Liz Cheney aims to recruit crossover Democrats in her primary

Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., gives opening comments as the House Jan. 6 committee holds a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2022.

Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican fighting for political survival after clashing with former president Donald Trump, has started sending Democrats instructions on how to switch parties and vote for her, underscoring an urgent effort to try to overcome serious vulnerabilities ahead of an August primary.

A spokesman for the Wyoming Democratic Party confirmed Thursday that members of the party are receiving the mailers, including the state party’s chairman. “How do I change my party affiliation to register as a Republican so I can vote for Liz?” the mailer reads. Cheney’s website has also been updated to include instructions for Democrats.

In a defiant statement released late Thursday, Cheney defended the political move. “I’ve been a conservative Republican since I first voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984,” said Cheney in the statement, shared first with The Washington Post. “I encourage everyone with principles who loves our country to exercise their right to vote. And, damn right, I will continue to give every voter in Wyoming a list of all the key rules for casting ballots in our state. If any eligible voter living in Wyoming wishes to become a republican, they are free to do so. That is their right.”

The congresswoman has held Wyoming’s at-large district for five years and is facing a handful of Republicans, including Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman, who used to support Cheney but has embraced the former president’s agenda. Trump’s picks in other primaries this year have suffered some notable defeats, but Cheney must overcome particular ire from Trump and his base as one of his most strident GOP critics. And many local activists in the state have turned sharply against the congresswoman.

Under Wyoming law, voters can change their party affiliation no later than 14 days before the primary – or do so either at their polling place on primary day, or when they request an absentee ballot. The law offers Cheney a chance to appeal to a broader universe of voters, including some who might be disinclined to see a Trump-backed candidate take over her seat in a state where Democrats stand little chance in the general election, because of Wyoming’s strong conservative tilt.

But even Cheney’s supporters in Wyoming say there simply aren’t enough Democratic voters in the state to put her over the top in the Aug. 16 primary. In 2018, about 115,000 votes were cast in the GOP primary, while just 17,000 voted in the Democratic primary. Instead, they said, she needs to focus on bringing out Republicans who are infrequent voters in state primaries.

“If Liz Cheney’s reaching out for Democratic votes, she can’t be feeling very good about her chances with Republicans,” Dean Ferguson, the state Democratic Party spokesman, said on Thursday. He said that the mailers began to show up about a day ago and that he had heard only of Democrats receiving them. The mailers were first reported by the New York Times.

Ferguson also said many Democrats do not want to vote for Cheney, even as they appreciate that she is “standing up to the ‘big lie.’ ” He noted that she voted with Trump more than 90% of the time and added, “She doesn’t share our values.”

Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for Cheney, said in a statement Thursday that “Liz is proud to represent all Wyomingites and is working hard to earn every vote.”

Once the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House, Cheney was ousted from leadership after repeatedly denouncing Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Cheney is now vice chairwoman of the House select committee investigating a pro-Trump mob’s Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, which disrupted certification of the vote. “There will come a point when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain,” she told fellow Republicans this month as congressional hearings kicked off.

Hageman’s campaign manager, Carly Miller, said in a statement that Republicans are “fed up” with Cheney. “What Cheney doesn’t understand is that Democrats will drop her like a bad habit after she’s no longer useful to them on the January 6th Committee,” Miller said.

A person involved with the Hageman campaign previously told The Washington Post that Cheney could win if enough Democrats cross over: “If it’s 20%, we’re okay; if it’s 30%, it gets closer,” the person said. People familiar with Cheney’s strategy said at the time that her team had not pursued crossover votes.

At an event this month in Cheyenne, Cheney began her remarks by welcoming “new friends and new faces” to an event with supporters – a nod to the presence of at least one local Democrat and some independents and moderate Republicans who had not previously supported her political campaigns.

Tammy Johnson, a local labor official and “mostly a lifelong Democrat,” told Cheney that “many of my friends who are Democrats or undecided voters are excited to support you.”

“It doesn’t matter about party; it matters about you and what you stood up for,” she said.

Tim Stubson, a former state House representative who lost to Cheney in the 2016 primary, said this month that crossover votes were unlikely to sway the race, echoing others. “Every Democrat jumps ship and votes in the Republican primary, and votes for Liz, it’s still a pretty small segment of the voting population,” Stubson said.