Republicans made a striking decision earlier this year to nominate candidates for top statewide posts in swing states who backed overturning President Donald Trump's loss in 2020. Most of those candidates lost in the midterm election.
Doug Mastriano, who commissioned buses to take Pennsylvanians to the Jan. 6, 2021, protests in Washington failed in his bid to become that state's governor. Kristina Karamo, a community college instructor who spread misinformation about voting on Twitter even on Election Day, was crushed by the state's Democratic secretary of state.
Mathew DePerno, an attorney who filed a lawsuit spreading Trump's election lies in Michigan in 2020, lost his bid to be that state's attorney general. Audrey Trujillo, a political novice who cheered Trump's defiance of the vote in 2020, was defeated for New Mexico secretary of state.
Two such races remained too close to call on Wednesday — Arizona and Nevada. And in more conservative states, from Indiana to Kansas, election conspiracy theorists still won key positions.
Many observers argued that the 2022 midterm election has shown that imperiling democracy is not politically successful.
“It turns out that trying to overturn an election is not wildly popular with the American people,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster.
That even extends to Arizona, Ayres added, where a prominent former television newscaster-turned-election-conspiracy-theorist, Kari Lake, remains in a right race for governor against Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, whose campaign has been widely panned.
"The fact that it is close with a very polished, very good Republican candidate and a very weak, very unpolished Democratic candidate tells you how much of a weight election denial is on a Republican candidate,” Ayres said.
Lies and conspiracy theories about elections burrowed deeply into the 2022 Republican field, with nearly one-third of the party's 85 candidates for governor, secretary of state and attorney general embracing Trump's efforts to overturn his 2020 loss.
About half of those won — almost all of them incumbents, except for candidates such as Kris Kobach, a member of Trump's 2016 voter fraud commission who won the race for attorney general in Kansas, and Chuck Gray, a Wyoming state representative who ran unopposed for secretary of state in that heavily Republican state.
More significant are the outcomes in the six states that clinched Joe Biden's win in 2020 and where Trump and his allies disputed his loss.
In most of those states, as in most of the country, the secretary of state is the top election official while the governor and attorney general often play key roles in voting rules and certifying election results.
In Georgia, Trump unsuccessfully backed a slate of election conspiracy theorists in the GOP primary in May, seeking revenge against incumbent Republicans who rebuffed his requests to overturn his loss.
On Tuesday, Trump lost bids to install supporters in three more of those pivotal states. In Pennsylvania, Mastriano would have had the power to appoint a secretary of state to oversee voting, but he was routed in the governors race by Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro. In Wisconsin, Trump’s pick for governor, Tim Michels, lost to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, dooming Republican dreams of disbanding or significantly overhauling the state’s bipartisan election commission.
In Michigan, Karamo and DePerno had been key players in spreading misinformation about Trump's loss in 2020. Along with Tudor Dixon, the party's nominee for governor who repeated Trump's election lies, they provided a drag on the GOP ticket that contributed to Democrats capturing full control of the statehouse for the first time in decades.
In two other competitive states — Minnesota and New Mexico — GOP candidates for secretary of state who echoed Trump's election lies lost badly, performing worse than the top of their respective tickets.
“There are more of us pro-democracy Americans who are not Democrats — who look at the Republican Party and say ‘That is not for me’ — and that was borne out last night,” said Jeff Timmers, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.
Nevada and Arizona will continue to test that idea as ballots are tallied in their close races for top statewide posts.
Nevada is where former state lawmaker Jim Marchant organized a coalition of election conspiracy theorists to run for voting posts nationwide as he himself ran for his state's secretary of state position.
Democracy advocates were optimistic on Wednesday, especially as some Republicans conceded their losses without alleging mass fraud.
"We’re seeing a bit of a scramble for the right message” among election deniers online, said Emma Steiner, who monitors disinformation for Common Cause.
She said concessions from candidates including Dixon in Michigan and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania make "it a little more difficult for election deniers to continue.”
But even as advocates celebrated, they kept a wary eye on Arizona and Nevada and acknowledged that Trump has inflicted grave damage on the trust in democracy that helps bind the country together.
“Without a doubt, election denial is alive and well, and this is a continuing threat,” said Joanna Lydgate of States United, which has sought to publicize the danger of election conspiracy theorists. But she took solace in Tuesday's results.
“It was a really good night for democracy,” Lydgate said.
Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms.
Nicholas Riccardi, The Associated Press