Liz Cheney in Trump’s sights for U.S. Republican midterm primary
JACKSON, Wyo., Aug 16 (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s campaign to oust congressional Republicans who backed his impeachment gets its last major test of the U.S. midterm primary season on Tuesday, when Liz Cheney and Lisa Murkowski face off against challengers backed by the former president.
U.S. Representative Cheney, who played a significant role in the congressional inquiry into the January 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters, is set to lose her Wyoming primary to Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, according to opinion polls.
Polls closed in Wyoming and with 6% of the expected vote, Hageman led Cheney 56.6% to 40.8%, according to Edison Research.
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The fate of U.S. Senator Murkowski of Alaska is less clear, as the state’s nonpartisan primary format allows all four major voters to qualify for the Nov. 8 general election, which could lead to a possible rematch for Murkowski and Kelly Tshibaka, backed by Trump. In Alaska, polls are still open and are expected to close at 8 p.m. (0400 GMT Wednesday).
Both states are reliably Republicans, making it unlikely that either will play a major role in deciding whether President Joe Biden’s Democrats lose their wafer-thin congressional majorities. The Republicans are expected to easily retake the House and also have a good chance of taking control of the Senate.
Biden’s low public approval numbers, weighed down by an unstable economy, remain a concern for Democrats heading into November. A two-day Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll conducted on Tuesday showed just 38% of respondents approve of Biden’s job performance, down from 40% a week earlier. His job approval has been below 50% since August 2021.
A majority in either house of Congress would allow Republicans to stop Biden’s legislative agenda. They are already threatening to launch potentially damaging investigations into his administration if they win.
Voters in Alaska are also figuring out whether to choose Sarah Palin, a Republican arsonist and former governor whom Trump endorsed for the state’s only seat in the U.S. House.
CHENEY’S LONG GAME
Cheney, the daughter of former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney, has used her campaign — and her position on the Jan. 6 committee — to keep the spotlight on Trump’s actions around the Capitol riot, and his continued false allegations of fraud in the 2020 election, in an effort to persuade fellow Republicans that the former president is a threat to democracy.
Terry Sullivan, a political strategist who led Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in 2016, sees Cheney’s loss on Tuesday as a “lost conclusion” but sees his efforts as part of a larger battle.
“Liz Cheney is not fighting for re-election, she is fighting for the leadership of the Republican Party,” he said, noting that some observers have discussed whether Cheney should run a presidential campaign in 2024. “It’s more of a beginning, not an end.”
Two recent polls show the challenge facing Cheney, whose relentless criticism of Trump has put off many Wyoming Republicans, despite a congressional voting record that backed Trump’s agenda.
Cheney trailed Hageman 52% to 30% in a survey of likely primary voters July 7-11 published by Wyoming’s Casper Star-Tribune. A University of Wyoming poll released last week puts Hageman’s lead at 29 points.
Cheney’s supporters believe she still has a chance if enough Democrats and independents cross paths and vote for her, which is allowed in the state’s primary system and the numbers of which may not be fully captured in polls.
Jim King, a professor of political science at the University of Wyoming, said Cheney’s opponents have portrayed his positions on impeachment and the Jan. 6 committee as unfavorable to the interests of Wyoming, where Trump won 70% of the vote in 2020.
“It all plays into the same thing, that she didn’t represent us,” King said, adding that the consistent distance in the polls indicates Cheney will lose. “I don’t see at this stage that there is any reason to question these results.”
Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump during the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill. Three others have already lost their primaries, four have decided not to run again and two have won their contests. The US Senate, where Republicans had a majority, found Trump not guilty during his impeachment trial in 2021.
Most of the candidates Trump has backed this election season have triumphed in a sign, according to his supporters, of his continued influence on the party as he plans to run for office again in 2024.
It is not yet clear what impact the FBI will have on the midterm elections if the FBI retrieves top-secret documents from Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago as part of an investigation into possible breaches of security. espionage law.
Cheney supporters have drawn some optimism from state voter data, which shows an increase of 11,495 in the number of registered Republicans year-to-date through August 1, while registered Democrats have fallen of around 6,000.
Their hope is that those numbers represent Democrats registering as Republicans as a way to boost Cheney, though the Republican increase is only about 8% of primary turnout in 2018 — not enough to offset the poll difference.
Similar to Wyoming, Trump endorsements in Republican-leaning Alaska are unlikely to offer an opening for Democrats. But they have elevated Tshibaka, who is trying to take Republican Murkowski’s Senate seat.
Under new laws that eliminated partisan primaries and introduced preferential voting, Murkowski is expected to be among the first four voters to qualify for the general election, with Tshibaka his most serious opponent.
Murkowski, a moderate who voted to impeach Trump, is seen as the frontrunner.
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Reporting by Liliana Salgado in Jackson, Wyoming, and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, additional potting by Eric Beech and Moira Warburton; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell
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