JACKSON, Wyo. — Rep. Liz Cheney — the once-high-ranking Republican who defied her party to wage a lonely crusade against former president Donald Trump — hinted Wednesday about a White House bid after losing her Wyoming primary in a landslide.
With more than 99 percent of the vote tallied, Hageman had about 66 percent to Cheney’s nearly 29 percent, according to the Associated Press, which projected Hageman’s win. Hageman headed into the day as the clear favorite, and close observers had anticipated her victory for weeks.
Cheney raised the prospect of taking on the task of stopping Trump if he runs in 2024, saying she is considering a White House bid.
“It is something I’m thinking about, and I’ll make a decision in the coming months,” Cheney said during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show in which she said her priority will be “doing whatever it takes to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office.”
The 45th president also loomed large Tuesday in two high-profile races in Alaska: Moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) faced a Trump-backed GOP challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, and both advanced from an all-party primary to the general election, the AP projected. Former governor Sarah Palin — an anti-establishment Republican backed by Trump — advanced in the all-party primary to November’s election in Alaska’s lone congressional district.
Palin, Democrat Mary Peltola and Republican Nick Begich will be on the ballot to replace the late congressman Don Young (R). Palin also vied for Alaska’s lone seat in the House in a special election that does not yet have a projected winner.
In Wyoming, Cheney said she plans to focus on the remainder of her congressional term — serving constituents in Wyoming and fulfilling her role as vice chairwoman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
Cheney filed early Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission to establish a leadership PAC with the name “The Great Task” — a signal that her role in politics is not ending despite her losing her primary.
Cheney’s singular focus on denouncing the former president made her an especially high-profile target. House Republicans ousted Cheney from their No. 3 leadership position last year after she refused to stop criticizing Trump, and she took a prominent role on the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, and the conduct of Trump and his aides on that day and in the lead-up to it.
The result in Wyoming’s primary reflected Trump’s enduring influence on Republican primary voters, who in many races this year have rallied behind those embracing his grievances and false claims, even as his preferred candidates have not always won. The defeat of a Republican from a once-powerful political family with deep ties to the Bush-era party establishment that was dominant two decades ago underlined the shift in the GOP, which is now largely led by officials and candidates prioritizing loyalty to Trump.
In a victory speech punctuated by raucous cheers, Hageman said Wyoming had “spoken on behalf of everyone who understands that our government is a government of, by and for the people.”
Campaigning in a state that Trump won by more than 40 percentage points, Cheney used her last ads to take aim at the former president’s “poisonous” false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, stoking speculation that she might run for president just to continue condemning Trump on a national stage.
Waiting in line to vote Tuesday — with her father, former vice president Dick Cheney, at her side — the congresswoman told reporters she hoped to build her campaign into a national movement across party lines to defeat Trump’s influence. Tuesday night, after calling Hageman to concede, Cheney told a crowd that “now, the real work begins” and promised that she “will do whatever it takes to ensure Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office.”
She warned that the survival of American democracy is “not guaranteed” and that those — including her opponent — who deny the legitimacy of fair elections could derail future votes. And she forcefully denounced Trump’s evidence-free accusations of wrongdoing by FBI agents who searched his residence last week to retrieve top-secret documents. Cheney warned that it’s “entirely foreseeable” that ensuing threats of violence against law enforcement will escalate.
“Our nation is barreling once again towards crisis, lawlessness and violence,” she said. “No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility.”
“I’m a conservative Republican,” she said. “I believe deeply in the principles and the ideals on which my party was founded. … But I love my country more.”
Her Tuesday-night event had the feel of a presidential announcement speech in many ways — right down to its precise timing, with the sun setting behind Cheney on the Teton mountains. The crowd included her parents and longtime Wyoming Republican supporters as well as Democrats who organized on her behalf. People cheered as she left the stage to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”
Cheney is the fourth House Republican to lose a primary after voting to impeach Trump last year on charges that he incited a riot. The others are Reps. Tom Rice of South Carolina, Peter Meijer of Michigan and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state.
Rep. Dan Newhouse (Wash.), who also voted for impeachment, advanced to the general election this month as a slew of challengers split the GOP vote in an all-party primary. Rep. David G. Valadao prevailed in another all-party primary in a blue-leaning California district where Trump declined to endorse an opponent. Four others who voted to impeach have declined to seek reelection.
While others in the GOP have sought distance from Trump and competed for influence, few have been willing to oppose him as publicly as Cheney has.
“There will come a point when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain,” she told GOP colleagues this summer as she helped open congressional hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Hageman used to support Cheney and in 2016 opposed Trump, calling him “racist and xenophobic.” But she has since come to embrace Trump and baselessly claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” against him, as many successful Republican candidates around the country have claimed. A Washington Post analysis found that in battleground states, candidates who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 vote have won GOP nominations this year for nearly two-thirds of state and federal offices with power over elections.
Hageman has campaigned on her legal career fighting the federal government and its conservation efforts in Wyoming, while also attacking Cheney as unrepresentative of conservatives — someone who has “cast her lot with the Washington, D.C., elites.”
“Liz Cheney? She’s made her time in Congress and this election all about her,” Hageman says in one ad. Limited pre-primary polling in the race showed Cheney trailing Hageman by a wide margin.
Hageman will be heavily favored in November against Lynnette Grey Bull, who won the Democratic nomination.
Cheney has built a staunchly conservative voting record over nearly six years in Congress; when Trump was in office, she voted with him more than 90 percent of the time. Her family is Republican royalty in Wyoming.
That history has made her a strange ally to Democrats who admire her anti-Trump mission and her work on the Jan. 6 committee. Thousands of Democratic and independent voters poured into the GOP primary, along with moderate Republicans who might have previously shied away from Cheney.
“I just want to shake your hand,” Kathy Tompkins told Cheney on Tuesday in Teton County, where Jackson is the county seat. Teton was the only county in Wyoming to support President Biden in 2020 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Of the nearly 4,000 votes cast early in Teton County, 190 came in the Democratic primary.
Then she thanked Dick Cheney. “You raised a good daughter,” said Tompkins, who said she considers herself a liberal but also a “strategic” Republican, voting whenever there is a moderate option.
Loring Woodman, a longtime Democrat and the retired host of a guest ranch, was reluctant to back Cheney even after her vote to impeach Trump. But then the Jan. 6 committee hearings began, and he decided he would do whatever he could to support her.
Alli Noland, who runs a public relations firm, said she fears all the focus on crossover voters has driven away conservatives. “It really fired up all the Republicans,” she said.
Cheney’s campaign openly sought support from Democrats this summer, mailing instructions on how to switch parties for the primary. But even allies doubted that that could change her luck in a state where earlier this year Republicans held a more than a 4-to-1 edge in voter registration. In 2018, about 115,000 votes were cast in the GOP primary, while 17,000 voted in the Democratic contest.
In Alaska, Tuesday’s vote was in part another test of Trump’s ability’s to boost challengers to those he calls “RINOs,” or Republicans in name only. Despite Trump’s tremendous sway in the GOP, some of his primary picks this year have struggled against incumbents with established reputations in their states.
Murkowski, who has broken with Trump and her party at times, including through her vote to convict Trump last year after the House impeached him, was running slightly ahead of Tshibaka, with about 66 percent of the vote in the Senate primary tallied. Both were well ahead of Democrat Pat Chesbro, a retired school official.
Political analysts expected Murkowski to benefit from Alaska’s new voting system, which uses all-party primaries and a ranked-choice process that boosts candidates with broad appeal. The senator has survived challenges from the right before: In 2010, Murkowski lost the GOP primary but pulled off a remarkable comeback as a write-in candidate.
Murkowski drew particular criticism from the right after voting against Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2018, with Trump predicting at the time that she would “never recover.” She has also joined with Democrats on key legislation, including last year’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which most Republicans worked to block.
Alaskans also voted Tuesday in a special election to replace Don Young, the Republican who held the state’s House seat for almost half a century and died suddenly in March. Palin got the most votes earlier this summer in a crowded primary that winnowed the field to four candidates, one of whom dropped out.
Alaska leans Republican. But the Democratic candidate, former state legislator Mary Peltola, who if she won would be the first Alaska Native member of the state’s congressional delegation, had a slight lead, with about 65 percent of the vote tallied. Palin and Begich, who were expected to split the conservative vote, were running second and third, respectively. The AP had not projected a winner.
Voters were asked to rank as many candidates as they wanted; if no one wins a majority of the initial votes, the lowest-performing candidate will be eliminated, and their votes will be redistributed. That process could hurt a polarizing figure like Palin.
The results of the special election probably will take weeks to emerge, as state election officials say they will not start counting voters’ second choices until an absentee ballot deadline. Ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day, but those mailed from outside the United States can arrive more than two weeks later and still be counted.
The special election to serve out the rest of Young’s term unfolded the same day as a primary for the following term.
Palin hit the national stage in 2008 as running mate of then-GOP presidential nominee John McCain, exciting the conservative base but also drawing ridicule from others. Palin resigned as Alaska governor after she and McCain lost but remained a celebrity on the right, appearing on Fox News and reality TV.
Some voters criticized Palin on Tuesday as overly focused on national issues and fame. “I hope that she gets run out of this state for good,” said Malcom Ray, an engineer. But others expressed support, citing Trump’s endorsement and Palin’s position on abortion.
Knowles reported from Washington. Nathaniel Herz in Alaska and Scott Clement in Washington contributed to this report.