Parroting Trump, GOP primary losers cast doubt on elections

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters at the 2022 Colorado Republican State Assembly on April 9, 2022 at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs. She won a spot on the GOP primary ballot for Secretary of State there despite being under grand jury indictment felony indictment for alleged election security breaches, in a case overseen by a Republican prosecutor.

By Nicholas Riccardi/AP

It was no shock that state Rep. Ron Hanks and Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters handily lost their recent Republican primaries in Colorado for U.S. Senate and secretary of state.

Hanks was outspent 14-to-1 by his rival. Peters, who was vying to become Colorado's top elections official, had been indicted on seven felony charges alleging she helped orchestrate a breach of her voting system's hard drive.

But this past week, both candidates formally requested recounts of their primary elections from June 28, suggesting widespread irregularities seen by no one other than their own campaigns and allies.

“I have reasons to believe extensive malfeasance occurred in the June 2022 primary,” Peters wrote in her recount request, “and that the apparent outcome of this election does not reflect the will of Colorado voters not only for myself but also for many other America First statewide and local primary candidates.”

America First is a coalition of conservative candidates and officeholders who, among other things, promote the falsehood that Democrat Joe Biden did not win the 2020 presidential election.

This idea has seeped deeply into this year's Republican primaries, which have revealed a new political strategy among numerous candidates: running on a platform that denies President Donald Trump's defeat two years ago. As some of those candidates lose their own races, they are reaching new frontiers in election denial by insisting that those primaries, too, were rigged.

“There's a clear reason they're doing it, and it's a much broader, coordinated attack on the freedom to vote across the country,” said Joanna Lydgate of States United Action. Her group supports election officials who recognize the validity of the 2020 election.

Noting that she coaches youth basketball, Lydgate added another reason: “Really, what this is is people who are sore losers, people who don't want to accept defeat."

The primary losers have an obvious role model: Trump himself.

After his first election loss during his 2016 run for the White House, in the Iowa caucuses, Trump baselessly claimed fraud and demanded an investigation. When he was elected president later that year, he claimed that fraud was the reason Democrat Hillary Clinton won more votes than he did. Trump set up a commission to try to prove that. That commission was disbanded when it failed to produce any evidence.

After his 2020 defeat, Trump and his supporters lost 63 of 64 legal challenges to the election. Trump continued to blame fraud, without evidence, even after his own attorney general and election reviews in the states failed to turn up any widespread wrongdoing that would have any impact on the outcome.

This year's post-primary election denial may be a preview for November, when Republicans face Democrats in thousands of races across the country. The GOP is expected to do well — an expectation that could set the stage for more false claims of fraud when some of those candidates lose.

Still, some Republicans aren't waiting for Democratic voters to weigh in before making unsubstantiated fraud claims.

Some recent candidates who have done that are relatively marginal ones.

In Georgia, Trump's two recruits to challenge the state's governor and secretary of state — former Sen. David Perdue and Rep. Jody Hice — admitted defeat after they lost the May primaries. But Kandiss Taylor, a fringe candidate who won only 3% of the primary vote for governor, refused to concede, claiming there was widespread cheating.

In South Carolina, Republican Harrison Musselwhite — who goes by Trucker Bob — lost his primary against Gov. Henry McMaster by 66 percentage points. Still, he complained of problems with the election to the state party, as did another losing GOP contender, Lauren Martel, who ran for for attorney general. The party rejected their claims.

Others who have cried fraud are more prominent.

Joey Gilbert, who came in second in the Nevada Republican primary for governor, posted a Facebook video days after the June tally showing him 26,000 votes short. “These elections, the way they’ve been run, it’s like Swiss cheese,” he said. "There’s too many holes.”

Gilbert, who attended Trump's rally near the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, before the riot at the U.S. Capitol, demanded a recount. The results appear unlikely to substantially change the final tally. He did not return messages seeking comment.

In Arizona, former newscaster Kari Lake won Trump's endorsement in her quest for the party's nomination for governor, insisting that he won the presidency in 2020. This past week, she told supporters that her top opponent in the primary “might be trying to set the stage for another steal” in next month's primary.

That earned her a rebuke from Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who has endorsed Lake's chief rival, Karin Taylor Robson.

“The 2022 elections haven’t even been held yet, and already we’re seeing speculation doubting the results – especially if certain candidates lose,” Ducey tweeted. “It’s one of the most irresponsible things I can imagine.”

Lake's campaign did not return messages seeking comment.

In Colorado, county clerk Peters immediately questioned the primary results once the tally showed her losing badly in the secretary of state's race. Claiming fraud as she trailed former county clerk Pam Anderson, a regular debunker of Trump's election lies, Peters said: “Looking at the results, it’s just so obvious it should be flipped.”

She and Senate candidate Hanks repeated Trump's election lies, a position that had won them strong support last spring at the 3,000-strong GOP state assembly, a convention attended by the party's strongest activists. Both candidates, in letters to the secretary of state’s office this past week demanding a recount, cited that support in explaining why they could not have lost their primaries.

Hanks referred a reporter to an email address for media for the two candidates, though no one responded to questions sent to that address.

The activists who attend the GOP gathering are just a small fraction of the 600,000 who voted in the June primary. According to preliminary results, Peters lost by 88,000 votes and Hanks by 56,000 votes.

Their recount letters gave reasons why the candidates believed those vote tallies were “being artificially controlled.”

The Colorado Secretary of State's office said a recount will cost $236,000 for each candidate. As of Friday night, the deadline set by the office to receive the money, neither candidate had paid, according to spokeswoman Annie Orloff.