Election deniers lose key races in Rust Belt, but are still in contention out West

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Before Election Day, HBO’s Bill Maher sounded a doleful note about the future of democracy.

“Democracy is on the ballot, and unfortunately it’s going to lose. And once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Maher lamented Friday on his show “Real Time.” He predicted a 2024 presidential election in which former President Donald Trump loses once again but nevertheless manages to overturn the result with the help of Republicans elected to positions of authority in overseeing elections.

“This really is the crossing-the-Rubicon moment, when the election deniers are elected — which is often how countries slide into authoritarianism, not with tanks in the streets but by electing the people who then have no intention of ever giving it back,” Maher said. “The Republican up for Wisconsin governor just said if he’s elected, ‘Republicans will never lose another election.’ This is how it happens.”

As people line up in the background to enter a rally, a man holds a huge flag that says: Trump Won Save America.
A man waves a flag as people wait in line to enter a Turning Point Action rally in Youngstown, Ohio, on Aug. 19. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

However, that Republican in Wisconsin, the Trump-endorsed candidate Tim Michels, lost on Tuesday by a margin of 51% to 48% to the Democratic incumbent, Tony Evers. Republicans also fell short of a supermajority in the Wisconsin state Legislature, meaning that the GOP cannot overturn vetoes by Evers.

Election deniers, in fact, lost decisively in many of the most important contests around the country, with a few exceptions. There are still threats to the peaceful transfer of power and to respecting the will of voters and the rule of law, but Tuesday’s results showed a clear repudiation of most candidates who showed disregard for democracy.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the incumbent Democrat, defeated Tudor Dixon, a Republican who had been endorsed by Trump, by a healthy margin of 54% to 44%. Dixon, a right-wing media commentator, had supported the false claim that Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election. And in Michigan’s race for secretary of state, the incumbent Democrat, Jocelyn Benson, beat the election conspiracist Kristina Karamo by 55% to 42%. Karamo had also aggressively promoted debunked claims about the 2020 election.

Michigan voters also surprised analysts by electing Democrats to a majority in both chambers of the state Legislature, even though polls indicated that only the state Senate was competitive. As in several other states on Tuesday, Democrats did much better in the Michigan Legislature than expected, and the party successfully held off election deniers in other races as well.

President Donald Trump, in red baseball cap saying Make America Great Again, looks on with a half-smile, as Doug Mastriano takes the microphone.
Former President Donald Trump with Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano at a rally in Latrobe, Pa., on Nov. 5. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

In Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano had been another of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders in his attempt to throw out millions of votes and reinstall Trump as president. Mastriano was beaten badly by Democrat Josh Shapiro, 56% to 42%. Meanwhile, Democrats were close to flipping Republican control of the House in the Pennsylvania state Legislature, something few analysts had predicted.

Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania have been key swing states in presidential elections for years, and will probably be central again in 2024. The fact that no supporters of Trump’s election lies were victorious in those three Rust Belt states removes one source of concern for the future of democratic elections.

But out West, in Nevada and Arizona, antidemocratic candidates were locked in tight battles for governor and secretary of state. However, Mark Finchem, the Republican candidate for Arizona secretary of state and probably the most extreme election denier on the ballot in the country, was trailing Democrat Adrian Fontes 52% to 48%, with 66% of the vote counted.

Finchem, a member of the Oath Keepers militia group who was outside the U.S. Capitol with Trump supporters during the assault on Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, has said he would not have certified Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election in Arizona, even though the votes showed that Biden was the victor.

Seen behind a teleprompter, Kari Lake takes the microphone.
Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Arizona, addresses an election night watch party in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images)

The GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in Arizona, Kari Lake, has been the most prominent election denier on the right of the Republican Party. As of early Wednesday afternoon, she was neck and neck with Democrat Katie Hobbs, trailing by only about 12,000 votes out of 1.8 million cast, with 34% of the vote still uncounted.

In Nevada, Jim Marchant, the Republican candidate for secretary of state, was leading his Democratic rival, Francisco Aguilar, by 10,000 votes out of 834,000 cast, with 23% of the vote uncounted.

Marchant has worked with Finchem and Karamo to foment unfounded allegations about the 2020 election. He alleges on his website that he lost a contest for Congress in 2020 only “because of election fraud and widespread election irregularities.”

In the states, governors and secretaries of state usually have the greatest influence over whether election results are accurately conveyed to Congress for certification in the Electoral College. In Nevada, however, the secretary of state does not certify elections, but does set rules for voting and for elections.