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The next test of Trump's sway in GOP primaries involves Liz Cheney, Sarah Palin

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Alaska and Wyoming are two of the least populous states in the country. But occasionally they produce politicians with a big impact, like Sarah Palin from Alaska or Liz Cheney in Wyoming. They are both contesting Republican primaries tomorrow in their respective states. And those races are attracting a lot of national attention because they test the power of endorsements from former President Trump.

Joining us now to break it all down is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Hey, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Juana.

SUMMERS: Good to have you. So these are two of the reddest states in the country. Wyoming gave Trump his biggest vote margin in the country in 2020. Alaska was not far behind. So why would there be any question at all about his influence in these two states?

ELVING: Well, in Wyoming, Cheney has been a household name for a long time. Liz Cheney is the daughter of Dick Cheney, who was a congressman and, of course, vice president for eight years. She herself has been a landslide winner in the state three times. And in Congress, she's voted with Trump and the other Republicans more than 90% of the time. But after his supporters' riot on January 6, she did vote to impeach him. And she has continued to denounce him since. And she is the vice chair, of course, of the committee investigating that attack on the Capitol and has, in many ways, been its most eloquent voice and Trump's most forceful accuser.

Now, she knows that's been hurting her with the folks back home. The state party literally disowned her. Trump has endorsed someone against her. In fact, he did it way last fall. She is state legislator Harriet Hageman, and the latest polls show she is way ahead of Cheney at this time.

SUMMERS: Yeah. Cheney may be behind in the polls, but she has not backed off in her campaign this summer. Here is a little bit of the video that she put out last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIZ CHENEY: The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious. It preys on those who love their country. It is a door Donald Trump opened to manipulate Americans to abandon their principles, to sacrifice their freedom, to justify violence, to ignore the rulings of our courts and the rule of law.

SUMMERS: So, Ron, if the polls hold as they are and Cheney does not win, what might she do next?

ELVING: She would be back in Washington to finish this current term and to finish the work of the January 6 committee. Beyond that, she has vowed to stay in the conversation and continue opposing Trump. I suspect we will see a lot of her on TV. And she might mount a campaign for president in 2024 in the Republican Party, or if that avenue were not open, she might consider running as an independent or on a third-party ticket.

SUMMERS: All right. So we'll see what comes next for Liz Cheney. Let's turn now to Sarah Palin. She was the first Republican woman nominated to be vice president, and she is now making a little bit of a comeback bid. How's that going?

ELVING: Palin is running to complete the unexpired term of the late Congressman Don Young. She has Trump's endorsement, and they are in some ways natural allies. She was among the first to endorse him in his first run for president, and he's returned the favor, but it might not be enough. Polling earlier this year showed 60% of Alaskans had an unfavorable view of former Governor Palin. And she was controversial in her home state even before she became a national figure.

SUMMERS: Now, if I recall correctly, she had the most votes in the first round of primary voting, right?

ELVING: Yes. She had 27% in a field of nearly 50 candidates, all listed on a single ballot regardless of party. But under Alaska's new voting system, which was voter-approved last year, there was a second round for those who finished in the top four in the first. So tomorrow, the voters will be listing the remaining candidates in their order of preference. So having a plurality of first-place votes is not enough if you don't get more than 50%. From there on, being the first choice of many voters can be offset by being the last choice of too many others.

SUMMERS: OK. So there's this special election vote to take the seat now for the rest of this year, and then there's a separate vote to nominate someone for the new term that starts next year, right?

ELVING: Yes. The special election will be on one side of the ballot. Flip it over, there's the primary election on the other. But the names from the special will be there among the ones for the primary, among others. And that same top four finisher rule will be in effect, and there will be ranked choice voting in November.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Ron Elving. Thank you so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Juana.

(SOUNDBITE OF DONNIE TRUMPET AND THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT SONG, "PASS THE VIBES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.