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GOP hopefuls stump for election deniers despite distancing from Trump lies

Mike Pence, Nikki Haley and others who have rejected the former president’s false claims about the 2020 election are still backing candidates who promote them

Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc, left, campaigns with former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley at Poor Boys Diner in Londonderry, N.H., on Sept. 23. (Cj Gunther/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

In an interview on the “Today” show earlier this month, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley swore off campaigning for Republicans who repeat Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen.

“Everybody that I’m helping acknowledges the fact that the elections, you know, were real,” Haley said.

In fact, both before and after that interview, she has endorsed and campaigned with a slate of Senate candidates who reject or question the 2020 election results as she positions herself as a potential 2024 presidential candidate.

Haley appeared at a rally Tuesday with Don Bolduc of New Hampshire, who insisted Trump won the election and that President Biden was illegitimate, though he has attempted to backtrack since the primary. She also campaigned with Adam Laxalt of Nevada, who led the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the results in that state. And she endorsed Ted Budd of North Carolina, who as a congressman voted against certifying the electoral college results on Jan. 6, 2021.

Haley is not the only 2024 GOP hopeful who is trying to offer a contrast to Trump but still stumping for election deniers. Former vice president Mike Pence, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan have all criticized Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and have given signals about running against him in 2024. Still, in this year’s midterm elections, they’re all campaigning with Republicans who have thoroughly embraced Trump’s lies about 2020.

The contradiction reflects how thoroughly election deniers dominate this cycle’s Republican nominees, with a majority of Republicans on the ballot having denied or questioned the 2020 results. It also illustrates the challenge of presenting an alternative to Trump in a presidential primary when he continues to command overwhelming support with the party’s base.

Six in 10 Republicans and 29 percent of Americans overall say they believe Biden won only because of voter fraud, according to a Sept. 27 Monmouth University poll. The level has remained steady since the 2020 election, according to Monmouth surveys.

“There really is nothing more significant right now for the future of American democracy than to guarantee that we have free, open and fair elections, and that this is not in any way a priority, even for those who understand that Joe Biden won in 2020, is truly frightening,” said Norm Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “This is all about campaigning out of pure tribal loyalty or unbridled ambition, more the latter than anything else.”

The array of Republican leaders who are hitting the campaign trail to help the party’s nominees while also bolstering their own profiles stands in stark contrast to a dearth of national surrogates on the Democratic side. Biden and former president Barack Obama have scheduled only a handful of campaign events, and other prominent Democrats in the Senate and Cabinet have been absent. One exception is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is planning a whirlwind tour of eight states in the two weekends prior to the Nov. 8 elections.

Trump, as the GOP’s presumptive front-runner, has himself been active in the midterms, with rallies around the country promoting what he has called the “Trump ticket.” On Monday, he lashed out in a social media post against Joe O’Dea, the Republican candidate in Colorado who has distanced himself from Trump. Even Republicans who have sought to pivot to the middle since the primary, such as Nevada gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo and Senate candidate Blake Masters in Arizona, have enthusiastically welcomed Trump’s support at recent rallies. His next rally is Saturday in Texas.

In addition to Bolduc, Laxalt and Budd, Haley has also endorsed Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who worked to keep Trump in office after the election, according to text messages obtained by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Lee voted to accept the results on Jan. 6.

Haley appeared at a rally with Herschel Walker, the Senate candidate in Georgia who expressed support for overturning the 2020 result there. (Walker said in a debate last week that Biden won.) She has also endorsed six House Republicans who voted to object to the electoral college results, another House candidate who said he would have, and Wisconsin congressional candidate Derrick Van Orden, who was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“The liberal media is obsessed with the 2020 election,” Haley said in a statement. “As we travel the country, that’s not what people are talking about. The candidates we’re supporting are rightly focused on Joe Biden’s dismal leadership on the economy, the border, and crime.”

Pence has said Trump was “wrong” to pressure him to reject the electoral college votes, something he had no power to do. Public hearings by the House Jan. 6 committee have repeatedly styled him as a hero for standing up for democracy. And he repeatedly went head to head with Trump in primary proxy battles such as the gubernatorial races in Georgia, where Pence’s candidate won, and Arizona, where Trump’s did.

But as Pence has begun laying the groundwork to run in 2024, he isn’t seeking to make opposing Trump core to his political brand. Last week, Pence appeared in Phoenix to endorse Senate candidate Blake Masters of Arizona, who denied the 2020 election results during the primary and has since reversed himself.

Pence also led a fundraiser for Burt Jones, the Republican nominee for Georgia’s lieutenant governor who was part of the effort, now under local and federal investigation, to submit phony electors claiming Trump won the state in 2020. In a recent local news interview, Jones said he stood by signing the false certificate, explaining that he understood it as a procedural measure in case the Trump campaign succeeded in court, and he wouldn’t acknowledge Biden as the legitimate winner.

Pence has campaigned with Bolduc and Budd, and endorsed Lee. He also helped raise money for Lee Zeldin, the Republican running for governor of New York who in Congress voted against certifying the electoral college results.

A Pence adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly, said the former vice president wants to be a team player to help Republicans win Congress and more governor’s offices.

Referring to Republicans’ reversals on the 2020 election, the adviser said, “If candidates are now accepting of the events around Jan. 6, that should be viewed as a positive and rewarded. And as candidates look to coalesce the party behind them in the closing days of the election, Pence can be helpful.”

Hogan, a blue-state Republican governor and one of the party’s most vocal critics of Trump, is openly exploring a presidential bid. A recent trip to New Hampshire, home to the first presidential primary, included a fundraiser for Rich Girard, a state Senate candidate who has tweeted that the 2020 election was stolen. Hogan’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Cotton, who has given presentations to donors about how he would run a successful presidential campaign and visited the early primary-calendar states Iowa and New Hampshire, opposed objecting to the electoral college votes on Jan. 6, saying that doing so “would essentially end presidential elections and place that power in the hands of whichever party controls Congress.” After the Capitol riot, Cotton called on Trump to “accept the results of the election, quit misleading the American people and repudiate mob violence.”

Now, though, Cotton is campaigning for other candidates who didn’t take that advice. In addition to Laxalt, Bolduc and Van Orden, Cotton is campaigning this week with J.D. Vance, the Senate candidate in Ohio who has falsely claimed “massive fraud” in 2020.

Cotton has also helped raise money for Mike Garcia, a California congressman who voted to object to the electoral college vote, and endorsed Katie Britt, the Senate candidate in Alabama who said she would have done so were she there in 2020. Cotton’s political operation did not respond to requests for comment.

During his own campaign for governor last year, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) tiptoed around claims about the 2020 election. He avoided acknowledging Biden’s legitimacy until after winning the primary, and avoided saying whether he would have voted to certify the electoral college vote if he were in Congress, ultimately saying he would have. His campaign emphasized “election integrity” and expressed support for voting machine audits, but he also tried to present himself as a moderate business leader.

Now, as Youngkin has met with donors considering a presidential bid, he’s campaigning with gubernatorial candidates who have unabashedly run on Trump’s election lies, such as Kari Lake in Arizona and Tudor Dixon in Michigan.

An adviser to Youngkin, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the Virginia governor is not positioning himself for 2024 but rather is focused on helping other Republican gubernatorial candidates this year, like national Republicans helped him in 2021.

The adviser said Youngkin is bringing the same message on elections that he used in his own campaign, encouraging people to get involved in the process as poll watchers, but the campaign stops focus mostly on other issues, especially education, crime and the cost of living. Youngkin appeared at a rally on Tuesday in Oregon, where Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan is attempting another blue-state upset.

Amy Gardner contributed to this report.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.