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With six weeks to go before the GOP primary, U.S. House candidates gather for a debate

2022 U.S. House primary debate screenshot
Wyoming PBS
Wyoming PBS's Craig Blumenshine (far left) moderates a debate between U.S. House candidates at Sheridan College. Harriet Hageman (second from left), Robyn Belinsky (middle left), incumbent U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (center), Anthony Bouchard (middle right), and Denton Knapp (far right).

The five candidates vying for the Republican nomination for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat met at Sheridan College on Thursday evening for a debate. Topics included the events of Jan. 6, inflation and rising gas prices, election integrity, Wyoming’s energy economy, the influence and role of the federal government in the state, and healthcare costs, among others.

The race has drawn attention, especially from those outside the state due to incumbentRep. Liz Cheney’s work on the Jan. 6 committee. The candidates presented their policy positions and described what they would bring to Washington, D.C. on behalf of Wyomingites.

“The people of Wyoming do not believe they are being represented in Congress right now because our representative doesn’t come to Wyoming,” saidHarriet Hageman, who has been endorsed in the race by former president Donald Trump. “She doesn’t come here to talk to us, to explain her vote, to defend the decisions she’s making. She focuses an awful lot of time on the January 6th committee but she’s not addressing the issues that are important to Wyoming.”

Hageman defended her position about her claims about the 2020 election and said the Jan. 6 hearings were a distraction and that it has taken up too much ofCheney’s attention.

“I think that the press and the people associated with that, the Democrats who want to deflect attention from the failures of the Biden administration, the people who want to deflect attention from all the troubles in this country. They talk about Jan. 6,” Hageman said. “But that’s not what the people in Wyoming are talking about.”

Cheney, who has consistently drawn the ire of Trump due to her vote to impeach him over the events of Jan. 6, said representing Wyoming in Congress has been the crowning achievement in her professional life but that she will continue to put country over party.

“In Wyoming, we ride for the brand, and our brand is the United States Constitution,” Cheney said. “I’m going to ask people for their vote, I’m going to work hard to earn that vote, but people need to know something about me. I will never put party above my duty to the country, I will never put party above my duty to the Constitution. I swore an oath under God, and I will abide by that oath. I will never violate my oath of office and if you’re looking for someone who will, then you need to vote for somebody else on this stage.”

Cheney primarily took aim at Hageman during the debate for her claims of fraud in the 2020 election. Cheney has come under fire for her not catering to Trump’s false election fraud claims.

“I think that, in Wyoming, we have tremendously secure elections. I also know that the truth matters,” Cheney said. “And the claims that Mrs. Hageman is making about the 2020 election are the same claims for which the president’s lead lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was disbarred. They’re the same claims for which Sidney Powell has had her law license suspended. They are simply not true.”

Denton Knapp, a former U.S. Army colonel with a three-decade career, said that though he doesn’t have previous elected or government experience, he’s running for Congress out of a sense of service.

“I’ve been a servant all my life, and that’s what I do,” he said. “Why did I run? Because I saw what’s happening with the federal government and I knew I could make a difference. I got mad, and part of that running is ensuring that I’m representing our state here, those that elected me, and I make ethical and moral decisions in their [Wyomingites’] benefit, and if I can’t do that, I leave.”

Anthony Bouchard, a current state senator who has attracted some controversy during his time in the legislature sought to portray his candidacy as one that began with experience at the grassroots level.

“I’m a different candidate because I started out in conservative grassroots politics, and I was effective,” he explained. “If you like our gun laws here in our state, constitutional carry, I was the driving force behind that. We need more people who know how to get more people in the fight in Congress instead of just giving great speeches and becoming actors instead and saying all the right things and then going back there and doing nothing. If you send me to Congress, I’ll use the resources of the office, the budget, the staff, to do just that: to bring the fight back.”

Robyn Belinsky, who has lived in Wyoming for 30 years and who only announced her candidacy in May, is self-funding her campaign. She’s said that she’s unhappy with Cheney or Hageman as choices and emphasized that being an average person is what’s important for a politician.

“The Constitution [has been] used a lot in this debate and in our leaders, but you know what, it’s about being the relatable candidate, the one that’s for we the people,” she said. “The actual one who is standing up for people who are just ordinary like myself. This is not rocket science, we don’t need anymore politicians or attorneys to keep telling us what to do. This is important for Wyoming, we need a voice, we need someone who’s actually relatable and knows what goes on in this state at whatever level.”

A Republican primary gubernatorial debate is scheduled for Jul. 28. Early voting begins Jul. 1 with the primary election on Aug. 16.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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