By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - During weeks of hearings about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump's supporters, Republican Representative Liz Cheney has sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Democrats eager to portray the former president as a danger to democracy.
Her role as vice chair of the congressional panel investigating the 2021 assault has won her national praise from Trump critics on both sides of the political aisle, amid mounting evidence that the former president sought to remain in power by spreading falsehoods about a stolen 2020 election.
"President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices," Cheney said at a Jan. 6 committee hearing last week.
But after the committee's upcoming hearing on Thursday, Cheney will learn whether voters back home in Wyoming view her opposition to Trump as a principled stand against lies and insurrection, or as an unwarranted act of disloyalty to their party's charismatic leader.
Of the nine lawmakers on the Jan. 6 committee, Cheney is one of just two Republicans and the only one seeking reelection. Her fate will become plain on Aug. 16, when deep red Wyoming holds a Republican primary election that will effectively choose the state's next member of the House of Representatives.
The 55-year-old daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney is Trump's biggest midterm election target in a revenge campaign against perceived enemies in the Republican Party.
Despite a campaign cash advantage of more than $5.5 million, she is trailing Trump-backed Republican challenger Harriet Hageman by more than 20 points in opinion polls and has had to appeal to voters outside the Republican Party, including Democrats, to switch parties and vote for her in the primary.
Cheney's opposition to Trump has led to her ouster from the House Republican leadership, a Republican National Committee censure and a decision by the Wyoming Republican Party to no longer recognize her as a member.
"Instead of fighting for us, she's fighting against President Trump. She betrayed us. She betrayed our values," a Hageman campaign ad says of Cheney.
Trump won 70% of the vote in Wyoming in 2020, his biggest margin among U.S. states. Cheney, a three-term incumbent who has voted in line with Trump 92.9% of the time, polled just below the 70% mark.
This time, as she weathers attacks from a Trump-backed Super PAC and the conservative Club for Growth group, Cheney is still hoping to win the day with her vow to put duty to the U.S. Constitution and the national interest above party loyalty.
A recent poll for the Casper Star-Tribune put her support at 30%, vs. 52% for Hageman. The winner of the primary will almost certainly be elected to Congress in November.
"Even people who dislike Liz Cheney, even people who are going to vote against her, will tell you that they are impressed with somebody willing to stand up on their convictions, so much so that they risk their political career," said state Representative Landon Brown, a member of the Cheney campaign's state leadership team.
"The only thing people can't get past is this Donald Trump discussion," he added.
Cheney's best hope is to draw a large turnout from a coalition of voters including independent-minded Republicans from cities such as Cheyenne, Casper and Gillette, according to political analysts and her own supporters.
"There is one path to victory. I think it's narrow, and I think it's uphill. But I think there is one," said Tim Stubson, a former state legislator who lost his bid for Congress to her in the 2016 Republican primary.
Her defeat would mean a symbolic win for Trump, as he considers whether to run for the White House again in 2024.
But Elaine Kamarck, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said Cheney could still emerge victorious over the former president as part of the Jan. 6 committee, even if she loses reelection next month.
"The one thing they're doing is convincing people that Donald Trump should not be president again. And I think Cheney is achieving that objective," said Kamarck, who cited recent polling data showing that a large number of Republican voters want someone else for president in 2024.
Many also believe that Cheney will launch her own presidential campaign, if she loses next month in Wyoming.
"The fringe right and the fringe left all hate her. But you've got this overwhelming, massive majority of people in the center who believe that what she's doing is the right thing," Brown said. "Frankly, it's the type of person that we need in the White House."
(Reporting by David Morgan, additional reporting by Rose Horowitch; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)