Rep. Liz Cheney has drawn most of the attention in the race for Wyoming’s lone congressional seat thanks to her vocal denunciations of former President Donald Trump and what she describes as the threats to democracy posed by his far-right followers.
But the challenger who unseated her in Tuesday’s Republican primary, Harriet Hageman, has a track record in Wyoming of fierce advocacy on issues particularly relevant to the state’s ranchers, energy and mining interests.
She spent decades as a trial lawyer fighting environmentalists in America’s least populated state and opposing federal rules protecting land, water and endangered species. Her most far-reaching case was a successful challenge of Clinton-era federal regulations to protect millions of acres of national forests from road-building, mining and other development. A federal judge placed an injunction on the regulations in 2003.
Hageman also represented groups that sought to remove protections for the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act and allow the state to manage hunting. As an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2018, she suggested transferring 1 million acres of federal land to the state, which opponents warned would have led to selling off prized hunting, fishing and hiking areas.
“She has a long reputation among the conservation and sportsman groups of being an anti-federalist, particularly when it comes to ownership of land,” said Dan Smitherman, Wyoming state director at the Wilderness Society. “Most of the main conservation groups and probably 50 to 60% of the sportsman groups assume we’ll be playing defense against her when it comes to public land issues and perhaps some issues like wolves and bears.”
At a luncheon last week for the Chamber of Commerce of Rock Springs, Wyoming, a community built on fossil fuel extraction, Hageman promised to be a champion in Washington for those industries if elected.
“I think we need to make the federal government largely irrelevant to our everyday lives,” Hageman told the audience.
And she warned that Democrats’ climate and tax bill would be “devastating” to Wyoming, after stating that coal was an “affordable, clean, acceptable resource that we all should be using.”
A spokesperson for Hageman, Tim Murtaugh, said Tuesday before the polls closed that, if elected, “Harriet Hageman will make fighting against the administrative state her signature issue in Congress, because Wyoming is often targeted by the federal government, which attacks its resource industries and controls too much of its land.”
Before the primary Tuesday, Hageman, 59, had a lead of nearly 30 points in recent polls, a reflection of the Republican loyalty to Trump in a state he won with 70% of the vote in 2020.
Cheney, 56, has infuriated the former president and much of her party’s base in her role as co-chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, siege of the Capitol. Of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the mob that day, she was the last to face primary voters. Four of the 10 House Republicans who voted against the former president retired, four including Cheney lost their primaries and two survived to make it to the general election this fall.
“We’re fed up with the Jan. 6 committee,” Hageman said at a rally in Casper, Wyoming, in late May that Trump headlined. “And we’re fed up with Liz Cheney.”
It wasn’t always so. Hageman is a former close ally of Cheney’s. She introduced Cheney at a state party convention in 2016 as a “courageous constitutional conservative.” That year, Hageman also called Trump “racist and xenophobic.”
But, like many officials and aspiring candidates in the Republican Party, Hageman experienced a conversion in which she came to support Trump enthusiastically. By 2020, when she campaigned in and won an internal party race to be one of Wyoming’s members of the Republican National Committee, Hageman openly supported Trump. She explained that she had been misled earlier by “lies the Democrats and Liz Cheney’s friends in the media” told about Trump.
As her campaign gained momentum this year, she grew bolder in embracing Trump’s false claims that he was robbed of reelection. “Absolutely the election was rigged,” Hageman said recently at a forum in Casper. “What happened in 2020 is a travesty.” (There is no evidence of widespread fraud in 2020.) At the single debate of the campaign, in June, Hageman bristled after the first two questions zeroed in on Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol, the subject of the House investigation whose prime-time hearings have prominently featured Cheney.
“The J6 situation,” as Hageman called it, is “not what the people in Wyoming are talking about.” She added: “What they’re talking about is the gas crisis. They’re talking about food prices.”
In traveling thousands of miles around Wyoming, Hageman broadened her message, seeking to make the race less of a referendum on Trump than a choice between whether she or Cheney more faithfully represented the state’s core traditions.
She introduced herself as a “fourth-generation Wyomingite.” She described her upbringing on a ranch near Fort Laramie, Wyoming, where she learned the value of “riding for the brand” — that is, she explained, “loyalty to the outfit you’re working for.”
Despite Cheney’s own Wyoming roots — her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and her mother, Lynne, were high school sweethearts in Casper — Hageman portrayed her rival, a three-term congresswoman, as a disloyal outsider and a captive of Washington.
“I am going to reclaim Wyoming’s lone congressional seat from that Virginian who currently holds it,” she said at the rally with Trump.
Hageman, the daughter of a longtime member of the state Legislature, earned her law degree from the University of Wyoming. She became active in the Laramie County GOP and was a delegate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016. There, she was part of a last-ditch effort by supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to stop the nomination of Trump, whom she called “the weakest” candidate Republicans could nominate.
Two years later, Hageman ran for governor of Wyoming, never mentioning Trump in her TV advertising. She finished third in the primary.
Eleven months ago, Trump endorsed Hageman after interviewing and vetting potential candidates at his golf club in New Jersey. By then, she had completed her full reversal on Trump’s fitness for office, declaring him “the greatest president of my lifetime.”