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Rep. Liz Cheney fights to keep her seat in Wyoming's GOP primary

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Another high-profile primary race today is in Wyoming. Congresswoman Liz Cheney used to be the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives. Now she's on the verge of losing her House seat after being ostracized by her party because she criticized former President Trump. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh reports.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: In the final days of her primary campaign, Liz Cheney's allies say she would easily win reelection if she stood in lockstep with Donald Trump. Instead, Cheney's closing message is about standing up to President Trump after January 6.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

LIZ CHENEY: America cannot remain free if we abandon the truth. The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious.

WALSH: Mary Martin is chair of the Teton County Republican Party in Wyoming. She notes 70% of the state voted for Trump. She supported Cheney in the past but says Cheney's public break with Trump caused Republicans in the state to break with her.

MARY MARTIN: She was very popular, and she has taken a stance that is perceived by some to be arrogant and not acceptable. And it comes down to just, in my opinion, January 6.

WALSH: It's not just her message. Martin also says Cheney isn't traveling the state much, though, in part, that is because of security concerns.

MARTIN: And I have heard personally from folks that were really staunch supporters of Liz Cheney and contributed lots of money to her in the past, that she's insulted them. You know, just her personal approach to this has alienated and turned people off.

WALSH: Trump endorsed Harriet Hageman, an attorney who previously backed Cheney. An ad funded by Hageman's supporters touts her roots in the state and paints Cheney as an outsider.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

HARRIET HAGEMAN: We're fed up with inflation, and we're fed up with Liz Cheney.

WALSH: Cheney was one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the attack on the Capitol on January 6. Four retired and three have lost primaries to Trump-backed challengers. If she loses to Hageman, only two in that group will remain on the ballot in November. GOP strategist Alice Stewart says Trump's influence is the factor in this race.

ALICE STEWART: When we're talking about a primary, the base is king. And right now, the base of the Republican Party supports Donald Trump.

WALSH: Cheney is showing some signs of looking beyond Tuesday's primary. In June, she traveled to the Reagan Library, a stop for possible presidential hopefuls. She made a speech that denounced the threat posed by Trump, but she also gave a blueprint for a 2024 message.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: I'm a conservative Republican, and I believe deeply in the policies of limited government, of low taxes, of a strong national defense.

WALSH: She also made gender a part of her critique about current leaders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: These days, for the most part, men are running the world. And it is really not going that well.

WALSH: Stewart believes even if Cheney loses her seat in Congress, there's still a place for her in the GOP.

STEWART: If she continues to get out there and remind people about her voting record as a Republican and about her support for policies that unite the Republican Party, as opposed to grievances that divide us, there's a path for her to stay very relevant in the Republican Party.

WALSH: Cheney's advisers say this is the first battle in a longer war against Trump and his supporters. She will remain in the spotlight as vice chair of the January 6 committee. She's also expected to launch her own political operation and begin traveling around the country, touting her conservative brand.

Deirdre Walsh, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.