From coast to coast, the Republican party has elevated candidates who peddle misinformation about elections, many who still believe former President Donald Trump’s farcical notion that the 2020 election was stolen. Earlier this year, we highlighted several “Big Lie” candidates in secretary of state, governor and attorney general races. With the primary elections now complete, we can gain a fuller picture of the Republican party’s embrace of election deniers.
A comprehensive analysis by FiveThirtyEight found that 60% of Americans will have an election denier on their ballot in November — out of 552 Republican nominees, more than 200 fully denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election, with an additional 62 raising questions and doubts. The Washington Post’s tally came to 299 GOP election deniers on the ballot. Of the 35 races for the U.S. Senate in 2022, 10 of the GOP nominees fully embrace false claims about 2020, plus dozens more candidates in U.S. House, state legislative and local races.
In this piece, we’re focusing on the election deniers who have prevailed in securing the GOP nominations for secretary of state, governor and attorney general, three statewide elected positions that are particularly impactful for democracy. The most obvious irony is in secretary of state races, where election deniers are not just running for office, but running specifically for the office that manages elections. Kim Rogers, the executive director Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, told The Guardian: “It is akin to giving an arsonist keys to the firehouse.”
As the chief executive of the state, governors wield veto power against voter suppression legislation, issue executive orders for rights restoration and in nine states — including Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas — the governor appoints the secretary of state. Together, the secretary of state and governor are key players in the state-level certification of election results; they generally must sign election certificates to confirm the U.S. House, Senate and presidential results.
Attorneys general can influence election laws, defend these laws in court, investigate and prosecute voter fraud and launch legal challenges in favor or against certain voting rules (or as we saw in 2020, against the outcome of a free and fair election).
Of the 36 GOP gubernatorial candidates running in 2022, 15 have directly rejected or questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Ten of the 27 secretary of state candidates and 10 of the 30 attorney general candidates — nearly one-third of the total GOP candidate pool — have also rejected or questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Here’s an overview of what we’ve seen as we near Election Day.
Two election deniers are all-but-assured to assume office.
The first election denier of the 2022 cycle elected to office is Wyoming secretary of state candidate Chuck Gray, who faces no opponents in the general election. Gray has called the 2020 presidential election “clearly rigged,” hosted screenings of the conspiracy theory film “2000 Mules” and wants to ban ballot drop boxes in the state. Fellow Republican legislators have proposed possible ways to limit the election authority of the secretary of state’s office in light of Gray’s all-but-guaranteed election.
South Carolina’s incumbent attorney general, Alan Wilson, is poised to take office for a fourth term as he is unopposed in the general election. Wilson supported a lawsuit that tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate 2020 election results in four key states. (Wilson has argued that his involvement was more narrowly concerned with Pennsylvania’s voting changes, not allegations of fraud.)
Election deniers, often incumbents, have strong election prospects in several Republican-leaning states.
Alabama and Texas
Alabama has a trifecta of election deniers topping the GOP statewide ticket, with incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey (R), Secretary of State Wes Allen (R) and Attorney General Steve Marshall (R). Similar to Wilson of South Carolina, Marshall signed onto the far-fetched legal effort led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) to overturn the 2020 election results. Paxton’s office has also spent countless hours and millions of dollars searching for cases of voter fraud.
Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) rounds out the quartet of incumbent attorney general candidates who supported Paxton’s post-2020 lawsuit. Moody and Paxton have both made it a priority to investigate and prosecute voter fraud, but often just target formerly incarcerated individuals who were unaware of their ineligibility. This effort is exemplified by the election crimes unit created by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
Alaska, Idaho and Kansas
Rounding out the election deniers who face strong prospects of election include incumbent Republican governors Mike Dunleavy of Alaska and Brad Little of Idaho, as well as attorney general candidates Kris Kobach (yes, that “voter fraud” Kris Kobach) in Kansas and Raúl Labrador in Idaho.
Extreme election-related rhetoric has made inroads in the Republican parties in deep blue states.
Blue states aren’t immune to the “Big Lie.” In predominantly Democratic states, several of which have a recent history of electing moderate Republicans to statewide office, candidates who have questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election fared well in Republican primaries.
Connecticut, Maryland and Massachusetts
Dan Cox and Geoff Diehl, both who have fixated on voter fraud, are seeking to succeed moderate Republican governors who pushed back against Trump’s false claims in Maryland and Massachusetts, respectively. Secretary of state hopefuls include extreme candidates Dominic Rapini in Connecticut and Rayla Campbell in Massachusetts. In Maryland, neo-confederate sympathizer Michael Peroutka secured the GOP nod for attorney general.
U.S. Rep Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who voted against certifying the election results on Jan. 6, 2021, is running for governor of New York.
Fringe candidate H. Brooke Paige is running for secretary of state in Vermont. (Paige actually ran unopposed in the GOP primaries for four statewide positions — attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer — but chose to focus on the secretary of state race.)
The most radical GOP candidates are found in closely divided states — the target of Trump’s ire post-2020 and hotspots for conspiracies.
No slate of Republican candidates is more extreme than the group campaigning in Arizona. GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem together launched a failed lawsuit to ban the use of electronic voting machines in the Grand Canyon State. “I am the ONLY candidate for AZ Governor calling for and demanding decertification,” Lake wrote on Twitter. (There is no constitutional or legal method for “decertification.”) Finchem participated in the Jan. 6, 2021 rally preceding the attack on the U.S. Capitol and as a state representative, led an effort calling on Congress to accept an “alternate 11 electoral votes [for] Donald J. Trump.” Along with attorney general candidate Abraham Hamadeh, this trio does not believe President Joe Biden won Arizona and will work to undo democracy in the state, aided and abetted by the Arizona Republican Party.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D) is a unique incumbent candidate — a Democratic governor in a deep red state. She faces Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R) who, as the state’s top lawyer, signaled Kansas’ support for the Texas-led challenge asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn 2020 election results in four states.
Michigan hosts another trio of election deniers in a purple state won by Biden in 2020. Tudor Dixon and Kristina Karamo are running for governor and secretary of state, respectively. In early 2021, a group of individuals misrepresented themselves to election officials in order to illicitly access voting equipment, which the group then tested and tampered with. Among this group, now under investigation by a special prosecutor, is the GOP nominee for Michigan attorney general, Matthew DePerno.
Minnesota, Nevada and New Mexico
Conspiracy-theory led individuals who don’t believe in the results of past elections are now seeking to be the chief elections official in key states: Kim Crockett in Minnesota, Jim Marchant in Nevada and Audrey Mendonca-Trujillo in New Mexico. Crockett called the 2020 election “rigged,” Marchant has asserted that he would not have certified Biden’s win and would consider sending “alternate electors” in 2024 and Mendonca-Trujillo labeled 2020 “a huge coup to unseat a President.”
No candidate is more emblematic of the anti-democratic streak revealed this election cycle than Pennsylvania’s GOP candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano. Mastriano spent campaign funds to bus protesters down to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and has introduced bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature to establish a special force to investigate election crimes and assert legislative control over court-imposed election changes. He might be too extreme for a full embrace by the Republican Governors Association, but if Mastriano wins, he also has the authority to nominate Pennsylvania’s secretary of state.
GOP attorney general nominee Eric Toney didn’t outwardly deny the results of the 2020 election to the same extent as one of his opponents, but Toney has a concerning tone towards the state’s election body and a hawkish approach towards prosecuting voting mistakes. Meanwhile, Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels hadn’t ruled out — in July 2022 — possible efforts to “decertify” the 2020 election.
This list of statewide nominees does not capture the numerous GOP elected officials who may fall short of earning the election denier label, but who fuel the same flames of election denialism with their claims of voter fraud, “election integrity” units and voter suppression laws. The Republican Party, writ large, has failed to hold anti-democratic members of their party accountable for lies, instead enabling their potential rise to public office come November.