The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Election deniers score big wins, but also suffer significant setbacks

Candidates who deny or question the 2020 election represented a majority of GOP nominees for federal and key state offices

Former president Donald Trump checks his phone while watching results with guests during Tuesday's election night party at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/For The Washington Post)
9 min

Dozens of candidates for House, Senate and state-level office who have echoed former president Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 presidential race was rigged were projected to win their elections Tuesday, with scores more contests still being tallied.

Tracking which 2020 election deniers are winning, losing in the midterms

The vast majority of those winning candidates claimed seats in the House, but candidates who have denied or questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 vote had also won statewide races late Tuesday night. Their success came less than two years after Trump summoned a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on the premise that he had been cheated out of victory.

Among the more than 150 election deniers projected to have won by midnight: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Rep. Greg Pence (Ind.), the brother of former vice president Mike Pence.

But some of the most outspoken election deniers sustained defeat in races that had been seen as winnable for Republicans when the year began, including Doug Mastriano, who lost his bid for Pennsylvania governor.

Candidates who have questioned or refused to accept President Biden’s victory — 51 percent of the 569 GOP nominees analyzed by The Washington Post, 291 in total — ran in every region of the country and in nearly every state.

Washington Post senior video editor JM Rieger analyzed the views of the majority of Republicans hoping to claim victory on Nov. 8. (Video: The Washington Post)

Most of the victorious election deniers campaigned on a range of issues, notably inflation, abortion and crime. Voters who supported them did not necessarily do so because of their stance on 2020. But the candidates’ views on election integrity could have lasting consequences for U.S. democracy.

Winning candidates for governor, secretary of state and attorney general will assume offices with significant power overseeing American elections. Unofficial projections Tuesday showed that election deniers will amount to a sizable majority within the House Republican caucus, with enormous sway over the choice of the nation’s next speaker should Republicans claim control of the chamber. The speaker would in turn preside over the House in 2024, when the presidential vote could again be contested.

Tracking which election deniers are winning, losing in the midterms

Tuesday’s result reflected the tricky political calculus of election denialism within the GOP. It was a virtual requirement for many Republican candidates seeking their party’s nomination, given the importance of a Trump endorsement. Prominent Republicans who defied the former president, notably Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), were defeated by internal party challenges.

But it was not clear that claiming the 2020 election was rigged benefited candidates in tight general elections.

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Among the winning election deniers Tuesday was Jen A. Kiggans, a Virginia Republican who defeated Rep. Elaine Luria — a member, like Cheney, of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. One of Luria’s central arguments to voters this fall was the need to tamp down the anti-democratic forces that propelled the violence that day.

Luria stuck with that theme in her concession speech Tuesday. When she mentioned her opponent and her supporters booed, she said: “No, please don’t boo. The success of this district depends on her success.”

Election deniers were also projected to lose some competitive races. J.R. Majewski, a House candidate in Ohio who attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally and was trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, was among those who went down in defeat.

Don Bolduc of New Hampshire lost to incumbent U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan after flip-flopping between declaring the 2020 election stolen and legitimate.

Mastriano lost by a large margin to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, despite the fact that the state is one of the most politically contested in the nation. Among the roughly 6 in 10 Pennsylvania voters who viewed the 2020 election as legitimate, more than 8 in 10 voted for Shapiro, exit polls showed. Among the roughly third of voters who felt it was fraudulent, about 9 in 10 supported Mastriano.

The Post 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 Stop the Steal rally in Washington that preceded the riot at the Capitol.

A majority of GOP nominees deny or question the 2020 election results

Tuesday’s elections played out as Americans have grown increasingly worried about U.S. democracy, with roughly 7 in 10 voters saying that American democracy is “very” or “somewhat” threatened, according to early exit polling conducted by Edison Research. At the same time, voters expressed greater confidence that elections in their state will be conducted fairly and accurately. About 8 in 10 voters said they were very or somewhat confident that elections in their state would be fair and accurate.

Jacque Rose, a registered Republican and “mostly Republican” voter from Boise, Idaho, said in an interview Tuesday she sometimes splits her ticket. The retiree joined a steady stream of voters in a short line at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boise, explaining that her vote was against extremism.

“I’m scared to death about what some of these right-wingers are doing to us,” she said. “And I’m in a red state and I’m scared.”

Edward B. Foley, a scholar of election law at Ohio State University, said the success of so many election deniers is worrisome but that much uncertainty remains about how these officeholders will use their power. He noted that some election deniers on the ballot this year have wavered, which leaves unclear how they would act once in office.

Foley also suggested deniers’ acceptance of their own victories could, in some ways, strengthen public trust in their states’ elections.

“The whole goal is that valid victories are authenticated as valid, and none of this perversion prevails,” he said. “I don’t want to unduly soften this. We’re in treacherous waters. It’s going to be more difficult the more denialists are in office. But it’s not inevitable that the ship sinks.”

Since Donald Trump first suggested the 2020 election might be stolen, Republicans have latched onto the claim. Here’s how it became a litmus test for the party. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Hundreds of election officials around the country sought to dispel suspicions about the security of elections as Tuesday approached — and some of them, including several on the ballot, continued that work as voting got underway.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) was in a competitive race Tuesday against election denier Kristina Karamo, who claimed without evidence to have witnessed fraud as a poll observer in Detroit in 2020. Benson spent much of Tuesday fighting false claims of irregularities — including claims from Trump.

“There are always things that potentially could be seized upon that really have no impact on the election process itself and in any other situation would be minor,” Benson said. “I think voters just need to see that for what it is — a political strategy that some have chosen to pursue to the detriment of who we are as Americans and our democracy.”

Some of the most prominent election deniers on the ballot this year included state-level office seekers who would have broad power to influence the administration and possibly the outcomes of future elections: Kari Lake for Arizona governor, Jim Marchant for Nevada secretary of state and Matthew DePerno for Michigan attorney general.

All have offered unqualified support for Trump’s false claims of fraud in 2020. DePerno helped Trump try to overturn the result by spearheading unfounded claims that Dominion Voting Systems machines in Michigan had flipped votes from Trump to Biden. Lake has said her opponent, Democrat Katie Hobbs, should be jailed for certifying Biden’s Arizona victory. Marchant has promised to decertify Biden’s 2020 victory in Nevada and wants to impose hand counts across the state.

No winners had been projected in those races as of 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Among the winners that had been projected by that hour were Eric Schmitt, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Missouri who will replace retiring incumbent Roy Blunt (R). Blunt had voted to certify Biden’s victory, citing court rulings that rejected Trump’s fraud claims.

Another is Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), who shared disproven claims about the 2020 result on talk radio.

“How is it possible that in Pennsylvania there are 200,000 more votes on Election Day than there were [voters] in the electoral rolls?” she asked.

Some voters said concern about election integrity was a primary motivator in their selections this year.

Chip Johnson, 65, who cast his ballot Tuesday in Madison, Miss., said he believes voter fraud occurred in the 2020 presidential election. He stopped short of saying he believes Trump won but said, “I just think there’s a lot of unscrupulous voting,” before referencing several issues that have been debunked, including deceased people voting.

“Even if it’s true or not, it lends itself to the suspicion that things aren’t right,” he said. “It’s like the truth is not relevant anymore. It’s like the truth is whatever I say it is.”

Some of the year’s most prominent election deniers coasted to victory Tuesday. Among them: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) — two close Trump allies who have repeatedly made false claims about the 2020 result.

Those candidates also attacked the work of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack — and have vowed to toss the committee’s subpoena seeking Trump’s testimony if Republicans regain a majority in the chamber.

Other investigations into Trump’s actions around Jan. 6 will continue, however, including a criminal investigation in Fulton County, Ga., stemming from his Jan. 2, 2021, phone call asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to reverse Biden’s win in the state. The Justice Department is also investigating whether Trump improperly interfered in the 2020 election result.

Sarah Fowler in Madison, Miss.; Tom Hamburger in Detroit; and Carissa Wolf in Boise, Idaho, 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.