Harriet Hageman: From Liz Cheney friend to foe, Trump candidate takes command of Wyoming race

“I’m going to reclaim the only congressional seat in Wyoming from this Virginian who currently holds it,” Hageman likes to say, putting aside the Cheney family’s deep roots in the state and suggesting the three-term congresswoman is better off. comfortable in the suburbs of Washington.

These days, signs of trouble for Cheney are easy to spot here in Wyoming. Hageman holds a decisive lead in the final weekend of a primary election that serves as yet another reminder of how the Republican Party has evolved in the era of Donald Trump.

“If it’s a big Republican vote, there aren’t enough Democrats to change it, even if we all go through it,” former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan said in an interview Friday, noting that he is among the Democrats who temporarily switched parties. to support Cheney. “Out of honor and respect for her leadership, I voted for her.”

The venom of the Cheney-Hageman race comes alive in conversations with voters, dueling TV ads and reports of stolen yard signs. Their relationship wasn’t always acrimonious, as Hageman stood by Cheney and showered her with praise during Cheney’s first run for Congress in 2016.

“I’m proud to introduce my friend Liz Cheney,” Hageman said then. “I know Liz Cheney is a proven, courageous constitutional conservative, someone with the education, background and experience to fight effectively for Wyoming on the national stage.”

Today, this national scene is radically different from what it was six years ago, when Cheney and Trump were elected on the same day. Today, the former president is at the center of his political downfall in a state where he won 70% of the vote, his widest margin.

He traveled to Wyoming three months ago to make his mark on the race.

“Liz, you’re fired,” Trump told thousands of fans at a rally in Casper. “Wyoming deserves a congresswoman who stands up for you and your values, not one who spends all her time putting you down and pursuing your president in the most vicious way possible.”

Emphasize links with the state

Yet here in Wyoming, Hageman is seen as much more than Trump’s hand-picked candidate.

She grew up on her family’s small ranch near Fort Laramie, population 207, not far from the state line with Nebraska. Long before her fight with Cheney, Hageman rose to prominence as a natural resources attorney, specializing in cases protecting the state’s water, public lands and agriculture.

“I think one of the things we need to do is make the federal government largely irrelevant in our daily lives,” Hageman told voters this week during a Rock Chamber of Commerce lunch stop. Springs, highlighting decades of legal work battling policies such as protecting gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act and broader national forest conservation plans.

Hageman, 59, has spent most of his career doing this work at his own law firm in Cheyenne. But now she’s senior litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a Washington-based group that fights environmental regulations, taxes, restrictions on campaign finance and more.

She has spent much of the last year traveling the state to organize a campaign against Cheney, telling voters she has traveled about 40,000 miles since announcing her campaign nearly a year ago. . Yet in the final week of the primary here, she held no public campaign events, but instead met with groups privately.

Hageman declined to answer questions when CNN caught up with her in Rock Springs, a mining town in the southwest of the state, saying only, “This race is about Wyoming, nothing else.”

Racing, of course, has become much more. But several Wyoming voters said this week they appreciate Hageman’s focus on energy, agriculture and other issues of direct importance to the state.

“We voted for Harriet,” said Scott Vetter of Carpenter, who works in agricultural sales. “When you dive into the work she’s done, it’s stellar. She’s close to farming, which is our bread and butter, and what we do for a living.”

He said he and his wife voted early, insisting it was not a swipe at Cheney, but an affirmative vote for Hageman and his intense focus on Wyoming issues. He said Trump’s endorsement was not the deciding factor in his decision.

“We’re not Trump lovers, but we’re not Trump haters,” Vetter said at the Laramie County Fair. “We just want to get the country moving again. I would say Harriet got our votes from the start.”

Hageman made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018. Although she placed third in the Republican primary, the race has raised her profile in Wyoming. She went on to represent the state on the Republican National Committee, a post she resigned when she announced her campaign to challenge Cheney last year.

“We’re sick of Liz Cheney”

Hageman has sought to capitalize on the anger of Trump loyalists — much of which is directed at Cheney and his high-profile role on the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

“We’re sick of the Jan. 6 commission and those who think they can enlighten us,” Hageman told a cheering crowd at the Trump rally in Casper in May. “And we’re sick of Liz Cheney.”

For his part, Hageman hesitated over the outcome of the 2020 election.

During a contentious debate in June, Cheney pressed her rival, saying, “I don’t think she can say she wasn’t robbed because she’s completely indebted to Donald Trump. What if she says she wasn’t robbed, he won’t support her.”

It wasn’t until last week, during a campaign stop in Casper, that Hageman fully embraced the former president’s baseless election denial rhetoric.

“Absolutely, the election was rigged,” Hageman said. “It was rigged to ensure President Trump couldn’t be re-elected.”

What Hageman doesn’t tell her audience is that she once opposed Trump — and backed Ted Cruz in 2016. She was part of the latest wave of Republicans hoping to keep Trump from clinching the party’s nomination at the GOP convention in Cleveland.

It’s a sign of her own transformation — from Cheney ally to Trump loyalist — with her sights now set on Washington.

“I will take this fight to DC,” Hageman said, “as soon as I defeat Liz Cheney.”

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