Criticisms that U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney isn’t campaigning in her own state continue to plague the incumbent congresswoman as the hotly contested primary election approaches.
Cheney’s challengers raise carpetbagger allegations, particularly Harriet Hageman and the family that tapped her to run, the Trumps.
“I believe the most conservative state in the union has a DC beltway swamp creature — who’s probably spent less time in Wyoming than I have — as their representative,” Donald Trump, Jr. said last month in Alpine, while stumping for Hageman.
Trump’s potshot can safely be categorized as hyperbole. But Cheney has run an unconventional campaign that’s included less time in Wyoming than planned, especially with her role as vice-chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, which has kept her tied up in hearings throughout the summer in the nation’s capital.
Her spokesman previously said Cheney would campaign through Wyoming in July. Then the committee added hearings and extended its operations into that big campaigning month as new witnesses and revelations about the insurrection emerged. (An eighth hearing, potentially the last, is set for prime time evening television hours on July 21.)
Cheney has not been holding public events in Wyoming. Her last public appearance was June 30 on the debate stage in Sheridan. Asked by WyoFile this week, her campaign staff declined to identify any upcoming public events in Wyoming.
“When Congress has not been in session, she has been in Wyoming,” Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler said. “In the future she’ll be in Wyoming holding events with folks in the state. Whether those events are private or public, I don’t want to make any commitments.”
For her part, Cheney has said she believes getting to the bottom of the attempt to subvert the United States’ 2020 election is more important than her own political ambitions. The high-profile select committee she’s overseeing probing the Capitol Building attack is an altar she’s willing to die on, the congresswoman suggested in Sheridan.
“I will never put party above my duty to the country, I will never put party above my duty to the Constitution,” Cheney said in her closing remarks. “I won’t say something that I know is wrong simply to earn the votes of people to earn political support … So, I’m asking for your vote and I’m asking you to understand that I will never violate my oath of office, and if you’re looking for somebody who will, then you need to vote for somebody else on this stage because I won’t.”
Adler put his boss’s priorities more succinctly.
“Her work on that committee is her focus, it’s our top priority,” he said. “No political considerations or anything like that is going to interrupt that.”
There’s evidence Cheney’s tack and defiance of the popular-in-Wyoming former president puts her job at risk. In some rural reaches of the state, many residents believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and perceive the Jan. 6 committee as a choreographed, one-sided spectacle that Cheney’s using to shine her star on the national stage. Statewide, late-May polling funded by Hageman-aligned groups suggests Cheney has a lot of ground to make up to keep her seat.
‘Thank God she’s willing to do that’
Several Cheney supporters say they appreciate the congresswoman prioritizing her committee duties over campaigning.
“If the choice is [campaigning or] getting to the bottom of an attempt to take over our government, what choice does she have?” said Marilyn Kite, a retired Wyoming Supreme Court justice who was named to the Cheney campaign’s leadership team. “It certainly seems, at least nationally, that the rest of the Republican Party is unwilling to do that. So thank God she’s willing to do that.”
Kite was hesitant to criticize the Cheney campaign’s strategy, but admitted she wishes Cheney had more presence in Wyoming.
“But I don’t know if that’s possible,” she said.
Another member of the Cheney leadership team, Teton County resident Mary Kay Turner, said she also wants to see her congresswoman on the campaign trail in the month leading up to Aug. 16.
“I hope Liz is able to get out here and meet as many people as she possibly can,” Turner said. “That might mean doing some door-to-door work even in certain communities, but also meeting with the Republican parties in these communities, whether friend or foe. She needs to get out here. She is Wyoming.”
Turner, whose family runs the historic Triangle X Ranch, accompanied a young Cheney on horseback rides when she was a grade schooler. More recently, Turner led Cheney and her children on Teton Wilderness pack trips. The Moose, Wyoming denizen pushed back on allegations that Cheney is a carpetbagger.
“People are critical that she spent time in Washington, but what was that family going to do?” Turner said. “What was that family going to do when their father [Dick Cheney] was in Congress, and Secretary of Defense and then Vice President?”
Although Cheney has not been parading publicly around Wyoming, she has held some unpublicized private events. There was one in Sheridan and another in the Casper area, Adler said, both in conjunction with the debate.
Outside of the committee hearings and debate, Cheney has appeared publicly in recent weeks, just not in Wyoming. On June 29, she spoke of the future of the Republican Party at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
“Republicans cannot both be loyal to Donald Trump and loyal to the Constitution,” Cheney said. “As the full picture is coming into view with the January 6 Committee, it has become clear that the efforts Donald Trump oversaw and engaged in were even more chilling and more threatening than we could have imagined.”
Private, not public
In its public outreach, the Cheney campaign has drawn on its significant fundraising advantage, which more than doubled Hageman’s haul as of the Federal Elections Commission’s latest quarterly filing deadline. The campaign has put out information guiding voters on how to change parties and vote in the Republican primary, sent out wordy mailers and run TV ads featuring individuals like longtime Wyoming GOP stalwart Al Simpson pledging his support for Cheney.
“From what I’m seeing, she relies a lot on her supporters to take part in advertising [the campaign],” former Wyoming House representative Mike Madden said. “As far as going around town-to-town, that’s not an efficient use of time anymore anyway.”
Still, Madden, who’s also a member of Cheney’s leadership team, said that it’s “important” for political candidates to attend big county-level events in Wyoming.
“I don’t know if Liz is going to attend our fair parade or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she does,” Madden said. “There’s a lot of signs up for her in Johnson County.”
Meantime, Turner in Jackson Hole is looking forward to a private event in support of Cheney. It was already bumped once, she said. Turner learned of the eighth Jan. 6 committee hearing, which had been scheduled one day away from the planned Jackson Hole event, while on the phone with WyoFile. The news dampened her hopes.
“It’s likely canceled again,” Turner said. “Oh my gosh, she can’t afford to cancel one more event.”
Cheney’s conundrum — whether to campaign in her state or attend to congressional duties — is nothing new, University of Wyoming political science professor Jim King said. There are plenty of states that hold August primaries, and the U.S. Congress is typically in session until just a few weeks before.
“If a person is a member of Congress, there is that problem of doing your job while campaigning to keep your job,” King said. “This is one of those classic catch-22s for an elected member of Congress: How much time you spend at home, how much time you spend in Washington?”
Regardless of where their time is spent, he said, the incumbent candidate is bound to take flak. In this case, Cheney has to make those choices amid a closely contested race.
“This is an odd campaign because it’s the only time that an incumbent has been so forcefully challenged in a primary in Wyoming,” King said.
“There’s almost always a challenger … and the incumbent wins handily,” he said. “Obviously this is a very different circumstance, and we don’t have anything to judge it by.”