The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Key election deniers concede defeat after disputing Trump’s 2020 loss

GOP candidates who denied or questioned Biden’s victory fell short in many statewide races while sweeping up victories in House contests

Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon addresses an election night watch party Tuesday in Grand Rapids. (Evan Cobb )/for The Washington Post)

Voters in several battleground states have rebuked state-level candidates who echoed former president Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 presidential race was rigged, keeping election deniers in those places from positions with power over the certification of future presidential election results.

In a number of cases, the losing candidates conceded their races Wednesday, opting not to follow a precedent that Trump had set and that scholars had feared could become a troubling new norm of American democracy.

But even as those candidates bowed to reality, dozens of others who denied or questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 vote were celebrating projected wins in congressional races.

At least 145 Republican election deniers running for the House had won their races as of Wednesday afternoon, ticking past the 139 House Republicans who objected to the counting of electoral votes following the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.

And while Democrats are projected to prevail in gubernatorial contests in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, several high-profile races remained too close to call Wednesday — notably in Arizona, where Republican Kari Lake has made denying the 2020 election results a central theme in her campaign for governor.

“Just like yesterday I wasn’t prepared to say that democracy was dead, I’m not prepared to say this morning that the threat from election denialism is completely vanquished,” said Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University who studies U.S. elections. “I don’t think we are ‘out of the woods’ yet by any means.”

Two years after Trump prematurely declared he had won a second term and falsely claimed widespread election fraud, the relative normalcy of the 2022 election and its immediate aftermath was striking. Several high-profile election deniers — who had repeatedly questioned or disputed Trump’s 2020 loss — urged their supporters to be patient until all votes were counted. Others conceded defeat even before the results were finalized.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) said she choked up with relief when Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon conceded Wednesday morning. The act, Benson said, reinforced a democratic norm of acknowledging election results that Trump had undermined. Dixon, a former right-wing commentator, had parroted the former president’s false claims, insisting he won Michigan in 2020.

“One of the most significant markers of a successful, smooth election is when the losing candidate graciously concedes defeat,” Benson wrote in a text message. “So to see candidates who previously denied the accurate results in 2020’s election now graciously concede defeat in their own high-profile races tells me we’ve truly succeeded in running a smooth and successful election in Michigan.”

Benson fended off her own challenge, from Trump-endorsed election denier Kristina Karamo, securing a second term.

Exit polls showed that issues such as abortion and inflation were important to many voters, reflecting that Tuesday’s results were not a referendum on election denialism alone. But in a call with conservative activists Wednesday, pollster Scott Rasmussen seemed to acknowledge that Republicans had pushed election denialism too far for their own political good.

“We were absolutely right that the January 6th hearings were a bust, that there was no interest in them. But I think it was a mistake by some candidates to go further in that and continue looking back to the 2020 election and presenting it on their terms,” Rasmussen said. “Voters want to move forward, not back.”

The mixed picture for election deniers emerged Wednesday after an Election Day that largely went smoothly, with what experts described as normal hiccups but no systemic problems, violence or chaos caused by partisan poll watchers.

That relative calm extended to the post-election democratic ritual of claiming victory and offering concessions.

In Arizona, Lake on Tuesday evening assailed the “cheaters and crooks” she said were in charge of running elections and predicted she would win. But she stopped short of declaring she had.

“We’re going to be patient, guys,” she told a large crowd gathered in a ballroom at a resort on the outskirts of Phoenix. She added, “We will take the victory when it comes.” As of Wednesday afternoon, Lake was narrowly trailing her Democratic rival for governor, Katie Hobbs, with an estimated 66 percent of votes counted.

As an ambitious political newcomer who has aligned herself with Trump, Lake faces a particularly delicate balancing act: to moderate her election denialism without alienating the former president or his most ardent supporters.

If Lake wins, she will face the additional challenge of accepting of the result in her own race even as she did not accept the 2020 results. Unfounded claims swirled on the right Tuesday that malfunctioning voting-machine printers in Maricopa County were a sign of a nefarious plot.

“There is going to be an inherent contradiction in denying Trump’s defeat but then saying, ‘Hey I won, and my victory is valid,’” Foley said.

In Michigan, less than 20 minutes after Fox News called the race for her opponent, Dixon took the stage in a downtown Grand Rapids hotel late Tuesday to declare that the race wasn’t over. Earlier in the race, she had refused to commit to accepting the results of the election.

“This race is going to be too close to call, despite what Fox thinks,” Dixon told a crowd of supporters. “The results continue to trickle in. The major counties have a very, very long way to go,” she said. “We stay up until we have every vote counted.”

But on Wednesday morning, Dixon acknowledged she had lost.

“I called Governor Whitmer this morning to concede and wish her well,” Dixon said in a statement emailed by her campaign. Dixon thanked her supporters and volunteers, saying, “We came up short, but we will never stop fighting for our families.”

Other election deniers also conceded their races after media organizations projected they would lose, even as votes remained to be counted.

Matthew DePerno, the Republican nominee for attorney general in Michigan and a prominent figure in the national movement claiming fraudulent elections, conceded to incumbent Dana Nessel (D) on Wednesday morning. “Although I may be conceding to Dana Nessel today, I refuse to concede that Michigan is a blue state,” DePerno posted on Twitter. “I will continue to fight like hell to restore Michigan to all it can be. Thank you to each and every one of you!”

Tim Michels, the Republican nominee for governor in Wisconsin, had refused to rule out attempting to “decertify” Joe Biden’s 2020 victory — an idea for which there is no mechanism in the law. But Michels conceded to incumbent Gov. Tony Evers (D), he told his supporters on election night. “The math doesn’t add up,” he said. “I wish the Evers family well.”

In Pennsylvania’s closely watched Senate race, widely seen as key to Democrats’ chances for maintaining control of that chamber, Trump-backed Mehmet Oz conceded Wednesday morning in a phone call to his Democratic opponent, John Fetterman, according to Fetterman’s campaign.

There had been no concession as of Wednesday afternoon from Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor. Multiple media organizations called the race for Democrat Josh Shapiro shortly after polls closed Tuesday night. Mastriano has been among the nation’s most vocal election deniers and was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the day Trump supporters laid siege to a joint session of Congress.

Experts said the concession, mundane as it may seem, is a vital ingredient to the health of any democracy.

“Accepting defeat means acknowledging that facts matter, that the will of voters matters, that reality-based thinking can prevail,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a history professor at New York University who studies fascism and is the author of “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, 167 of 291 election deniers identified by The Post were projected to have won. Nearly 40 races had not been called.

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.

But votes in other races were still being tallied. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, the freshman MAGA Republican from Colorado, was fighting to keep her seat, trailing her Democratic opponent by more than 2,000 votes with 95 percent of ballots counted.

In Nevada, Republican secretary of state nominee Jim Marchant — one of the “alternate” slate of electors the Nevada GOP submitted to overturn Biden’s legitimate 2020 victory — was narrowly ahead of his Democratic opponent with 77 percent of ballots counted.

The secretary of state in Nevada has oversight of the state’s elections, and Marchant has proposed dramatic changes if elected, including championing the hand counting of ballots and “decertifying” the 2020 Nevada result because he believes Trump won. Marchant also could attempt to thwart certification of the popular vote in the 2024 presidential race — something he has said he would have done had he been in office in 2020.

While state officials have more direct impact on election administration in the country’s decentralized system for choosing its leaders, federal lawmakers also play a role. With election deniers poised to grow their majority within the House GOP caucus, they are likely to wield great influence in the selection of the next speaker should Republicans take control of the chamber. The speaker would in turn preside over the House the next time electoral college votes are sent to Washington to be counted, following the 2024 presidential election.

That is one reason that passage of a bill to tighten the Electoral Count Act before the end of this year is still a pressing issue for democracy advocates. While legal experts from across the political spectrum argue that Vice President Mike Pence did not have any authority to reject electoral college votes on Jan. 6, 2021, they also agree that the law is murky and should be made more clear.

The bipartisan push, which has the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is meant to leave no doubt that Congress’s role is ministerial: to count votes from the lawfully established presidential electors in each state.

William Bishop, Dylan Wells, Sam Easter, Tom Hamburger, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Patrick Marley, Maria Sacchetti, Paul Kane, Rosalind S. Helderman and Beth Reinhard 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.

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