Trump enemies Liz Cheney, Lisa Murkowski face GOP primary challengers

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A billboard outside Cheyenne, Wyo., calls on voters to cast their ballots for Harriet Hageman, who is running against incumbent Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., in the Republican primary election Aug. 16, 2022.
Thomas Peipert | AP

Two prominent congressional Republicans who made enemies of former President Donald Trump are set Tuesday to defend their seats against his hand-picked primary challengers in Wyoming and Alaska.

Frequent Trump critic Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming is expected to lose by a wide margin. The once-high-ranking Republican’s standing in the party collapsed after she voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and then took a leading role on the House select committee investigating the insurrection.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who also voted to convict Trump over the riot, is expected to survive her own primary fight, possibly thanks to the state’s primary voting system that lets the top four candidates continue on to the general election. If she advances past Tuesday, observers anticipate her moderate politics will give her an edge.

The Wyoming and Alaska primaries come as Trump has flexed his power over the Republican Party to try to purge it of insufficiently loyal members, especially those who backed his second impeachment. Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in 2021, four have announced their retirement and three have lost their races.

Wyoming

Unlike most of them, Cheney has not shied away from her impeachment vote in order to try to convince Republicans in her overwhelmingly pro-Trump state to keep her in Congress.

Rather, Cheney has made it a central feature of her campaign, framing her vocal opposition as a moral imperative that transcends the goal of political self preservation.

“In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who has posed a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump,” said Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, in one of multiple campaign ads focused on Trump.

The tactic has put Cheney at odds with much of the GOP, which has stuck with Trump after the violent Capitol riot by hundreds of his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021.

That mob, which stormed the U.S. Capitol and forced members of Congress to flee their chambers, believed the then-president’s false claims that his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden was the result of widespread fraud. Trump continues to spread election conspiracy theories and falsely assert the election was rigged.

On Tuesday, Cheney’s principled opposition to the “Big Lie” appears likely to cost her her job. Harriet Hageman, Trump’s pick to unseat the incumbent Cheney, is ahead in the polls by hefty double-digit margins. Hageman has echoed Trump’s false claims about the 2020 race.

Cheney’s campaign has far outraised Hageman’s. But in a state that went 70% for Trump in 2020, Cheney’s war chest — and her reported efforts to convince Wyoming Democrats to switch parties to vote for her in the primary — are expected to fall short.

Her loss would be a stunning fall for the daughter of a former vice president who just last year had served as the No. 3-ranking Republican in the House.

Alaska

Ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, questions U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore during the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Committee hearing on the FY2023 Forest Service budget in Dirksen Building on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

It’s a different story for Murkowski, one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump over the Capitol riot. Trump was impeached in the House but acquitted by the Senate, where a two-thirds vote was required for conviction.

The four leading candidates in Tuesday’s primary are slated to move forward to the general election. Murkowski, who has held the seat since 2002 and faces a roster of 18 mostly little-known Republican primary candidates, is expected to easily nab one of the four slots.

The general election in Alaska will be conducted using ranked-choice voting. The system was adopted through a ballot measure in 2020 — just in time for Murkowski, who is not guaranteed to secure the most votes in Tuesday’s primary.

Trump has endorsed Kelly Tshibaka, former Alaska Department of Administration commissioner, to take on Murkowski. The state’s Republican Party has endorsed Tshibaka over the incumbent Murkowski for the Senate seat.

While polls of the Alaska race are few — and some experts say the state’s public opinion surveys are notoriously unreliable — the available results show Murkowski and Tshibaka jockeying for the lead heading into the primary.

Should they both move on to the general as expected, Murkowski will have a much bigger financial advantage: She has more than $5.3 million in cash on hand as of late July, versus about $800,000 for Tshibaka, campaign finance data show.

Tuesday’s returns will provide the clearest picture of the race so far. Even if she comes in behind Tshibaka, Murkowski has proven herself able to overcome steep hurdles in politics: In a 2010 Senate race, she lost the primary but won in the general with a write-in campaign, making her the first senator in more than 50 years to accomplish that feat.

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