While Liz Cheney was finalising her preparations for this week’s hearings into the attack on the US Capitol, back in her home state her former ally Harriet Hageman was plotting her political downfall.
Hageman is touring Wyoming seeking support for her candidacy to replace Cheney as the Republican nominee for the state’s only seat in the House of Representatives. Speaking on Friday to a few dozen voters in the backroom of a gift shop in Pinedale, Wyoming, she launched a blistering attack on her rival.
“[Cheney] spends her time on the January 6 committee,” said Hageman. “She has stated very, very, very clearly that her priority is to block Donald Trump from ever being elected.”
“People care about inflation and about the open border and about protection of our jobs and protection of our schools and protection of our kids. That’s not what she cares about right now.”
Cheney’s public profile is at its peak. She has won plaudits from many for rebutting Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen and for taking a leading role in investigating last year’s riot by his supporters. But these same actions have also put her career in peril.
Next month, Republicans in Wyoming — nicknamed the Cowboy State — will vote on whether to reselect Cheney as their nominee.
Cheney herself has called it “the most important House race in the country in 2022”. If she wins in a state where 70 per cent of voters chose Trump in 2020, it would be a rebuke of the former president. A win for the Trump-backed Hageman however would bolster talk of him running again for president in 2024.
Polls suggest Cheney is fighting a losing battle, trailing Hageman by around 30 points. Cheney’s team points out that all public polling has been done by groups supporting her opponent, but the anger among many of Cheney’s former voters is palpable.
Nancy Donovan, a retired Wall Street banker, has given over $35,000 to Cheney’s campaigns in the past but is now backing Hageman.
“I sit there watching the January 6 hearings and I think: ‘Have you lost your mind?’” she says. “This man [Trump] has every major institution going after him, from the media to the swamp in Washington, DC, and now to have one of his own party do the same thing?”
“Liz has broken a lot of people’s trust and that is against the cowboy code,” said Mary Martin, chair of the Teton County Republican party.
Hageman agrees, telling the Financial Times: “She [Cheney] does not represent us and she has betrayed us.”
But the environmental lawyer has not always felt this way about Cheney or Trump. In 2016, she was part of a failed effort to strip Trump of the Republican presidential nomination two months after he had secured it. And in 2014, she was an unofficial adviser to Cheney’s aborted campaign for the US Senate.
When Trump came to speak at a Hageman rally in May, Cheney’s campaign took out a billboard advertisement nearby displaying a picture of the two women together alongside a Hageman quote. “Liz Cheney is a proven, courageous, constitutional conservative,” it read.
Many of Cheney’s supporters believe Hageman is an opportunist who has turned her back on her former allies and beliefs to capitalise on Cheney’s local weakness.
Tim Stubson ran against Cheney for the Republican nomination in 2016, but is now a supporter. “When I ran in 2016, Harriet was one of her big supporters,” he said. “If I could have seen ahead in time my brain would have exploded.”
Hageman rejects suggestions that the two are ideologically aligned.
“There are a lot of differences between Liz Cheney and I, including the fact that I’m here to represent Wyoming,” she told supporters in Pinedale. “I’m not a globalist.” Her distinctive style, described by one local newspaper as “gothic cowboy”, could not be better suited to drawing a contrast with her buttoned-up rival.
Hageman and her supporters talk about Cheney’s perceived lack of commitment to Wyoming. Cheney’s father grew up there, but she lived in Virginia until shortly before she decided to run for one of Wyoming’s Senate seats in 2014.
Cheney has been a rare presence in the state during this campaign and her advisers have said she has no plans to hold public events, pointing to the death threats she has faced since publicly opposing Trump.
She has participated in a televised debate and holds occasional small gatherings, but even her supporters have said they were baffled by the lack of local engagement from her team.
“I think she’s so busy being on the national stage that that’s more important for her,” said Alex Muromcew, a Cheney backer from Jackson, Wyoming, who added that his own requests to organise a local campaign for her have gone unanswered.
However, there is a possible route to victory for Cheney. A quirk of Wyoming electoral law allows Democrats to switch allegiance right up until polling day to vote in the Republican primary instead and many are now considering voting for their former nemesis.
“I don’t know a single Democrat who is planning to vote for Democrats in these primaries,” said Maggie Hunt, chair of the Teton County Democratic party. “Everyone I know who plans to vote wants to switch and back Liz.”
Cheney is trying to capitalise on this and has sent out campaign material advising Democrats on how to change their party registration.
But in a state of 200,000 registered Republicans and only 43,000 Democrats, the chances of her flipping enough votes to win looks slim.
“With the data that we’re polling, we do not believe that it is remotely possible for her to win relying upon Democrats,” said Hageman.
“But we don’t want to win by 10 votes, we want to win big,” she added. “We want people to know nationally that we can take our country back.”