Battle of the brands: Cheney, Hageman formally enter U.S. House race

WYOMING -- In what is shaping up as a battle of the “brands,” incumbent Liz Cheney and her Donald Trump-endorsed opponent, Harriet Hageman, have both officially filed their candidacy for Wyoming’s sole congressional seat.

“In Wyoming, we know what it means to ride for the brand,” Cheney said in her announcement. “We live in the greatest nation God has ever created, and our brand is the United States Constitution.”

Hageman, who describes herself as a Constitutional lawyer, used the same “ride for the brand” slogan in her early campaign advertisements. The slogan, borrowed from California writer James P. Owen’s 2004 “Code of the West,” lists 10 cowboy-flavored ethical principles.

While Cheney spoke of the nation, Hageman’s candidacy statement was more Wyoming-centric. By opposing Trump, Hageman said, Cheney “is squandering our lone congressional seat and we need someone in there who will use it to protect our state from the disastrous Biden administration.”

The announcements came Thursday, two days before the Donald Trump rally and fundraiser for Hageman scheduled for Saturday in Casper.

Cheney did not mention Hageman in her statement. But in the first aggressive act of her campaign, she did lease six billboards on roads leading into Casper. The billboards quote Hageman’s previous comments about her and mockingly welcome “out of state” Trump rally attendees. One says, “Liz Cheney is a Proven, Courageous, Constitutional Conservative,” and another, “From the Desk of Liz Cheney: Out of state visitors for Trump Rally — Welcome to Casper! Support our local businesses and spend lots of $$$! Best, Liz.”

The addition of the two leading candidates makes five hopefuls — including potential spoilers Anthony Bouchard and Denton Knapp — who will be on the ballot in the Aug. 16 GOP primary.

State Sen. Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, is a leading gun rights advocate with support from the far right. Decorated military veteran Knapp has a following in his native Gillette. Small business owner Robyn Belinskey of Sheridan is the fifth candidate in a congested winner-take-all primary where even a handful of votes can affect the outcome.

Cheney’s announcement ended months of speculation — particularly from the Bouchard camp — that she would drop out of the race to pursue national ambitions built on her outspoken criticism of former President Trump, including her vote to impeach him in January 2021.

According to a May 20-21 poll of 346 “likely Republican primary voters” commissioned by the Hageman campaign, 62% of those polled had an unfavorable opinion of Cheney.

However, in what may reflect the growing divisions in the state GOP, the poll — conducted by the same Washington, D.C.-based Cygnal LLC firm that Trump used extensively in his 2020 campaign — showed that while 93 percent of those who identified themselves as “Trump Republicans” opposed Cheney, only 47 percent of those who considered themselves “traditional Republicans” did so.

The poll, listed as a $26,105 expenditure on Hageman campaign filings, also claimed that most of those identified as “Democrat/Independents” held unfavorable opinions of Cheney. Wyoming’s same-day registration rule, which allows voters to change party affiliation at the polling place, means that those groups of voters can choose to cast ballots in the Republican primary.

Cheney supporters are counting on a significant cross-over vote by anti-Trump Democrats and independents.

“It is well acknowledged,” Cygnal pollster Brock McCleary wrote in his May 25 report to the Hageman campaign, “that Cheney’s only scenario for success is predicated on the robust support of Democrats and Independents voting in the Republican primary. However, even these voters do not hold Cheney in high regard.”

In their statements this week, both candidates stressed their Wyoming roots and heritage. Cheney drew on her mother Lynne Cheney’s Wyoming lineage, which dates to 1852. Her father, Dick Cheney, was born in Nebraska.

“In June 1852, my family first came to Wyoming, walking across the Mormon Trail,” Cheney’s statement read. “A few generations later, my great-grandparents raised four daughters and a son at Midwest on the edge of the Salt Creek Oil Fields. One of those little girls, my grandmother Edna, grew up to become the first woman to serve as deputy sheriff of Natrona County.”

Hageman, meanwhile, described herself as a fourth-generation Wyomingite. “Having grown up on my family’s ranch near Fort Laramie,” Hageman said, “I have Wyoming in my DNA.”

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.