Experts say their dominance in the party poses a threat to the country’s democratic principles and jeopardizes the integrity of future votes
GUEST BLOG / By Amy Gardner, The Washington Post-- A majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices — 299 in all — have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Candidates who have challenged or refused to accept Joe Biden’s victory are running in every region of the country and in nearly every state. Republican voters in three states nominated election deniers in all federal and statewide races The Post examined.
Although some are running in heavily Democratic areas and are expected to lose, most of the election deniers nominated are likely to win: Of the nearly 300 on the ballot, 173 are running for safely Republican seats. Another 52 will appear on the ballot in tightly contested races.
The implications will be lasting: If Republicans take control of the House, as many political forecasters predict, election deniers would hold enormous sway over the choice of the nation’s next speaker, who in turn could preside over the House in a future contested presidential election.
The winners of all the races examined by The Post — those for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, Senate and House — will hold some measure of power overseeing American elections. Many of these candidates echo the false claims of former president Donald Trump — claims that have been thoroughly investigated and dismissed by myriad officials and courts.
Experts said the insistence on such claims, despite the lack of evidence, reflects a willingness among election-denying candidates to undermine democratic institutions when it benefits their side.
The Post’s count — assembled from public statements, social media posts, and actions taken by the candidates to deny the legitimacy of the last presidential vote — shows how the movement arising from Trump’s thwarted plot to overturn the 2020 election is, in many respects, even stronger two years later.
Far from repudiating candidates who embrace Trump’s false fraud claims, GOP primary voters have empowered them. A Washington Post analysis found that in races for Congress and key statewide jobs, a majority of GOP nominees have denied the results of the 2020 vote.
“I don’t believe we’ll ever have a fair election again,” Trump told the crowd. “I don’t believe it.”
Scholars said the predominance of election deniers in the GOP bears alarming similarities to authoritarian movements in other countries, which often begin with efforts to delegitimize elections. Many of those promoting the stolen-election narrative, they said, know that it is false and are using it to gain power.
“Election denialism is a form of corruption,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the author of “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present” and a historian at New York University. “The party has now institutionalized this form of lying, this form of rejection of results. So it’s institutionalized illegal activity. These politicians are essentially conspiring to make party dogma the idea that it’s possible to reject certified results.”
In the short term, scholars said, that party dogma is likely to produce multiple election challenges this fall from deniers who lose. It could poison the 2024 presidential race, as well. “It’s quite possible in 2022 we’re going to have a serious set of challenges before the new Congress is seated, and then this will escalate as we move toward 2024 and another presidential election, in which the candidates, again, almost required by the Trumpians, will be challenging election outcomes,” said Larry Jacobs, a politics professor at the University of Minnesota whose areas of study include legislative politics.
In the longer term, Jacobs said, the country’s democratic foundations are at risk. “It is a disease that is spreading through our political process, and its implications are very profound,” Jacobs said. “This is no longer about Donald Trump. This is about the entire electoral system and what constitutes legitimate elections. All of that is now up in the air.”
The Post has identified candidates as election deniers if they directly questioned Biden’s victory, opposed the counting of Biden’s electoral college votes, expressed support for a partisan post-election ballot review, signed on to lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 result, or attended or expressed support for the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington that preceded the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Among the 299 are GOP candidates vying to take over from Republicans who, despite overall support for Trump, have refrained from embracing his false narrative of fraud. For instance, Eric Schmitt, the Missouri attorney general on the ballot for U.S. Senate this fall, was one of 18 Republican attorneys general and 126 House members who signed on to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the popular vote in Pennsylvania. He would replace Roy Blunt, a retiring GOP senator who voted to certify the 2020 election.
In a statement explaining the vote at the time, Blunt cited the “more than 90 judges — many of them Republican-appointed, including several nominated by President Trump,” who dismissed attempts by Trump and his allies to prove the 2020 vote was marred by fraud. Also among the 2022 crop of election-denying candidates are those who actively promoted misinformation.
Anna Paulina Luna, the GOP nominee in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, spread unfounded accusations on social media that Dominion Voting Systems equipment rigged the 2020 outcome and expressed support for decertifying Arizona’s result even after a partisan post-election audit found that Biden had indeed won the state.
Some of the election deniers are themselves in line to oversee elections. Diego Morales, the nominee for Indiana secretary of state, declared on Facebook in 2021: “If we count every legal vote, President Trump won this election.” In Indiana, the secretary of state certifies results.
All three of those candidates, and many more like them, are expected to win their November elections, barring major upsets. “My position is very clear,” Luna said in a statement provided to The Post. “We need to restore faith in the election process and that starts by asking questions on how we can improve election integrity.”
Morales, when asked through a spokesperson whether he continues to view the 2020 result as rigged, offered this statement: “Joe Biden is the legitimate president. He is doing a horrible job, but he is the president.” Schmitt did not respond to requests for comment. A Trump spokesman also declined to comment.
The Republican fervor to elevate election deniers this midterm cycle comes at a time when pro-Trump allies and activists are continuing to doubt the administration of elections in the United States, demanding investigations of voter fraud and accusing state and local election officials of rigging races or using fraudulent voting equipment.
The convergence of those forces as the November elections draw near raises the chances that some of the candidates who don’t win, along with their allies, are likely to question their defeats. A dozen Republican candidates in competitive races for governor and Senate queried last month by The Post declined to say whether they would accept the results of their contests.
That, in turn, means that another close presidential contest in 2024 could produce even more chaos than what the country lived through in the aftermath of the 2020 vote, when pro-Trump rioters ransacked the Capitol.
More officials may be willing to try to thwart the popular vote, potentially delaying results, undermining confidence in the democratic system and sowing the seeds of civil strife. The proportion of election deniers on the November ballot is particularly high in three of the battleground states where Trump contested his defeat in 2020: Arizona, Georgia and Michigan.
Election deniers have targeted offices in each of those states — as well as in other battleground states, including Wisconsin, Nevada and Pennsylvania — potentially giving Republicans a platform from which to challenge a popular vote they do not agree with in 2024.
The proportion is also higher among candidates for Congress, which holds the power to finalize — or contest — the electoral college count every four years. Among 419 Republican nominees for the U.S. House, 235, or 56 percent, are election deniers. And the vast majority of those, 148, are running in safely Republican districts, with another 28 in competitive races, according to ratings as of Oct. 5 by the Cook Political Report.
There are already scores of election deniers in the House; 139 of them voted against the electoral college count after the violence of Jan. 6, 2021, had finally abated. But with 37 election deniers who are not incumbents running in safely Republican or competitive House districts, that number will almost certainly rise after November.
The attack: The Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event Several scholars said one of the gravest implications of these candidates dominating the House majority caucus relates to their loyalty to Trump, who has steered the party toward near-universal fealty. “One of the questions about the Republican conference will be, who is the real leader?” said Steven Smith, a political science professor with a focus on Congress at Washington University in St. Louis. “If the party wins a majority and it seems to be due to the success of the deniers, it’s hard to imagine Trump not taking advantage of this by using his public power to press the conference to follow his wishes.” That could mean Trump demanding investigations into the administration, determining the GOP’s pick for speaker or dictating whether the House votes to impeach Biden, Smith said. Trump, who has never acknowledged Biden as the legitimate president, was twice impeached.
Trump has amply demonstrated his penchant for driving Republican legislative action, including this past weekend, when he excoriated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for supporting a stopgap spending bill that included aid for Ukraine.
Republicans who won their primaries thanks to a Trump endorsement may be reluctant to defy him. Smith noted, however, that there is also peril for Republicans in this moment. Although election deniers are on course to win in reliably Republican districts and states, it’s also possible that the party will lose more competitive races because of its focus on the issue. And those who do win could push for a more extreme agenda that could backfire.
The only states where the GOP nominated a clean slate of election deniers are Montana, Tennessee and West Virginia, all of which are reliably Republican. But even in closely divided states where Democrats have been gaining in recent years, candidates who refuse to accept the 2020 result dominate within the GOP.
Among the Republican nominees for Arizona’s nine House seats, all but one are election deniers, according to The Post’s analysis. Four of those are incumbents who voted against the electoral college count on Jan. 6, 2021. The four election-denying newcomers include candidates who promoted false claims that a partisan audit of the Arizona result proved that Trump really won, called for the “decertification” of the Arizona result or endorsed the unfounded findings of the documentary film “2000 Mules,” which claimed that thousands of Democratic activists stuffed ballot boxes with forged votes in 2020.
Just two states — Rhode Island and North Dakota — did not nominate an election denier for any of the offices The Post examined. The Post’s count covers offices with direct supervision over election certification, such as secretaries of state. Lieutenant governors and attorneys general are also included, with each playing a role in shaping election law, investigating alleged fraud or filing lawsuits to influence electoral outcomes. It is not certain that all who embraced Trump’s false statements about 2020 would try to undermine a certified result in 2024.
Indeed, several election-denying candidates who avidly parroted some of Trump’s unfounded accusations as they sought the former president’s endorsement during their primary races have begun walking back those positions as they focus on trying to win in November. Don Bolduc, a retired brigadier general who won the Republican Senate primary in New Hampshire in early September, declared during an August primary debate: “I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying that Trump won the election, and, damn it, I stand by my letter. I’m not switching horses, baby. This is it.”
But days after his win, Bolduc shifted his attention to the general election against Sen. Maggie Hassan (D), who is favored to win her bid for reelection. As he did so, his position on whether Biden had won two years ago shifted, too. “I’ve done a lot of research on this, and I’ve spent the past couple weeks talking to Granite Staters all over the state from every party, and I have come to the conclusion — and I want to be definitive on this — the election was not stolen,” Bolduc said in an interview on Fox News. Days later, he suggested to a podcast aligned with the QAnon extremist ideology that he had simply bowed to political reality, and that “the narrative that the election was stolen, it does not fly up here in New Hampshire.” Then he repeated a sentiment that has become common among GOP candidates who stop short of denying the 2020 outcome but continue to cast doubt on the integrity of U.S. elections, even though experts and election officials say their claims are not true. “What does fly,” Bolduc said, “is that there was significant fraud and it needs to be fixed.”
Alexander Fernandez, Hayden Godfrey, Solène Guarinos, Eva Herscowitz, Audrey Hill, Audrey Morales, Lalini Pedris, Alexandra Rivera and Ron Simon III with the American University-Washington Post practicum program and Vanessa Montalbano, Nick Mourtoupalas, Tobi Raji and John Sullivan contributed to this report.