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Liz Cheney’s future and what else to watch in Wyoming and Alaska primaries

Aug. 16, 2022 Updated Tue., Aug. 16, 2022 at 12:36 p.m.

By Amber Phillips Washington Post

On Tuesday, some of the biggest anti-Trump names in Republican politics will be on the ballot. Here’s what we’re watching in primaries in Alaska and Wyoming

1. How badly will Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) lose her primary?

One of Wyoming’s best-known politicians no longer feels safe in her home state. Due to concern over death threats, Cheney holds invite-only events at her house rather than campaign publicly, reports the New York Times’s Jonathan Martin.

Support for her has imploded since she first voted to impeach Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 attack, and then took a leading role in the ensuing congressional investigation. Wyoming voted for Trump in 2020 by 70% in the presidential election, and Cheney’s passionate invocations of Trump’s threats to democracy haven’t changed many minds there. In fact, Trump’s election lies have completely remade the entire Republican Party, a recent Pew Survey finds, to the point where most voters who identify strongly as Republican want to hear their elected officials parrot it.

So Cheney is expected to lose her primary Tuesday to Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, who falsely says the 2020 election was “rigged.” And that means Cheney will lose her job, which she’s held for five years. She will join a growing list of House Republicans who supported Trump’s impeachment to lose their jobs in primaries.

“If the cost of standing up for the Constitution is losing the House seat, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay,” she told Martin.

But even then, Cheney may not be done with politics: Asked by CNN whether she would run for president, she said, “I’ll make a decision about 2024 down the road.”

2. Will Sarah Palin be Alaska’s next member of Congress?

Alaska’s one House seat is open for the first time in nearly 50 years, and on Tuesday former governor Sarah Palin - with Trump’s endorsement - is trying to make a political comeback and win it. But her path is complicated by two things:

- Her unpopularity in some corners of the state, amid a perception she left Alaska (and the governorship midterm) to grow her celebrity.

- How Alaskans vote. In 2020, they adopted two new ways to vote, a major change celebrated by democracy-reform advocates for potentially boosting the chances of more moderate candidates. All candidates, regardless of party, compete on the same ballot. And Alaska voters rank their choices, and the votes are redistributed until someone wins the majority. This method, called “ranked-choice voting,” tends to reward politicians with a wide appeal, rather than a narrow one, like (arguably) Palin.

That means another Republican, Nick Begich (nephew of a former Democratic senator for Alaska), or even a Democrat, Mary Pelota, also have a chance to win.

Tuesday is actually a special election to temporarily fill the seat. The winner will go to Congress for a little under three months, before the process starts all over again in November for a full, two-year term.

3. Will a pro-impeachment GOP senator make it back to Congress?

Also in Alaska, we’re watching the only Republican senator who voted to convict Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack, and is on the ballot in 2022. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has a Trump challenger in her primary, former state official Kelly Tshibaka. But unlike Cheney in Wyoming, who was cast out of House Republican leadership, Murkowski has the backing of her Senate Republicans.

Unlike the House race in Alaska, which is technically a special election for the open seat, Tuesday’s Senate race is a primary. The top-four finishers, regardless of party, advance to November, where they will be ranked by voters until there’s a winner with a majority vote.

Murkowski and Tshibaka are easily expected to advance to November’s general election. And there, Murkowski could benefit from the same ranked-choice voting system that could hurt Palin. “Ranked-choice voting is great at finding the majority-preferred winner,” Deb Otis, a researcher at the nonpartisan group FairVote, which advocates for ranked-choice voting, told The Washington Post’s Harry Stevens last year. (One of the biggest knocks against this method of voting, though, is that it’s confusing.)

So can Murkowski win reelection in November? While Tshibaka has zeroed-in on activating Trump supporters with her messaging, Murkowski has spent years cultivating her image as a moderate Republican with a coalition of independents and even some Democrats. But the state Republican Party has censured Murkowski and backed Tshibaka. Mukowski has survived challenges from the right before: In 2010, she famously lost a primary, then won a write-in in the general election to keep her seat.

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