Harriet Hageman talks with attendees of a campaign event at the Hangar Bar and Grill in Bar Nunn on March 14, 2022. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

The opening salvos have been fired in what is shaping up to be the highest-profile political advertising campaign in Wyoming history: the race between incumbent U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and her leading Republican primary opponent, Donald Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman.

Hageman set the tone this month with a sophisticated mock website — complete with a “donate” button — and a video falsely promoting Liz Cheney as an ideal candidate — for Virginia. Small type at the bottom of the site and end of the video states the Hageman campaign paid for both.

“Let’s send her home to Virginia,” Hageman concludes in the video after a series of clips show Cheney condemning Trump and the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol. This message comes on the heels of Hageman’s digital “Ride for the Brand” video. That ad accused Cheney of abandoning the Republican Party “brand” by voting to impeach the former president.

So far, Hageman has appeared most willing to go on attack, in one instance resorting to a familiar playground taunt. According to conservative Washington Examiner columnist Quin Hillyer, a recent Hageman communication with supporters ridiculed Utah U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney’s alliance with Cheney in the email subject line: “Romney & Cheney Sitting in a Tree.”

Cheney, whose campaign war chest dwarfs that of Hageman, has not yet countered. Her only campaign spot aired so far was a cheery Merry Christmas message to Wyomingites featuring a holiday voiceover by the late Ronald Reagan. 

But if or when Cheney does engage, experts say, she will have ammunition. Hageman’s flip from a Trump opponent in the 2016 election — during which she called him a “racist and a xenophobe” — is one source of that. 

U.S. Rep Liz Cheney greets students in Jackson on March 22, 2022. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

Precedent

Wyoming has had its share of smear campaigns going back at least until 1918, when opponents of gubernatorial candidate Robert Carey tried to tie him to a “German alien” he employed on his ranch. 

“It was at the height of anti-German feeling in the country,” University of Wyoming historian Philip J. Roberts said, “but it was quite ironic, given that Robert Carey, was the son of Joe Carey, the first native-born Wyomingite ever to serve as Wyoming governor. The tactic, widely condemned even by Democrats, did not succeed and (Robert) Carey was elected.”

Mock websites and commercials have been a controversial part of campaigns since the mid-’90s, when conservative Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan was pictured in one in front of an American flag emblazoned with a Nazi swastika. More recently they were used by Russian hackers to disrupt the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton in favor of Donald Trump.

Hageman campaign manager Carly Miller defends Hageman “Cheney for Virginia” ads as clearly labeled, humorous attempts to question Cheney’s attachment to Wyoming because of the many years she spent in northern Virginia as a child and as a former state department official. 

The website “is a perfect, humorous way to highlight the fact that Liz Cheney can be more accurately described as the Congresswoman from Northern Virginia,” Miller said. “It’s where people agree with her, it’s where her power base is, and it’s where she raises a lot of her campaign cash. It’s supposed to be funny, but it reminds Wyoming voters of the serious problem that their only member of Congress isn’t really representing them.”

The “Cheney for Virginia” slogan is not original to Hageman’s campaign. Democratic opponent Ryan Greene raised the critique in the 2016 race.

A screenshot from a mock website set up by Harriet Hageman’s U.S. House campaign that purports to promote Liz Cheney for Virginia. (Screenshot)

Both Cheney — who went to high school in Virginia, college in Colorado and law school in Chicago — and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, have repeatedly weathered charges that they are only tenuous residents of Wyoming. In 2000, Dick Cheney’s selection by George W. Bush as his vice president was challenged in federal court because he had lived in Texas since 1993 and the 12th Amendment prevents the president and the vice president from living in the same state. 

As chairman of Halliburton Co., Dick Cheney owned a home and lived in Dallas until he changed his voter registration to Teton County in July 1999, only four days before being named Bush’s running mate. The federal court ultimately ruled Cheney a Wyoming resident. 

In 2013, when she was considering a run for U.S. senator in Wyoming, Liz Cheney was the source of a residency brouhaha after it was discovered that she bought a Wyoming-resident fishing license before she met residency requirements. 

Beyond a few chuckles, the residency issue had little resonance in previous Cheney candidacies. Moreover, both the Cheney and Hageman campaigns have Virginia and District of Columbia connections. As part of her job as senior litigation counsel for the D.C.-based New Civil Liberties Alliance law firm, Hageman owns a 550-square-foot, third-floor walk up apartment she bought in 2019 for $540,000 in the exclusive Kalorama neighborhood of Washington.

Hageman’s campaign team is headed by former Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh, whose home and Line Drive LLC public relations office are in Alexandria, Virginia. Hageman’s press spokesperson Miller is a Kansas native who worked in Washington for the Trump administration.

Cheney’s campaign spokesman Jeremy Adler is a Massachusetts native, a graduate of the University of Richmond and a veteran Washington insider who worked previously for republicans Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio.

Mud slinging

If it continues in this vein, the Cheney-Hageman battle could match the worst fears of Cheyenne attorney and former Trump administration official Karen Budd-Falen. Though she considers herself a friend of both candidates, Budd-Falen worries the race could turn nasty.

“When I lived in D.C., I watched the election campaigns in Virginia and witnessed the way those candidates just slung mud around and beat each other up,” Budd-Falen said. “This was just so repulsive to me. I really hate seeing that in my state.”

By the Aug. 16 primary election, many Wyomingites may long for a previous era, when the most famous and successful campaign ad featured a beleaguered cowboy, a horse and a porta-potty.

That commercial, which mocked then new federal safety and health requirements requiring employers to provide farm laborers portable field toilets, turned the tide in favor of Republican Malcolm Wallop in his 1976 upset victory of Democratic incumbent Gale McGee. 

Republican Malcolm Wallop’s 1976 campaign ad attacking federal regulations to address farmworker health and safety. (Screenshot)

Sketched out on a paper napkin over drinks at Sheridan’s legendary Mint Bar, the commercial suggested that if Washington — represented by three-term Sen. McGee — had its way, working cowboys would have to carry a porta-potty on the back of a pack animal when they rode the range. 

An unnamed narrator laments: 

Everywhere you look these days, the federal government is there telling you what they think, telling you what they think you ought to think, telling you how you ought to do things, setting up rules you can’t follow. I think the federal government is going too far. Now they say if you don’t take the portable facility along with you on a roundup, you can’t go. We need someone to tell ’em about Wyoming. Malcolm Wallop will!!

Looking back on it, John Jenkins, a Buffalo land developer and former political consultant who was one of the commercial authors, sees it as an example of a more good-natured time. 

“In those days, unlike today, there was no particular ill will,” Jenkins said in a recent interview. “I guess that anything that seemed heated back then passes for plain vanilla today. We’ve really gotten angry with one another.”

UPDATE: This story had been updated with details on Hageman’s D.C. apartment. -Ed.

Rone Tempest

Rone Tempest was a longtime national and foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. In 2004 he was part of a team of reporters to win the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the massive wildfires in Southern...

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  1. Cheney and Hageman make the headlines with their political endorsements and fund-raising with the national and WY political elite. I am running for the US House to serve Wyomingites as a Wyoming native, a veteran, and conservative Republican who loves Wyoming and the United States. I’ve never been a politician but have the experience and leadership to represent WY in DC. http://www.dentonknapp.com

    1. Since you’re running, perhaps you could answer a question or two…

      Do you think the 2020 election was “stolen”?

      Also, was it a peaceful protest on January 6th, or was it something bigger?

      Look forward to a response…

  2. Hey ya true “wyomingites” don’t forget that Hageman tried her darndest to let an out of stater Aaron Million siphon gazillions of gallons of wyoming water to the front range of colorado. on th outside, harriet is ‘true wyoming’ but on the inside, for sale to the highest bidder. you trumpanzees can’t be that blind?!?!

  3. 2 candidates with little to no real commitment to Wyoming. Both have heavy political debt outside the state that make Wyoming little more than seats to be bought.

  4. In 2016 I watch Liz Cheney take-out Ryan Green with just one question at a forum in Rawlin’s at the community College. She asked Ryan, do you support Hillary Clinton and her policies or Wyoming? Right then and there, I considered him toast, as a democrat. Wish as they may for Harriet, I seriously doubt, that the Trump element will stave off the true Republicans in Wyoming along with independents and democrats who will cross-over for the Constitution, not the party of Trump.

  5. The upcoming episodes of The Adventures of Lizzie and Harriet are bound to be a real drag ( with or without crazy uncle Tony’s color commentary). What would make this race “absolutely fabulous” would be to have a certain celebrity rancher from Converse County toss their tiara into the ring……Then we’d have us a real drag race baby…….

    1. Really not as crazy an idea as one might think. Anyone out there know how to put a bug in RuPaul’s ear before the filing deadline?

  6. One thing’s fairly obvious: Tempest, Drake, and rest of the clan that staffs this website have already endorsed Cheney and will give her every possible advantage. From it’s inception, the pro-Democrat/pro-Left/pro establishment narrative here has been tailored almost exclusively to its likeminded readers. None of this is surprising, as practically all corporate media organizations promote this same ideology. Yet, this organization still insists “There is no agenda.”

    1. LOL, like Wyofile has the readership or influence to sway the outcome of a primary election in a state that is overwhelmingly republican. The right wing claims of liberal media bias have never been more ridiculous. In any case what is Fox/Newsmax/OAN and the vast network of right wing talk radio if not corporate media

  7. Well, if being a bona fide Wyoming resident is what matters most to those starched Republicans who can pass the Purity Test, there are other candidates on the GOP Congressional primary ballot that may be dark horse contendors .
    One in particular is worth a $ 2.00 ticket wager ( to show, not necessarily win). We have the inimitable Anthony Bouchard in the same race. No one can doubt his credentials to be a Congressman representing Wyoming. He lives in Cheyenne, the state capitol, and is self employed there , providing a necessary thankless service to the public , for hire.

    Tony Bouchard pumps septic tanks for his day job. Yup.

    How much more qualified to be a professional politician does he need to be than THAT ? He’s perfect , on paper. Not so sure about that Purity Test part , though …

  8. Keep in mind that Hageman wanted to transfer 1 million acres of federal land to the state. This would open up said land to privatization and development.

  9. Apparently, referring to ads and websites, this little article states they “More recently they were used by Russian hackers to disrupt the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton in favor of Donald Trump.”

    Is this a true statement or more leftist misinformation being posted by this site?

    1. Yes this is a true statement as the US actually imposed sanctions on Russia for these actions, including sanctions that Trump actually imposed. Many sources from the Justice Department, Treasury Department and House, Senate Investigations on this should you care to research it.