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Liz Cheney's public battle with Trump may cost her the Wyoming House seat

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney has been waging a public battle against Donald Trump since January 6. She's been doing it despite the political consequences within her own party. Today Cheney is facing those consequences at home in an uphill battle to keep her seat in Congress in Wyoming's primary election. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is in the studio with us now. Hey there, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: Hi. So Cheney won her previous races for the House by big margins. This one is shaping up differently. Is this all down to her criticism of Donald Trump?

WALSH: It really is. He is really the factor in this primary. Cheney's a conservative whose policy views are in line with most Wyoming voters. I talked to Teton County Republican Chair Mary Martin. She backed Cheney in the past, but said Cheney's made this election all about January 6. Martin reminded me that 70% of the state voted for Trump, and some people feel alienated by Cheney's message, even though they agree with her on a lot of policies. Here's Martin talking about what she says is Cheney's demeanor becoming an issue in this race.

MARY MARTIN: I have heard personally from folks that were really staunch supporters of Liz Cheney and contributed lots of money to her in the past that she's insulted them.

KELLY: Insulted them - that's so interesting, Deirdre. So what has Liz Cheney's strategy been in the race?

WALSH: It's really all-in on her criticism of Trump. It's in her closing ad. She continues to argue that her fight to preserve democracy is what she thinks she's - her focus is, is really worth more than any one political campaign - sort of an acknowledgement that she thinks she could lose. She's enlisted her father, Dick Cheney, the former vice president, who represented Wyoming in the House for five terms. Here's his message in a recent campaign ad. Dick Cheney also focused on Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DICK CHENEY: He is a coward. A real man wouldn't lie to his supporters. He lost his election, and he lost big. I know it. He knows it. And deep down, I think most Republicans know it.

WALSH: Cheney also voted in Congress this summer like someone who knew that she could lose in a Republican primary. She voted in favor of preserving same-sex marriage, an issue that she's done a 180 on. Her sister is married to a woman, and they had a falling-out over the issue but have reconciled recently. Cheney also voted for a bipartisan gun violence prevention bill. That's not popular in Wyoming, where Second Amendment rights are a big issue.

KELLY: All right. Now, her main opponent in the primary today is Harriet Hageman. What kind of course has she charted?

WALSH: She was endorsed by Donald Trump, and she's touted that endorsement. She's an attorney who used to support Cheney, but now she's branding Cheney as out of step with the state. Hageman's been crisscrossing the state at a lot of campaign stops, while Cheney has really limited her appearances to small, private house parties. Cheney's aides say security concerns have been kind of an issue on how she campaigns.

KELLY: What does Cheney say her next step is if she does lose tonight?

WALSH: Well, her aides are already describing this primary fight as really the first battle in a long war against Donald Trump. She remains the vice chair of the House committee probing January 6, which is still interviewing witnesses and is expected to hold more hearings this fall. Liz Cheney has made it clear her main goal is to make sure that Donald Trump never gets near the White House again. That January 6 committee is going to issue a final report by the end of this year.

KELLY: End of this year - and what about all the talk that Liz Cheney might run for president?

WALSH: Well, she's certainly made some moves to do that in 2024. She traveled to the Reagan Library in California, a stop for GOP presidential hopefuls. It's also unclear if she'd stay in the GOP or maybe become an independent. She raised $14 million - a record - the most expensive primary in Wyoming history. She's got about half of that left, and she's built up this big donor base from out of state that she could tap into. There's also some speculation that Cheney could hold off on announcement on another campaign, but set up a political operation where she could travel around the country and sort of continue her fight, which she says is to preserve democracy.

KELLY: That is NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh. Thanks, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.