February 21, 2024

Representative 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 J. Trump and what she describes as the threats to democracy posed by his far-right followers.

But the challenger who appears poised to unseat 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.

Ms. 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 one million acres of federal land to the state, which opponents warned would have lead 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, the Wyoming state director at the Wilderness Society. “Most of the main conservation groups and probably 50 to 60 percent 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, a community built on fossil-fuel extraction, Ms. 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,” Ms. 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 spokesman for Ms. Hageman, Tim Murtaugh, said on Tuesday 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, Ms. Hageman, 59, had a lead of nearly 30 points in recent polls, a reflection of the Republican loyalty to Mr. Trump in a state he won with 70 percent of the vote in 2020.

Ms. Cheney, 56, has infuriated the former president and much of her party’s base by serving as co-chairwoman of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol. Of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump for inciting the mob that day, she is the last to face primary voters. Four of the 10 House Republicans who voted against the former president retired, three lost their primaries and two survived to make it to the general election this fall.

“We’re fed up with the Jan. 6 committee,” Ms. Hageman said at a rally in Casper in late May that Mr. Trump headlined. “And we’re fed up with Liz Cheney.”

It wasn’t always so. Ms. Hageman is a former close ally of Ms. Cheney’s. She introduced Ms. Cheney at a state party convention in 2016 as a “courageous constitutional conservative.” That year, Ms. Hageman also called Mr. Trump “racist and xenophobic.”

But, like many officials and aspiring candidates in the Republican Party, Ms. Hageman experienced a conversion in which she came to support Mr. Trump enthusiastically. By 2020, when she campaigned in and won an internal party race to be one of Wyoming’s members of the National Republican Committee, Ms. Hageman openly supported Mr. Trump. She explained that she had been misled earlier by “lies the Democrats and Liz Cheney’s friends in the media” told about Mr. Trump.

As her campaign gained momentum this year, she grew bolder in embracing Mr. Trump’s false claims that he was robbed of re-election. “Absolutely the election was rigged,” Ms. 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, Ms. Hageman bristled after the first two questions zeroed in on Mr. Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol, the subject of the House investigation whose prime-time hearings have prominently featured Ms. Cheney.

“The J-6 situation,” as Ms. 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, Ms. Hageman broadened her message, seeking to make the race less of a referendum on Mr. Trump than a choice between whether she or Ms. 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, where she learned the value of “riding for the brand” — that is, she explained, “loyalty to the outfit you’re working for.”

Despite Ms. Cheney’s own Wyoming roots — her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and her mother, Lynne, were high school sweethearts in Casper — Ms. 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 Mr. Trump.

Ms. 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 G.O.P. and was a delegate at the National Republican Convention in Cleveland in 2016. There, she was part of a last-ditch effort by supporters of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to stop the nomination of Mr. Trump, whom she called “the weakest” candidate Republicans could nominate.

Two years later, Ms. Hageman ran for governor of Wyoming, never mentioning Mr. Trump in her TV advertising. She finished third in the primary.

Eleven months ago, Mr. Trump endorsed Ms. Hageman after interviewing and vetting potential candidates at his golf club in New Jersey. By then, she had completed her full reversal on Mr. Trump’s fitness for office, declaring him “the greatest president of my lifetime.”

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