Electoral deniers fared particularly poorly in races to oversee voting in key states

For nearly two years, Georgia’s foreign minister Brad Raffensperger’s political future had looked somewhere between uncertain and untenable.

In 2020, incumbent President Donald Trump called him an “enemy of the people” after Trump lost Georgia and the election. Then Raffensperger, who rejected Trump’s ballot request, faced a first challenge this year from a Republican congressman who voted not to confirm the January 6, 2021 election results.

But at the midterms this month, Raffensperger laughed last.

He won his re-election bid in a tightly divided state by 9 percentage points, while standouts running for the same position in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan were all defeated.

“I think what Americans are looking for is what Georgians are looking for, they’re looking for people with character,” Raffensperger told NPR the day after the poll ended. “I think people want the country to move forward.”

What they don’t want, according to a new NPR analysis of election data, is state election officials denying the 2020 results.

COCs running in competitive states for the post of secretary of state — who oversees the election process in most places — generally underperformed other Republicans in elections for three other statewide positions: US Senate, governor, attorney general.

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“Voters have sent a pretty vocal message about ballot denial,” said Trey Grayson, who served two terms as Kentucky’s Republican secretary of state. “The message got out. Voters took that information, processed it and said, ‘We reject these candidates. We will reward candidates who do their job and abide by the law.’ ”

For example, in Arizona’s Secretary of State election, Republican Mark Finchem was among the most radical candidates running for one of these statewide jobs. He was Trump-backed, is a member of the extremist group Oath Keepers, and his Twitter feed is a source of conspiracies.

In an electoral environment that was widely viewed as friendly to the GOP, Finchem lagged behind most other Republicans running for state office in Arizona.

As of Friday noon, incumbent Republican State Treasurer Kimberly Yee was the frontrunner for both parties with nearly 1.39 million votes, and had Finchem kept up with her he would have won his foreign ministerial race against Democrat Adrian Fontes.

Instead, Finchem managed just 86% of Yee’s total, losing to Fontes by more than 100,000 votes. Finchem also trailed by more than 70,000 votes behind Kari Lake, Arizona’s also-lost GOP gubernatorial nominee.

“These were winnable races with the right candidates,” Grayson said. “Unfortunately, my party, we didn’t nominate the right people.”

Similar trends played out in competitions in competitive states across the country.

NPR’s analysis found that run-away secretary of state candidates in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Nevada received between about 90% and 95% of the votes from the top-voting Republican among the four statewide positions.

On the other hand, Raffensperger and GOP nominee for Secretary of State in Colorado Pam Anderson, who did not deny the 2020 election results, ended with votes just 1.5 percentage points below their state’s top Republicans.

And in less competitive states like Iowa and Idaho, GOP secretary nominees who accepted the results of the 2020 election were even their state’s top voters as of Friday noon.

Democrats have said throughout the year that they thought Republicans who field extreme ballot-holding candidates would benefit them in this year’s midterm elections, and in an interview after voting ended, Raffensperger’s Democratic opponent, Bee Nguyen, told NPR that she specifically fought for it because he didn’t dispute the 2020 results.

“We also had a bigger challenge in Georgia when we ran against incumbents who were not seen as extremists by Georgian voters,” Nguyen said. “Confronting this is obviously an uphill battle.”

Grayson said he hopes future Republican candidates can learn a lesson from this.

“Election denial is a signal that you may not be able to do this job,” he said. “The data are clear.”

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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