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April 22, 2024

Prominent election deniers are running again in 2024, but some have toned down their claims

Prominent election deniers are running again in 2024, but some have toned down their claims

At least 17 Republican candidates who put false claims about the 2020 election at the center of their 2022 and 2023 statewide campaigns are running for office again in 2024.

But this time around, most of them aren’t making the debunked claims that the race was stolen from Donald Trump a linchpin of their pitches to voters. Rather, these candidates have generally broadened their focus on the issue, campaigning on ideas such as “election security” and “election integrity.”

After outspoken 2020 election deniers suffered defeats in battleground states across the board in the last midterm elections, it’s a shift GOP operatives say is critical for these candidates to appeal to voters beyond the hardcore Trump supporters.

“That message didn’t work,” veteran Republican strategist Alex Conant said. “Republicans want to win in 2024. They know they’re not going to win in 2020 — there’s nothing we can do now to change what happened.”

“For a lot of Republican voters, they want to make sure that their votes count, and are more interested in what candidates can do about election security than listening to them complaining about 2020 conspiracy theories,” he added.

But groups tracking candidates who have sown doubt about Joe Biden’s 2020 victory say the pivot is also intended to obscure these candidates’ disproven, and dangerous, positions.

“The election denial movement has damaged trust in our elections and has led to threats and harassment that election officials are dealing with every day,” said Joanna Lydgate, CEO of States United Action, a nonpartisan group that tracks election deniers running for office. “I think that’s a really important point to remember, in light of those candidates who may appear to have backed away from some of their representations in the past two election cycles.”

Many of those 17 Republican candidates running again are doing so in crucial swing states and for offices, including Senate and Congress, whose responsibilities in some cases could be tied to certifying results in those states.

In Arizona, which had been a hotbed for false claims about the 2020 election results, the list includes Kari Lake, who is running for U.S. Senate, Abraham Hamadeh, who is running for a U.S. House seat, and Mark Finchem who is running for the state Senate.

Lake had made her support of Trump’s unfounded claims that the election was stolen from him a centerpiece of her failed run for governor in 2022 — a race she still hasn’t acknowledged she lost.

But her 2024 Senate campaign has not focused on election denialism. Rather, Lake, who was endorsed by both Trump and the Senate GOP campaign arm, has emphasized issues like border security and the economy, while also, periodically, pushing for the importance of “honest elections.”

Asked if Lake still believed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and whether she’d moved away from talking about it, as well as her claims about her own gubernatorial race, her campaign spokesperson Alex Nicoll told NBC News that the campaign website was “a good reference point” for “the issues that we are focusing on.” Lake’s website does not mention election integrity or election security.

Further down the ballot, Mark Finchem, who made his insistence that Trump won the 2020 election a cornerstone of his failed race for Arizona secretary of state in 2022, has launched a long-shot bid for state Senate in a central Arizona district.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Finchem, however, has mostly avoided parroting misinformation about the 2020 and 2022 elections, instead occasionally writing about the need for “comprehensive election reforms,” which he also touts on his campaign website.

Finchem, who was temporarily suspended from Twitter in 2022 because of his continued false claims about the 2020 election, didn’t respond to questions from NBC News.

Meanwhile, Hamadeh, who focused most of his own unsuccessful 2022 campaign for Arizona attorney general on false claims about the 2020 election, has kept his foot on the gas on the issue in his race this year for a Phoenix-area congressional district, and has pushed false information about his 2022 election, too.

He’s talked and posted on social media frequently about “election integrity,” while devoting a section of his campaign website to “fighting for those that were disenfranchised” in 2022 and working to “bring accountability to our elections.”

Responding to questions about whether he still believed the 2020 election was stolen and whether he’d continue to make false claims about recent elections during his latest campaign, Hamadeh said in a statement to NBC News that “election security is a top issue for Republicans and Democrats.”

In the statement, Hamadeh, whose latest run Trump has endorsed, reiterated a disproven claim that his district “was one of the biggest victims of compromised voting machines in the nation in 2022” as well as other false claims about the 2022 election in Arizona.

“I look forward to bringing everything I’ve learned from our lawsuits fighting for election integrity into the halls of Congress,” Hamadeh said, referring to a string of suits he’s filed in continuing to challenge his loss in his 2022 run for state attorney general.

In Nevada, Jim Marchant — who during his unsuccessful bid to become secretary of state in 2022 said he believed that Trump beat Biden in the state and that he would not have certified the 2020 election if he’d held the office at the time — is now running for U.S. Senate.

At his Senate campaign announcement in May, Marchant maintained that he still felt that the 2020 election “was probably stolen,” but that he was now planning to “go forward and make sure none of the other ones are stolen.”

Since then, however, he hasn’t often publicly addressed the outcome of the 2020 election or any conspiracies that are popular among election deniers. Rather, he’s pushed comprehensive reforms to “election integrity,” including tougher voter identification rules, “safeguards against fraud,” paper ballots and the elimination of mail-in voting. (In Nevada, all registered voters receive a ballot by mail and have the option to vote by mail).

Marchant didn’t respond to questions from NBC News.

In Maryland, Dan Cox, who lost the 2022 race for governor, is now running for a congressional seat that represents a northern stretch of the state.

During his unsuccessful race, Cox repeatedly sowed false doubt about the 2020 election. Before his run, he attended the rally that preceded the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

While Cox has continued to post on X about conspiracy theories alleging that the CIA has tried to manipulate elections in the U.S. and abroad, he doesn’t appear to have continued repeating claims on social media regarding the 2020 election anytime recently.

He has, however, advocated for “reforms” to election laws to require paper ballots and the hand-counting of ballots — which elections experts have deemed far less reliable than the using of voting machines.

Cox’s campaign didn’t respond to questions.

Elsewhere, Doug Mastriano, who lost the 2022 race for governor in Pennsylvania, is running for re-election to his state Senate seat. And Geoff Diehl, who lost the 2022 race for governor in Massachusetts, is now running for state Senate.

Some Democrats said the Republican Party’s large-scale embrace of Trump, who is marching to the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, would make it difficult for voters to buy any pivots on the issue from GOP candidates.

Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson pointed to a resolution signed by House Republicans this month deeming that Trump didn’t engage in insurrection Jan. 6, 2021, as one example that would help to keep attention on the party’s focus on the 2020 election and its chaotic aftermath.

“It’s hard to see them getting any real daylight from where they’ve been on that,” Ferguson said of the Republican candidates. Many Republicans still “seem pretty hauled in on Trump’s idea that the election was stolen.”

Adam Edelman

Adam Edelman is a political reporter for NBC News.

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