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More than 100 GOP primary winners back Trump’s false fraud claims

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 6/14/2022 Amy Gardner, Isaac Arnsdorf
WASHINGTON, MICHIGAN - APRIL 02: Former President Donald Trump endorses Matthew DePerno (R), who is running for the Michigan Republican party's nomination for state attorney general, during a rally on April 02, 2022 near Washington, Michigan. Trump is in Michigan to promote his America First agenda and promote several Republican candidates running for office. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) © Scott Olson/Getty Images WASHINGTON, MICHIGAN - APRIL 02: Former President Donald Trump endorses Matthew DePerno (R), who is running for the Michigan Republican party's nomination for state attorney general, during a rally on April 02, 2022 near Washington, Michigan. Trump is in Michigan to promote his America First agenda and promote several Republican candidates running for office. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

J.R. Majewski marched to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and tweeted a photo with the caption: “It’s going down on 1/6.” Last month, he won the Republican nomination in an Ohio congressional district along Lake Erie.

Monica De La Cruz, an insurance agent, contested her defeat in 2020 by repeating former president Donald Trump’s disproved allegations of mail-ballot fraud. For a second time, De La Cruz is the GOP nominee for a Texas House seat that touches the Mexican border.

In an open primary in a safely Republican Georgia district, all nine candidates questioned the 2020 result. Of the two candidates who advanced to this month’s runoff, lawyer Jake Evans touted his past efforts to “overturn” elections, while physician Rich McCormick emphasized that he refused to concede in a 2018 race.

“No one was hurt by voter fraud more than myself,” McCormick said during a May debate.

About a third of the way through the 2022 primaries, voters have nominated scores of Republican candidates for state and federal office who say the 2020 election was rigged, according to a new analysis by The Washington Post.

District by district, state by state, voters in places that cast ballots through the end of May have chosen at least 108 candidates for statewide office or Congress who have repeated Trump’s lies. The number jumps to at least 149 winning candidates — out of more than 170 races — when it includes those who have campaigned on a platform of tightening voting rules or more stringently enforcing those already on the books, despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud.

2020 election denial pervasive among GOP primary winners

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The analysis offers a fresh portrait of the extent to which embracing Trump’s false claims has become part of a winning formula in this year’s GOP contests, and what it means for the immediate future of American democracy. The majority of the election-denying candidates who have secured their nominations are running in districts or states that lean Republican, according to Cook Political Report ratings, meaning they are likely to win the offices they are seeking.

Many will hold positions with the power to interfere in the outcomes of future contests — to block the certification of election results, to change the rules around the awarding of their states’ electoral votes or to acquiesce to litigation attempting to set aside the popular vote.

As the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol laid out in vivid detail at a hearing on Monday, Trump’s obsession with discrediting and overturning the 2020 result began even before Election Day. Members of his inner circle testified they repeatedly told him that his fraud claims were baseless.

“The election fraud claims were false. Mr. Trump’s closest advisers knew it. Mr. Trump knew it,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said.

But The Post’s analysis shows the pervasiveness of his untruths within the GOP a year and a half later.

Despite some high-profile setbacks for his candidates, notably in Georgia, Trump’s demand that fellow Republicans embrace the cause of election denialism has become a price of admission in most Republican primaries. The collection of falsehoods that committee members have described as “the big lie” is now a central driving force of the Republican Party.

“These officeholders are so important,” said Joanna Lydgate, who leads the States United Democracy Center, a nonprofit that promotes free and fair elections. “They are going to be the ones on whose backs our democracy survives or doesn’t.”

The Post’s analysis includes outcomes in the 14 states that held nominating primaries or conventions through the end of May. The survey includes contests for Congress and all statewide offices with power over election administration: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and, in most cases, secretary of state.

Voters in Atlanta cast their ballots in the Georgia primary May 24. © Megan Varner/Getty Images Voters in Atlanta cast their ballots in the Georgia primary May 24.

Those identified as embracing Trump’s lies have directly questioned President Biden’s victory, opposed the counting of Biden’s electoral college votes, expressed support for a partisan post-election ballot review, signed onto a lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 result, downplayed or sought to recast the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, or attended or expressed support for the rally that day.

The candidates counted as winners include those who have advanced to runoffs but have not yet secured their party’s nomination.

So far, voters have chosen eight candidates for the U.S. Senate, 86 candidates for the House, five for governor, four for state attorney general and one for secretary of state who embrace Trump’s election denialism. The tally does not include the most recent round of primaries on June 7. The Post will continue to update its analysis throughout the year.

Many of the winning candidates are overt in their intentions to use public office to affect electoral outcomes.

In Pennsylvania, gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano has asserted that the Republican-controlled legislature should have the right to take control of the all-important choice over which presidential electors to send to Washington. If he wins in the fall, he will have the authority to sign legislation to that effect and his powers will include the appointment of the Pennsylvania secretary of state, who oversees election administration.

He has also floated the idea of decommissioning voting machines and forcing all voters to re-register. On Monday, his campaign announced as a senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis, a former Trump campaign lawyer who helped attempt to overturn the 2020 results.

Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano next to Jenna Ellis, a former legal adviser to Donald Trump, during his primary victory party on May 17 in Chambersburg, Pa. © Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano next to Jenna Ellis, a former legal adviser to Donald Trump, during his primary victory party on May 17 in Chambersburg, Pa.

Video: Trump raised millions on false election claims, says Jan. 6 committee (cbc.ca)

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Mastriano is closely aligned with Trump allies who are still trying to “decertify” the 2020 result in Pennsylvania, a topic that could dominate the state’s GOP-controlled legislature if he wins but that experts say has no basis in the law.

In Michigan, Republican nominee for attorney general Matthew DePerno spearheaded a November 2020 lawsuit over an election night tabulation error in Antrim County that Trump supporters have seized on in their efforts to perpetuate unfounded claims of fraud. Secretary of state nominee Kristina Karamo served as an observer in Detroit during the 2020 absentee ballot count and claimed without offering supporting evidence that she had witnessed fraud.

DePerno has promised to lead criminal investigations of alleged fraud in 2020 despite the conclusion by Republican state senators that his allegations are “demonstrably false.”

Neither Mastriano nor DePerno responded to requests for comment. The campaigns of Majewski, McCormick and Evans did not respond to requests for comment.

Keith Self, the runner-up in a Republican-leaning Texas congressional seat, became the nominee after incumbent Rep. Van Taylor (R) admitted to an affair and withdrew.

Self’s campaign emphasized the need to combat election fraud. In an interview, he said he hopes to serve on the House Administration Committee — not usually considered a plum assignment, but appealing to Self because it is responsible for overseeing elections. The panel is sometimes charged with settling disputes in congressional races.

“That’s where election integrity resides,” he said. Self declined to specify what hearings, investigations or legislation he would work on through the committee, saying it would depend on the results of the November midterms.

“My focus is protecting states’ rights in running elections,” he said.

For many candidates, the embrace of Trump’s false statements is a clear attempt to court the former president’s endorsement or campaign contributions — or to avoid his wrath.

Full list: Trump’s endorsements in the 2022 Republican primaries

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) felt that wrath acutely in March, when Trump rescinded his endorsement after Brooks dismissed talk of the 2020 result and urged voters to move on.

“Mo Brooks of Alabama made a horrible mistake recently when he went ‘woke’ and stated, referring to the 2020 Presidential Election Scam, ‘Put that behind you, put that behind you,’” Trump said in a statement at the time.

Brooks got the message. Last week, he made a clear bid for Trump to reconsider a nod in his runoff Senate election against fellow election denier Katie Britt with this tweet: “Today I’m challenging @KatieBrittforAL to participate in a 2 question debate on 1 topic: 1) Was the 2020 election stolen? 2) Did Donald Trump (@TrumpWarRoom) win or not? I say 'Yes’ to both. Katie can accept or reject this debate challenge publicly on any of her social media.”

The gambit didn’t work. Britt, who never responded publicly to Brooks, nevertheless received Trump’s endorsement on Friday. Spokesmen for both campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) speaks to supporters at his watch party in Huntsville, Ala., on May 24. © Vasha Hunt/AP Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) speaks to supporters at his watch party in Huntsville, Ala., on May 24.

One of the more striking findings in The Post’s analysis is how many candidates have felt compelled to embrace some aspect of Trump’s false election narrative — even those who have stopped short of questioning the 2020 result itself.

In addition to the 108 election deniers who won their nominations or advanced to runoffs, an additional 41 winners have named “election integrity” as a key plank in their campaign.

A common position among these Republicans is the need to “improve” or “restore” public confidence in U.S. elections or to provide more enforcement of existing laws. Rather than declaring that the 2020 election was legitimate, many of these candidates cite the lack of faith in the result among their constituents as a reason to call for stricter election laws. Voting rights advocates say such laws could make it more difficult for people to cast ballots and are unnecessary given the scant evidence of fraud.

“Nebraskans deserve to have confidence in our election process, and we have more work to do,” wrote Jim Pillen, the Republican nominee for Nebraska governor, in a recent tweet explaining his support for a new voter ID law in the state. Trump won 59 percent of the Nebraska vote in 2020, and there are no reports of widespread voter impersonation there.

Pillen’s perspective is typical. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) did not join his 147 colleagues in the House and Senate on Jan. 6, 2021, in objecting to the electoral college count that day. Yet two days later, he embraced an Idaho-based effort to push states to “implement and enforce election policies that protect the integrity of all future elections and restore Americans’ faith in our electoral system.”

Neither Pillen’s campaign nor Crapo’s Senate office responded to requests for comment.

Even some of Trump’s top targets for defeat this year have embraced such language. Two Georgia incumbents who won their primaries against Trump-endorsed election deniers last month, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, defied the former president in the aftermath of 2020 by refusing his demands that they block or overturn the certification of his defeat in the Peach State.

But they also supported the Election Integrity Act of 2021, a state law that imposes new identification requirements for those casting ballots by mail, curtails the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots and makes it a crime for third-party groups to hand out food and water to voters standing in line, among other provisions. On the campaign trail this spring, they didn’t hesitate to tout that fact to the Republican voters they were courting. Kemp regularly decried Democrats’ “assault on election integrity” for opposing the legislation.

Kemp and Raffensperger are among the most prominent defenders of the 2020 result who survived their primary challenges this year. Thirty such incumbents have survived their primary challenges, and roughly two-thirds of them embraced “election integrity” platforms, the data show.

In contrast, only 22 winning challengers or candidates for open seats refused to embrace the false election narrative or steered clear of “election integrity” rhetoric. Of those, at least half did not face an election denier opponent, and four faced no opponent. Most of those races are in safely Democratic seats where the Republican is unlikely to prevail.

Dallas Woodhouse, a conservative strategist, noted that “election integrity” was not an issue in many of the congressional primaries that have played out so far.

In North Carolina, Bo Hines, a 26-year-old political newcomer who earned Trump’s backing, was able to secure the nomination for a swing congressional seat with just 32 percent of the vote — meaning his embrace of Trump’s falsehoods does not necessarily reflect the views of a majority of the Republican electorate and could spell trouble for him in a competitive general election.

“That whole race was really about Trump endorsing him,” Woodhouse said.

Besides Mastriano, DePerno and Karamo, election denier nominees for statewide office in swing states include Herschel Walker for Senate and Burt Jones for lieutenant governor in Georgia, as well as Ted Budd and Mehmet Oz for Senate in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, respectively. In addition, such candidates have won their party’s nomination in at least a half-dozen competitive House districts in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas.

Mehmet Oz, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, speaks in King of Prussia, Pa., on June 9. © Hannah Beier/Bloomberg News Mehmet Oz, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, speaks in King of Prussia, Pa., on June 9.

Democrats are in some cases banking on the prospect of facing an election denier candidate in the fall. In Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan, they have already begun including the issue in their general election pitches to voters.

There are few signs that the trend will abate in remaining primaries over the coming months. Voters in battleground states such as Wisconsin and Arizona are due to pick their nominees this summer, and election denialism has become a key issue among some of the leading candidates.

Greg Wheeler, who placed second behind a Trump-endorsed candidate, Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, in a seven-way primary for an Ohio congressional seat, said the 2020 election wasn’t a major issue in his race because fraud allegations were quieter in his state, which Trump won by eight points.

Wheeler worries, though, that the GOP nationally is hurting itself in upcoming elections by refusing to accept Trump’s loss and move forward.

“If it is the case that it was not stolen, we need to ask ourselves the serious question: Why did we lose, and how can we ensure that that doesn’t happen again?” Wheeler said. “In war or in life, if you cannot accept your losses and grow, you’ll continue to do them over and over again.”

Rebekah Alvey, Lenny Bronner, Hanna Holthaus, Heather MacNeil, Anu Narayanswamy, Megan Ruggles, John Sullivan and Sammy Sussman contributed to this report.

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