Trump foe Liz Cheney's war chest comes almost entirely from outside Wyoming. Is that a bad sign?

Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney has raised millions already in her re-election bid against a challenger endorsed by Donald Trump. Almost all of it comes from outside her home state.

  • Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney has outraised chief GOP challenger Harriet Hageman by a wide margin.
  • The vast majority - 96% - of Cheney's money comes from individuals living outside the Cowboy State.
  • The small percentage of money from in-state donors could signal tepid support among Wyoming voters.

Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney was already facing a tough re-election following her unrelenting criticism of former president Donald Trump, who still holds sway in a state he won handily twice.

But newly released campaign finance reports could give her additional reason to worry. While she has far outraised her chief rival in the August GOP primary – Trump-endorsed lawyer Harriet Hageman – the vast majority of political contributions to Cheney's campaign come from outside the Cowboy State.

Of the $6,834,174 large individual donors have given to Cheney from Jan. 1, 2021 through March 31, $255,086 – or only 3.7% – came from Wyoming donors, according to a USA TODAY analysis of campaign reports filed Friday with Federal Election Commission records.

Hageman's in-state percentage is nearly a dozen times higher. And despite her overall fundraising disadvantage, the challenger is also doing much better than the incumbent when it comes to the number and amount of donations from in-state contributors – people who can back up their money with an actual vote.

Of the $1,481,589 Hageman raised from individuals, $542,594 – or 36.6% – came from in-state contributors. The numbers only apply to individual donors who gave at least $200, not PACs or small donors.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks during the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications' 18th First Amendment Awards at the NH Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., on Nov. 9, 2021. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is endorsing challenger Harriet Hageman over Cheney in the GOP primary in Wyoming, a rare departure for a party leader attempting to boost a Trump-aligned candidate over one of the former president's chief critics.

The daughter of a vice president who has cut her own national profile, Cheney always has relied heavily on out-of-state money. In the 2018 cycle, 53% of individual donations over $200 came from outside Wyoming's borders, according to FEC data. In the 2020 cycle, the share of donations from out of state rose to 85%. 

So far in this cycle, it's 96%.

Put another way: of the 3,313 individuals who gave Cheney at least $200 in the first three months of this year, 63 live in Wyoming. Of the 880 donors to Hageman, 264 are Wyomingites.

David Wasserman, a senior editor for the Cook Political Report who analyzes House races, said the fact that Cheney gets so much money from out-of-state donors plays into a narrative that she’s funded by out-of-state liberals. 

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“She’s popular among never-Trump elites who have a lot of disposable income, and that almost entirely explains her fundraising, but Congresswoman Cheney has problems that money is unlikely to solve,” he said. "No amount of money is likely to save her in a state that’s ardently pro-Trump. She could have raised $10 million this quarter and I’d still view her as the underdog.” 

Trump endorsed Hageman in September, hours before she officially announced her candidacy to unseat Cheney, a vocal critic of the former president who voted to impeach him last year on charges he instigated the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump has urged candidates to unite behind Hageman to avoid splitting the vote and allowing Cheney to win a divided field.

Trump's involvement has turned the Wyoming House race into a nationally watched primary with key players on both sides of the battle, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy, who is backing Hageman, helped engineer Cheney's ouster as GOP conference chair last year.

Cheney's campaign declined to comment.

Analysts say part of why her percentage of local donors is smaller is because she's able to tap a national network of contributors who support her anti-Trump views and have given generously. In her first successful House race in 2016, she raised $2.2 million for the entire campaign. With at least several more months to go in this race, she already has raised more than $10 million.

That's far more money than her opponent. Hageman may have a higher percentage of in-state donors, but Cheney dominates on the bottom line: the $8 million Cheney has raised from individuals across the country is more than five times Hageman's haul.

Including PACs and small donors, Cheney’s campaign raised $2.9 million in the first three months of this year, on top of the $7.2 million she raised in 2021. She’s spent less than half of what she’s raised this cycle and ended March sitting on $6.8 million in cash.

Hageman's campaign raised $1.3 million in the first three months of the year, on top of about $745,000 in 2021. She's spent about $1 million and has about $1.1 million left. 

'Never going to run out of money'

In a vast, sparsely populated state like Wyoming where no single media market dominates, Cheney's war chest means she'll have no trouble getting her message out up the final minutes of the Aug. 16 primary.

"The more money you have means you fly around the state rather than drive," said James King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. "And when you're talking that it's two and a half hours to (drive to) the next major city, that's a difference."

Harriet Hageman addresses a meeting of the Wyoming Business Alliance in Casper, Wyo., in 2018.  Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Hageman in his bid to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney, one of his most vocal critics.

Cheney will be able to put campaign offices all over the state and advertise on radio non-stop, if she wants, he said.

"You can blanket all the markets you want. And at some point, if you run out of money, you can't," King said. "Cheney's never going to run out of money in this campaign. She will be able to do everything right down to the wire."

And voters generally don't care where the money comes from, said Larry Sabato, the editor of the Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“This is used in every campaign and people roll their eyes,” he said. “What’s important is how much money you have. She already has a ton of money. She’s gonna have another three or four tons to add to that.”

Out-of-state donors include George W. Bush

The list of Cheney's out-of-state donors includes prominent luminaries. Former President George W. Bush, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, have all given to her campaign. So have several retired ambassadors and other appointees of George W. Bush. 

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“It’s president versus president," Sabato said.  This is another chance for the Bush people to square off with the Trump people.”

Former President Donald Trump speaks on a variety of topics to supporters at a Turning Point Action gathering in Phoenix. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Wyoming attorney Harriet Hageman in his bid to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney, one of his most vocal critics.

The states with the highest amount of overall donations Cheney received from large contributors for the three months of this year were California, Virginia, Florida, Texas and New York, according to FEC data.

Jack Pitney, a professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, said he donated $100 to Cheney in part because he admires her and in part because he worked for Dick Cheney when he was a Republican congressman representing Wyoming in the 1980s. He’s also the author of “Un-American: The Fake Patriotism of Donald J. Trump.”

“Having worked for the House Republican leadership and having written extensively about Republicans in Congress, I understood what it meant when she was ousted from the leadership,” Pitney said. “That was a really big deal and a move for which there wasn’t any precedent. She was willing to pay that price, and that was pretty much what JFK defined as courage.”

Jacob Rubashkin, a reporter and analyst for the independent newsletter Inside Elections, said the race for Wyoming’s sole House seat is a test of Trump’s influence.

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“If Trump is not able to successfully lead the charge against Liz Cheney, that speaks pretty loudly as to his ability to get his way in the Republican Party moving forward,” Rubashkin said.  

“More so than a lot of these other races, if only because almost everyone in the party is on his side in this one,” he said. “Everyone from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on down is following his lead.”