One of the big questions heading into the 2022 cycle had been how Republican candidates would or not reflect the GOP base when it came to views of the 2020 election. Poll after poll has shown that a clear majority of Republicans falsely believe that President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that a lot of Republicans running for office believe this as well. But could any of of those candidates end up running states where elections tend to be close? For the most part, the answer is no. Most election deniers running for governor have only a small chance of winning or are from states former President Donald Trump easily won.
There is one big exception: GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake of Arizona. In the second-closest state of the 2020 presidential election, Lake is neck and neck with Democratic nominee Katie Hobbs.
Three polls out this past week, which were all well within the margin of error, illustrate the point well. A CBS News/YouGov poll had Lake and Hobbs tied at 49%. Fox’s poll put Hobbs at 44% to Lake’s 43%. Marist College had Lake at 46% and Hobbs at 45%.
These polls are representative of the average of all polling that has the candidates running basically even.
Lake is running considerably stronger than Blake Masters, the the state’s GOP nominee for US Senate. Masters trails his Democratic opponent, Sen. Mark Kelly, by more than 5 points in in the average of all polling.
You might be thinking that Masters is somehow more extreme than Lake. That’s not clear at all, at least when it comes to the 2020 election.
On that issue, Lake – like Masters – is an election denier. Indeed, that’s what makes Lake so unique. There are other Republicans who are in a position to win the governorship of close 2020 states this year, and nearly all of them have either tried to have it both ways on the most recent presidential election (i.e. raising doubts about the legitimacy, but not saying it was stolen) or have accepted the 2020 results.
The other full-out election deniers running for governor in 2020 swing states this year are Tudor Dixon in Michigan and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania. Both trail their Democratic opponents – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, respectively – by double digits in the average of polls. Mastriano is now running well behind the Republican nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, Mehmet Oz, despite Oz stumbling out of the gate after the primary. (Oz, who was endorsed by Trump in the primary, said he would have voted to certify the 2020 election result.)
In fact, 2020 election denial has been a hallmark of losing gubernatorial campaigns in swing or blue states. Blue-state Republicans Dan Cox in Maryland and Geoff Diehl in Massachusetts are getting blown out by their opponents in the polls, even though the current and departing governors of their respective states are Republicans.
You might be tempted to think that Lake has a chance because voters in the Grand Canyon State believe the 2020 election was stolen. That does not appear to be the case. An August Fox poll found that only 28% of voters were not at all confident that votes in the 2020 election were cast legitimately and counted fairly.
Additionally, the Marist poll showed that a mere 6% of voters are not at all confident that the 2022 election in Arizona will not be run fairly and accurately. Another 23% are not very confident; the vast majority (71%) are confident it will be.
So what is Lake’s secret? Part of it may be that her past as a television anchor is paying off. She seems to be doing a good enough job reaching voters in the middle of the electorate.
Lake needs merely to stay competitive with independents to win Arizona. Unlike many other battleground states, a plurality of Arizona voters are Republican. This means Democratic candidates usually need some mixture of winning more Republican voters than Republican candidates winning Democratic voters and winning independents by a wide margin. Put another way, Lake can win even if she loses independents and retains less of her base than Hobbs.
In the Marist poll, for example, Kelly holds a 17-point lead with independents. Hobbs is up just 2 points among them.
But Lake’s standing may have more to do with the fact that 2020 election denialism isn’t as much of an important factor to voters as we might think when it comes to voting in elections for state office. While just 18% of voters said in the CBS News poll that they wanted elected officials in Arizona to say Biden didn’t win in 2020, another 41% said it didn’t matter. This means the majority of Arizona voters (59%) don’t seem to mind or actually like it when someone running for office denies the reality of the 2020 election.
A further look at the numbers indicates that the GOP could easily win the secretary of state races in Arizona (Mark Finchem) and in next-door Nevada (Joe Marchant). The Republicans running for both those posts have denied the results of the 2020 election as they aim to become the chief election officers in their given states.
It’s also the case that Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson voted against certifying the 2020 election and is a slight favorite to win another term against Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. Likewise, Nevada’s Adam Laxalt has raised questions about the 2020 election and played a leading role in post-election legal efforts to reverse Biden’s victory in the state. He’s in a tight race with Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
Neither of those GOP Senate candidates are vying to lead a swing state, though. And the name recognition for the aforementioned secretary of state candidates is significantly lower than it is for Lake.
Lake is quite competitive as an election denier, despite being well known and running for a real position of power when it comes to elections. If she and Finchem win, the two officials in charge of election certification in Arizona will be on the record denying the reality of the 2020 election.
That could be quite a big deal in two years’ time, if another close presidential election – like 2020’s between Biden and Trump – is on the line and Arizona is once again in the mix.