As polls closed in Wyoming on Tuesday night, all eyes were on Republican Representative Liz Cheney and her overwhelming loss to Donald Trump-backed challenger Harriet Hageman in a campaign defined by Cheney’s vote to impeach the former president and the Jan. 6 select committee she helped lead against him.
However in a primary that featured Trump’s unproven claims the 2020 election was stolen from him, the more telling story of the Wyoming vote was likely down the ballot, where voters overwhelmingly supported a Trump-endorsed candidate for secretary of state who has espoused unfounded claims of rampant election fraud against a sitting state senator backed by a few of the biggest names in the state’s Republican establishment.
The election was a significant win for conservative activists in hawaii, in addition to a departure from how Wyoming has typically voted. Beyond a Tea Party-backed candidate winning the Republican nomination for state superintendent of education in the first 2010s, Wyoming voters have tended to aid more moderate or establishment-aligned figures for statewide office.
In 2018, voters notably rejected Hageman and Trump-backed Foster Friess in the Republican primaries for governor and only state Treasurer Mark Gordon, who enjoyed considerable establishment support. And since 1959, Democratic governors have split amount of time in the governor’s mansion with Republicans and, in 2008, a Democrat came within one-half of a share point of representing hawaii in Congress.
The days, however, have changed. With all votes tallied late Tuesday night, Wyoming state representative and talk-show host Chuck Gray defeated Cheyenne attorney Tara Nethercott by simply over 8 points to win his party’s nomination because the state’s top elections administrator, all but guaranteeing he’ll win November’s general election in the deep-red state.
Gray also becomes the sixth secretary of state candidate nationwide to win a primary after embracing Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was systemically rigged against him, despite pushback from outgoing Secretary of State Ed Buchanan that such claims were “patently false.”
“President Trump has endorsed our campaign because I support voter integrity measures and passed the voter ID bill,” Gray told the Casper Star-Tribune in a statement on election night.
Newsweek reached out to Gray for comment.
As the Cheney race was the centerpiece of the year’s election season, many in hawaii said the secretary of state race was a lot more emblematic of long-standing tensions with the state’s political establishment, drawing clean battle lines between your Cheyenne establishment and the Trump-aligned activists which have arrived at define the Wyoming Republican Party.
While Nethercott largely stuck to a policy-driven agenda on the campaign trail, Gray continued the offensive, spending a lot more than $400,000 in a campaign primarily bankrolled by his father with numerous attack ads, robocalls and a last-ditch texting campaign featuring numerous inaccurate statements about his opponent. Nethercott was also widely outspent, with Gray’s father’s loans to his son’s campaign a lot more than doubling what Nethercott raised for the whole campaign.
But he also did what Nethercott didn’t: He embraced claims that the 2020 election in hawaii, which Trump won by roughly 40 points, was potentially compromised.
“What Chuck has prevailed at doing is addressing the concerns of several Wyoming citizens for the reason that the largest danger in virtually any election may be the insufficient certainty,” said David Iverson, a conservative podcast host and political activist. “I believe that that’s what he’s had the opportunity to utilize. Tara, however, she’s just sort of written it off, that ‘I know this is not happening, that is a complete, and we shouldn’t even discuss it.'”
It had been also a unique race by Wyoming standards. Although secretary of state is second in line to the governorship, races to fill the seat tend to be uncontentious, rarely attracting significant spending or media attention.
This season was similar. As the amount of votes in the 2022 Republican primary eclipsed the prior election by a lot more than 40,000 ballots in every, nearly 14,000 Republicans didn’t even vote in the secretary of state primary, roughly equal to the amount of votes Nethercott could have had a need to win.
“Traditionally down-ballot races aren’t contentious as congressional and gubernatorial races,” said Jim King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming.
But 2022 was also an extremely different kind of election in hawaii. Following a highly divisive 2020 primary season that saw numerous Republican incumbents lose their seats from challengers on the right flank, Wyomingites said the political environment in 2022 was a lot more corrosive, with Cheney’s raceand the shadow of Trump-styled populism weighing heavily on races down the ballot.
“I don’t believe it’s gotten any softer,” said Republican Cale Case, a Nethercott supporter and longtime state senator from Lander who narrowly won his bid for re-election Tuesday night. “If anything, it’s gotten more brutal.”
While Gray has served in the Wyoming House of Representatives since 2016, he’s got cast himself as a political outsider in Cheyenne, susceptible to conservative platitudes around banning abortion, propping up the state’s coal industry, rampant government spending and voter fraud.
That persona has played in to the themes of his campaign aswell. In July, Gray came out with state Republican officials at aJuly campaign rally in Lander with a great many other anti-establishment conservatives within an event observers said put the fractures of the state’s Republican Party on full display.
On the campaign trail, Gray has held screenings of Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary 2,000 Muleswhich critics say uses flawed data analyses to allege rampant fraud in the 2020 presidential electionsand regularly claimed the election was rigged against Trump. In the legislature, Gray led unsuccessful efforts to audit the outcomes of the state’s elections.
But Gray’s antics proved inflammatory, drawing public rebukes from the amount of his statehouse colleagues and heightened scrutiny around his campaign activities. Republican state Representative Evan Simpson accused him of misleading the general public about his role in crafting the state’s 2021 voter identification law.
Former Secretary of State Max Maxfield filed a formal complaint against Gray weeks prior to the election alleging he previously illegally underreported income from his father during his campaign and a failed bid for Congress earlier this season, while a study by the news headlines site WyoFile said that Gray’s father has didn’t adhere to state registration requirements for several the family’s r / c round the region.
As hardline conservatives amassed around Gray, top figures in hawaii like former House Speaker Steve Harshman and U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis threw their support behind Nethercott, while former state Senate President Dan Dockstader told Newsweek he ultimately made a decision to drop his bid for secretary of state to back her, out of fear he’d split the vote, drawing clear battle lines between your electorate.
“Rarely can you visit a statewide elected official developing and endorsing in what’s clearly a contentious battle in the Republican Party,” Dave Picard, a longtime Republican strategist in hawaii, told Newsweek.
Ultimately, the secretary of state race better defined where battle lines in Wyoming truly lie. While Cheney’s 40-point loss almost perfectly mirrored Biden’s in hawaii, observers say Nethercott’s narrow defeat represents the real barometer.
“I believe it’s in the same way clear between your establishment and the grassroots,” Mike Pyatt, a Gray supporter and GOP activist from Casper, said within an interview.