Two wings of the GOP confront their political futures in Tuesday’s primaries
Liz Cheney and Sarah Palin represent important pieces of the Republican Party’s past. Tuesday’s elections will determine if they have a spot in the party’s next chapter.
Both women trace their political lineage to the pre-Donald Trump era of Republican politics — or, in Palin’s case, perhaps the proto-Trump era. Both have since seen their careers redefined by the former president in a big way: Cheney became one of his main Republican antagonists, while Palin’s presence on the 2008 GOP ticket later came to be seen as an early vector for the grassroots takeover of the party that eventually led to Trump as president.
Cheney is now a huge underdog in a primary for her own House seat in Wyoming against the Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman. Palin, meanwhile, is trying to return to elected office in a special election for Alaska’s at-large House seat.
There are other elections on the ballot, too, including the regularly-scheduled primaries in Alaska — where GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted to convict Trump in early 2021 after Cheney joined the House majority in impeaching him, is expected to qualify for the general election.
Here’s what to watch on Tuesday:
Cheney goes to the bitter end
Trump has made defeating Cheney a top priority since losing the 2020 election. He has raged against the Wyoming congresswoman for voting to impeach him after Jan. 6 and later helping to lead the investigation into his culpability for the insurrection.
Trump endorsed Hageman, an attorney and one-time supporter of Cheney’s, in early September. She quickly consolidated most of a fractured field looking to oust the three-term incumbent and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Hageman has relied on the Trump endorsement to propel her campaign, also landing endorsements from scores of Republican members of Congress looking to curry favor with the former president or take a parting shot at Cheney — or both. Hageman’s endorsers include House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who blessed the effort to boot Cheney from party leadership. Cheney has tried to tap into a network of support from the old guard of the Republican Party, both in the state and nationally, that includes her father, former President George W. Bush and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
And while Cheney has significantly outraised Hageman, the challenger has held wide leads in every poll that has been publicly released. If Cheney ultimately loses on Tuesday, as expected, it means just two of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump even have a shot of returning to Congress next year: Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), who could face a competitive general election, and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) who is a safe bet for another term in his deep-red district.
Any question mark left in Cheney-Hageman race comes down to uncertainty about how many Wyoming Democrats could cross over to vote in the Republican primary to back Cheney. Cheney and her allies have been explicitly courting Democrats, asking them to temporarily switch parties to try to push her over the finish line.
But should Cheney lose on Tuesday, she is unlikely to vanish. She has made it her mission to make sure Trump never returns to the White House — and has notably not ruled out a 2024 bid of her own.
Palin attempts comeback after decade-plus out of office
The other big contest on Tuesday is in Alaska, where Palin is running in a special election to finish out the remainder of the late Rep. Don Young’s term.
Palin was the avatar of the hard-right Republican grassroots before Trump took over the GOP. But her time in the political spotlight was relatively brief. In the span of less than three years, she was elected governor of Alaska (defeating the sitting governor in a primary and a former governor in the 2006 general election), became John McCain’s 2008 vice-presidential nominee and then resigned from office in the summer of 2009.
Palin stayed in the public spotlight through various media appearances, and she made the plunge back into campaigning herself after Young’s death earlier this year. Trump quickly endorsed her campaign, and she finished first in the all-party primary for the special election in June.
But Alaska’s unique new election system could complicate the former governor’s comeback attempt. The special election will be the first Alaska race run under new rules, with all voters picking candidates in the same all-party primary and the top four candidates advancing to a ranked-choice general election.
Also in the field on Tuesday is Nick Begich, a Republican and grandson of the late Democratic congressman of the same name, and former Democratic state Rep. Mary Sattler Peltola. (A fourth candidate, independent Al Gross, initially qualified but later dropped out.)
Should no candidate get a majority of the vote, calculating voters’ other ranked choices will be necessary — meaning the winner won’t be known for weeks. State election officials plan on running the ranked choice tabulation on Aug. 31. Palin took first place in the primary with just 27 percent support, suggesting the ranked choice tabulation is likely.
In addition to the special election, the primary for a full term for the at-large seat is also on Tuesday. Palin, Begich, Peltola and others are all also running in that primary.
Murkowski’s first hurdle
Alaska will also host its Senate primary, with the same all-party, top-four, ranked-choice rules. And just like the other big races on Tuesday, there’s a Trump angle here, too.
Murkowski and her-Trump endorsed challenger Kelly Tshibaka are expected to be among the four candidates who advance — and the new system is expected to benefit Murkowski in the fall, when she has previously won support from across the state’s political spectrum in other general elections.
Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is also running for reelection under the same system, in a primary that includes former Gov. Bill Walker, who is running as an independent, and former Democratic state lawmaker Les Gara.
Given the state’s vast size and reliance on mail ballots in some communities, it’s possible we won’t know on Tuesday night who advances from the primary.
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