WASHINGTON – Elections in Wyoming and Alaska on Tuesday could relaunch the political career of a former Republican star and effectively end the career of another — at least for now.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney is the vice chair of a U.S. House committee seeking to expose the truth behind former President Donald Trump's relentless efforts to stay in power after losing the 2020 election, and his role in fomenting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Cheney's determination to prevent Trump from ever again serving in the White House has left her fighting to hold on to the House seat she has held for three terms. Trump has made Cheney's ouster a top priority, endorsing a challenger and traveling to Wyoming to try to seal the deal.
In Alaska, Sarah Palin jumped on a vacancy in the state's congressional delegation as a potential springboard back into elected office. A victory in Tuesday's special election to fill the remaining months of the late U.S. Rep. Don Young's term could send her to Washington as soon as next month.
Palin, a former Alaska governor and the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, has been out of elected office for more than a decade but is betting her insurgent brand of conservativism can make her a hit again in the age of Trumpism.
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Cheney's work as vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee has won her bipartisan praise from those who see Trump as a threat to American democracy. But it has severely threatened her chances of prevailing in the Republican primary in deeply red Wyoming, where Trump notched one of his most lopsided 2020 victories, capturing 70% of the vote compared to Joe Biden's 27%.
Set to deny Cheney a fourth term as Wyoming’s lone member of the House is Harriet Hageman, a Cheyenne ranching industry attorney who was little known outside the state before winning Trump’s endorsement last year.
Hageman finished in the middle of a five-way, 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary. She's campaigned aggressively for Cheney's House seat, appearing at county fairs, parades and rodeos. Making his first public political appearance in Wyoming, Trump drew a crowd of at least 10,000 to a Casper rally supporting Hageman in May.
A defeat for Cheney would cap a swift, once unthinkable political collapse in a state where her name recognition is nearly universal and her family’s political roots run deep. Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, held the state's House seat for 10 years until 1989.
Still, the primary comes after Republicans booted Cheney as the party’s No. 3 House leader and the Wyoming GOP censured her. Security threats have mostly prevented the congresswoman from attending public events and rallies as she campaigns.
Cheney has instead opted for private gatherings and endorsements from well-known, traditional Republicans like Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson. She also released an ad in which her father declares: “In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who was a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump."
Cheney’s best hope is that enough Wyoming Democrats will switch parties to vote for her instead of their own party’s three candidates — none of whom stands a chance in November's general election. Even Cheney's close allies say she might be putting principle above success in this race.
That has fueled speculation that Cheney is hoping for something bigger, and she's refused to rule out a 2024 presidential run.
Palin is on the ballot twice in Alaska: once in a special election to complete Young's term and another for a full two-year House term starting in January.
Voters approved an elections overhaul in 2020 ending party primaries and instituting ranked voting in general elections. Endorsed by Trump, Palin finished first among 48 candidates to qualify for a special election. They were seeking to replace Young, who died in March at age 88, after 49 years as Alaska's lone House member.
Palin is now trying to secure the win against the No. 2 and 4 finishers, Republican Nick Begich and Democrat Mary Peltola. The third-place vote-getter pulled out of the race after the special primary.
In a recent address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Palin decried the new voting system, saying, "It is bizarre, it’s convoluted, it’s complicated. And it results in voter suppression.”
Tuesday's ballot also features a House primary race and one for the U.S. Senate in which Trump's influence may not prove decisive. Alaskans pick one candidate in each race, with the top four vote-getters advancing to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is seeking reelection to a seat she has held for nearly 20 years. She faces 18 opponents — the most prominent of which is Republican Kelly Tshibaka, who has been endorsed by Trump.
Murkowski, the state's senior senator, is a Trump critic who voted to convict him at his impeachment trial following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The former president has railed against Murkowski, including at a rally with Tshibaka and Palin last month in Anchorage.
The House primary, meanwhile, has 22 candidates, including Palin, Begich and Peltola.
Begich has tried to cast Palin as a quitter because she resigned as governor partway through her term in 2009. Palin has referred to Begich, nephew of former Democratic Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and grandson of former Democratic Rep. Nick Begich, as her “fellow ‘Republican’” in the race. Begich counters that he's always been a Republican, despite coming from a family of prominent Democrats.
Associated Press writers Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.