down a gauntlet.

“I'd be interested to know whether or not my opponent Ms. Hageman is willing to say here tonight that the election was not stolen. She knows it wasn't stolen,” Cheney said.

“I think that she can’t say that it wasn’t stolen because she’s completely beholden to Donald Trump. And if she says it wasn’t stolen, he will not support her. So we’ve got to be honest.”

Cheney also pointed out that Bill Stepien, who is now advising Hageman, was Trump’s campaign manager in 2020 and was one of many close Trump advisers who testified under oath before the Jan. 6 committee that the election wasn’t stolen and that Trump knew this as early as election night.

Cheney also turned the word “betrayed” against Hageman, who has repeatedly accused her of betraying Wyoming by standing up to Trump.

Bill Stepien, right, with Donald Trump
Campaign manager Bill Stepien with President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One in August 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

“I think that there's a real tragedy that's occurring, and the tragedy is that there are politicians in this country, beginning with Donald Trump, who have lied to the American people, and people have been betrayed,” Cheney said.

“He consistently has said that the election was stolen when it wasn’t, when it’s absolutely clear, the courts decided, the courts determined the outcome.”

Hageman, in response, said the Jan. 6 committee’s process has been “totally unfair.” Voters, she said, are “terribly concerned about the lack of due process” and “that there's no ability to confront or cross-examine witnesses.”

“You might have 15 hours of videotaped depositions, and the committee shows 13 seconds of something, or two and a half minutes of something,” Hageman said.

Hageman also tried to duck Cheney’s question, instead saying there are “serious questions about the 2020 election.”

Her basis for this assertion was $500 million that was donated by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, to help election administration around the country in 2020, after Congress failed to allocate enough funding to conduct an election during a pandemic.

(Yahoo News did a detailed examination last December of the criticisms lodged against Zuckerberg’s donations, and found there was little evidence that the money helped Joe Biden or other Democrats in a meaningful way.)

Yet the belief that the 2020 election was rigged for Biden continues to trump facts among some Republican voters in Wyoming. “The insurrection was before Jan. 6,” said Bob Ide, a state Senate candidate who was part of the crowd outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as it was being stormed by Trump supporters trying to stop certification of the results. Ide called the Jan. 6 hearings a “show trial.”

Images of Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell
Images of Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell are shown on a screen during a hearing of the House select committee on Tuesday. (Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images)

Hageman supporter Marti Halverson, an active member of the Wyoming Republican Party in the western part of the state, backed Cheney in 2020 and hosted the congresswoman at her home that year. But she stopped supporting Cheney once she voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Halverson told Yahoo News.

She said Cheney’s “most recent offense” was to vote for legislation last month intended to reduce gun violence. Cheney was one of 14 House Republicans to support the measure, which passed the Senate with 15 Republican votes and became law.

Halverson, much like Hageman, called the Jan. 6 hearings “so one-sided as to be laughable” but also said she is “not glued to them.”

“I have better things to do,” Halverson said.

Even some of Cheney’s supporters expressed discontent with the Jan. 6 committee to Yahoo News.

“I thought the committee was supposed to be finding out if there was any un-American activities going on with the event that day, but I think it’s gotten clear off from that. I think it’s taken after Trump completely, and maybe it’s a little misguided now,” said state Sen. James Anderson, who has endorsed Cheney and is encouraging Wyomingites to vote for her.

Another prominent Cheney supporter, state Rep. Landon Brown, said Cheney’s candidacy is about more than just who represents Wyoming in Congress.

Liz Cheney political director Amy Womack, left
Liz Cheney political director Amy Womack talks up her candidate to a voter in Casper, Wyo. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

It is a test, he said, of whether the national Republican Party can stand for a set of principles and for the Constitution, or whether it will walk further down the path of obedience and submission to Trump, who has already shown no regard for the rule of law or the will of the people.

“We have to think about what the outcome of this election ultimately means to our country, because this is not just Wyoming,” Brown told Yahoo News. “This is the outcome of our entire country that we're looking at now.”

Simpson, the former senator, put it this way: “For me it’s really simple. Liz has attacked the root cause of a man who is so filled with himself and full of himself that he would actually get on the phone and tell somebody to change 11,000 votes in Georgia, or call somebody to say, ‘Why don’t you organize something in Michigan and send us a fake bunch of electors?’

“Now, for me, who is a poor old soul who practiced law and served in Congress — that, to me, is the baldest, boldest, the most egregious rape of the Constitution and all that America stands for,” Simpson said.