Does Wyoming want Liz Cheney to hang onto her House seat?
Perhaps no midterm primary gets more attention than that of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, whose race next week may be the best-known test yet of voter backlash — or lack thereof — to a Republican sitting in the Jan. 6 House of Representatives committee and whether Anti-Trump conservatives have a way forward within their own party.
On Tuesday, residents of the nation's most populous state will deliver their response. As it stands, Cheney's chances of re-election are slim: Her opponent, Wyoming attorney Harriet Hageman, has defeated her in previous head-to-head campaigns, according to FiveThirtyEight, helped in part by a blessing from former President Donald Trump. (FiveThirtyEight noted earlier this year that public polls on the race were sparse.)
On Thursday, Cheney published an ad crystallizing her final argument: The "big lie" about the 2020 election -- and Trump's embrace of it -- is ruining democracy.
MORE: Dick Cheney defends daughter Liz, slams Trump in new principal ad
Cheney called it "insidious".
"It preys on those who love their country," she said in the ad. "It's a door Donald Trump has opened to manipulate Americans into abandoning their principles, sacrificing their liberties, justifying violence, ignoring the judgments of our courts and the rule of law."
Whether this pitch will convince enough of their party's base remains to be seen. But interviews with about a dozen Wyoming voters in recent days show they have other things on their minds.
Republicans in the state, where Trump was 70 points ahead, told ABC News that they feel increasingly removed from their three-year congressman. And while they said they were unhappy with Cheney's prominent position on the Jan. 6 committee, of which she is vice chair, and her tough stance on Trump's baseless electoral attacks, Wyoming residents also said they felt they also no longer represented politically.
“Once she got into the January 6 thing and she got into the impeachment, she was nowhere to be found. She didn't meet people. She doesn't care about us," Myrna Burgess told ABC at the Laramie County Fair.
"She's not musical to even listen to us," Burgess said, also claiming that the congresswoman took a soft stance on Second Amendment rights because she, like 13 other Republicans, voted for a recent bipartisan anti-gun violence package. Burgess said the decision was another indicator that she was out of touch with voters.
MORE: 2 Democratic lawmakers encourage Wyoming voters: Switch parties and support Cheney
"If she starts voting against the Second Amendment, that's a total deal breaker," Burgess said.
Allegations that Cheney is mostly absent from the state were also exploited by challenger Hageman.
"I'm the only candidate who has toured this state," Hageman said at a recent event.
Cheney has been fighting in Wyoming, photos shared by her team on social media show, though she doesn't host large-scale, major events like her opponent. But that's because of concerns for her safety after becoming one of the most visible anti-Trump Republicans in the country, according to Wyoming Rep. Landon Brown, a Cheney surrogate.
PHOTO: Republican congressional candidate Harriet Hageman meets participants at a rally at the Teton County Fair & Rodeo Grounds on June 14, 2022 in Jackson, Wyo (Natalie Behring/Getty Images)
“She has to have private events that are not disclosed to the public for her safety. And that's a shame that someone stood up for what they believed in in Congress, and they're in a position now where they have to worry about their safety and the safety of their families," Brown said.
Brown said, like Cheney, that the race is about the existential choice facing the Republican Party: either accept Trump's endless insistence that the last presidential race was stolen from him -- or move on.
In an interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl last month, Cheney said her work, which highlights Trump's attacks on elections, is more important than getting elected. But she said at the time that she was working to win.
“The most important thing is to protect the nation from Donald Trump. And I think that's more important to us Americans than anything else, and that's why my work on the committee is so important," she told Karl.
"It's bigger than one person's presidency. This is our constitution. This is our story. For this we will remember. And that's exactly what Liz remembers. And there's a lot of people alone in my district, but just like other people out there, they feel the same way," Brown said. "And unfortunately it's all in Wyoming's lap right now."
MORE: Video Can Liz Cheney Hold on to Her House Seat?
This is where - possibly - the Democrats come in, in an unusual last-minute push to cross party lines and try to save an anti-Trump lawmaker who has nevertheless voted with Trump more than 90% of the time .
In Wyoming, voters can change their party affiliation no later than 14 days before the primary at the appropriate county clerk office or at polling stations on the day of the primary or general election. State law also allows voters to switch back their party affiliation for future elections.
That makes it theoretically easy for Wyoming Democrats to vote as Republicans in Tuesday's primary. However, an analysis by FiveThirtyEight showed that they are unlikely to cut the deficit with the Republicans given how many other conservatives there are in the state: 70% of the state's voters are registered with the GOP.
And in every midterm election in the last decade, more than 80% of the primary votes cast have been for GOP candidates, meaning even those who have not declared their party affiliation are likely to turn red.
Several Wyoming Democrats, who started their own party and temporarily registered as Republicans, told ABC News they didn't take the election lightly.
"For the first time in my life, I'm a registered Republican," said Megan Hayes of Laramie. "That gave me a little jitter, but I did it and I've already voted and I got an absentee ballot and I voted for Liz Cheney."
Rep. Liz Cheney, center, chairs a House Select Committee hearing investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol with Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Rep. Elaine Luria at the Cannon House Office Building, July 21, 2022, in Washington . (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
The language on the Cheney campaign website directs voters interested in crossing the aisle to the district clerk's office — though the Cheney campaign dismisses any notion that they are specifically targeting Democrats.
"I've never received this type of mailing, and certainly not in this abundance for a single race," said Connie Wilbert, a longtime Wyoming Democrat who temporarily changed her voter registration status to vote for Cheney.
She said she received stacks of mailings urging her to make the switch. In her neighborhood, which she says is made up mostly of lifelong liberals, are swathes of Cheney Yard signs.
"Although I disagree with her on practically everything else, on every policy. I respect the hell for her point of view, and I think it's really important," Wilbert said.
The Cheney campaign insists they are not targeting Democrats but said they would welcome any support.
MORE: Trump tried to call Jan. 6 committee witnesses, Cheney says
Behind much of the party switch is a group called Wyomingite's Defending Freedom And Democracy, which earlier this week even cut pro-Cheney ads featuring Democrats Tom Malinowski of New Jersey and Dean Phillips of Minnesota.
Their efforts may have started to work: at least a few thousand registered Democrats appear to have had their registration changed over the past month, according to state elections.
If Tuesday's race is - somehow - close, that could be the key.
"There aren't enough Democrats to . . . influence this. When a candidate wins by 5,000 votes. The Democrats who switched didn't have any real impact," said Jim King, a professor of political science at the University of Wyoming. "If the race had been decided by 500 votes, well, maybe those people would have had an impact."
Does Wyoming want Liz Cheney to stick to her house seat? originally appeared on abcnews.go.com
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