From Cheney friend to foe, Harriet Hageman takes command of Wyoming race animated by Trump
By Jeff Zeleny, Chief National Affairs Correspondent
(CNN) -- Harriet Hageman proudly wears Wyoming on her sleeve -- and wields it like a hammer against Liz Cheney.
"I know Wyoming. I love Wyoming. I am Wyoming," Hageman tells audiences as she travels across her state, entering the closing days of a bitter Republican duel in one of the highest-profile congressional races in the country.
"I am going to reclaim Wyoming's lone congressional seat from that Virginian who currently holds it," Hageman likes to say, casting aside the Cheney family's deep roots in the state and suggesting the three-term congresswoman is more at home in the Washington suburbs.
These days, signs of trouble for Cheney are easy to spot here in Wyoming. Hageman holds a commanding lead in the final weekend of a primary election that stands as yet another reminder of the Republican Party's evolution in the era of Donald Trump.
A University of Wyoming poll released this week found that Cheney is trailing Hageman by 29 points. Yet one question looming over the Republican primary is how many Democrats and independents will switch parties and vote for Cheney, which even her supporters acknowledge is her only chance to stay competitive.
"If it's a big Republican vote, there aren't enough Democrats to change it, even if we all crossed over," former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan said in an interview Friday, noting that he is among the Democrats who have temporarily switched parties to support Cheney. "Out of honor and respect for her leadership, I cast my vote her way."
The venom in the Cheney-Hageman race comes alive in conversations with voters, dueling television ads and reports of stolen yard signs. Their relationship wasn't always acrimonious, when Hageman stood alongside Cheney and showered her with praise during Cheney's first bid for Congress in 2016.
"I am proud to introduce my friend Liz Cheney," Hageman said then. "I know Liz Cheney is a proven, courageous, constitutional conservative, someone who has the education, the background and experience to fight effectively for Wyoming on a national stage."
Today, that national stage is starkly different than it was six years ago, back when Cheney and Trump were elected on the same day. Now, the former President is at the center of her political fall in a state where he won 70% of the vote, his widest margin anywhere.
He traveled to Wyoming three months ago to put his stamp on the race.
"Liz, you're fired," Trump told thousands of admirers at a rally in Casper. "Wyoming deserves a congresswoman who stands up for you and your values, not one who spends all of her time putting you down and going after your president in the most vicious way possible."
Emphasizing ties to state
Yet here in Wyoming, Hageman is seen as far more than Trump's hand-picked candidate.
She grew up on her family's small ranch near Fort Laramie, population 207, not far from the state's border with Nebraska. Long before her fight with Cheney, Hageman gained prominence as a natural resources attorney, specializing on cases protecting the state's water, public lands and agriculture.
"One of the things, I think, we need to do is make the federal government largely irrelevant to our everyday lives," Hageman told voters this week during a stop at the Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce luncheon, highlighting decades of legal work fighting against such policies as protecting gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act and broader plans of national forest conservation.
Hageman, 59, spent most of her career doing this work at her own law firm in Cheyenne. But now, she is a senior litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a group based in Washington that battles environmental regulations, taxes, campaign finance restrictions and far more.
She has spent much of the last year driving around the state to build a campaign against Cheney, telling voters that she's traveled about 40,000 miles since announcing her campaign nearly a year ago. Yet in the final week of the primary here, she had no public campaign events, rather meeting privately with groups.
Hageman declined to answer questions when CNN caught up with her in Rock Springs, a coal mining town in the southwestern part of the state, saying only: "This race is about Wyoming, nothing else."
The race, of course, has become about far more. But several Wyoming voters this week said they appreciated the attention Hageman was devoting to energy, agriculture and other issues of direct importance to the state.
"We voted for Harriet," said Scott Vetter of Carpenter, who works in agriculture sales. "When you dive into the work that she's done, it's been stellar. She's close to agriculture, which is our bread and butter, and what we do to make a living."
He said he and his wife voted early, insisting it wasn't a knock against Cheney, but an affirmative vote for Hageman and her intense focus on Wyoming issues. He said Trump's endorsement was not the decisive factor in his decision.
"We're not Trump lovers, but we're not Trump haters," Vetter said, talking during the Laramie County Fair. "We just want to get the country moving again. I would say Harriet had our votes from the beginning."
Hageman made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018. Even though she placed third in the Republican primary, the race elevated her profile across Wyoming. She went on to represent the state on the Republican National Committee, a position she resigned when she announced her campaign to challenge Cheney last year.
'We're fed up with Liz Cheney'
Hageman has sought to capitalize on the anger among Trump loyalists -- much of which is directed at Cheney and her leading role in the Congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
"We're fed up with the January 6 commission and those who think they can gaslight us," Hageman told a cheering crowd at the Trump rally in Casper in May. "And we're fed up with Liz Cheney."
For her part, Hageman has wavered about the outcome of the 2020 election.
During a contentious debate in June, Cheney pressed her rival, saying: "I think that she can't say that it wasn't stolen because she's completely beholden to Donald Trump. And if she says it wasn't stolen, he will not support her."
It wasn't until last week, during a campaign stop in Casper, that Hageman fully embraced the former President's baseless election denial rhetoric.
"Absolutely the election was rigged," Hageman said. "It was rigged to make sure that President Trump could not get reelected."
What Hageman doesn't tell her audiences is that she once opposed Trump -- and supported Ted Cruz in 2016. She was among the final wave of Republicans hoping to block Trump from clinching the party's nomination at the GOP convention in Cleveland.
It's a sign of her own transformation -- from Cheney ally to Trump loyalist -- with her sights now set on Washington.
"I will be taking that fight to DC," Hageman said, "just as soon as I defeat Liz Cheney."
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