More than half of GOP governor nominees have questioned or denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election
By Daniel Dale, CNN
(CNN) -- The Republican nominee in at least 22 of this year's 36 gubernatorial races is someone who has rejected, declined to affirm, raised doubts about, or tried to overturn Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election.
The 22 candidates on the list so far have expressed varying views about the 2020 election. Some have falsely proclaimed the election stolen; some others have been evasive when asked if Biden's victory was legitimate. Some incumbents endorsed a 2020 lawsuit that sought to overturn Biden's win but have said little about the election since; some first-time candidates made false election claims a focus of their successful 2022 primary campaigns.
Regardless, the presence of a large number of 2020 deniers, deceivers and skeptics on general election ballots in November raises the prospect of a crisis of democracy in the 2024 presidential election in which former President Donald Trump is widely expected to run again. Governors play a major role in elections -- signing or vetoing legislation about election rules, sometimes unilaterally changing those rules, appointing key election officials, and, critically, certifying election results.
It is possible that some swing states will have their 2024 elections run by both a governor and elections chief who have vehemently rejected Biden's victory.
In Arizona, for example, both Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem are conspiracy theorists who want to overturn Biden's 2020 win in the state. In Pennsylvania, where the governor gets to nominate the election chief, the Republican gubernatorial nominee is Doug Mastriano, a fervent election denier who has taken various steps to try to reverse the 2020 result. Both Republican nominees in Michigan, Tudor Dixon for governor and Kristina Karamo for secretary of state, have falsely claimed Trump won the state in 2020.
CNN will update this article if we find information showing that Biden's victory has been disputed by other Republican nominees.
Alabama: Kay Ivey
In April, during the Republican primary, incumbent Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey released an ad in which she falsely claimed, "The fake news, Big Tech and blue state liberals stole the election from President Trump." Challenged about the ad by local television station WVTM 13, Ivey said she believes Trump was the rightful winner. (He lost.)
The Ivey campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Alaska: Mike Dunleavy
Incumbent Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy supported the Texas lawsuit that tried in December 2020 to get the Supreme Court to overturn Biden's victories in four states. When an interviewer asked Dunleavy in December 2020 -- a month after television networks unofficially declared Biden the winner -- how he would manage Alaska's relationship with "President-elect Biden," Dunleavy said that "I'm not there yet, that there's a new president." He added that there was an "outside chance" that there would be a Biden administration -- though, in fact, that was overwhelmingly likely.
"If there is any suspicion of fraud, which there is, that really needs to be looked into. That really needs to be investigated," Dunleavy said, though there was no evidence at the time of widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome. "That really needs to be determined, I think by the courts, that if it does exist, then it needs to be rectified. If it doesn't exist, then that needs to be proven as well."
On the day Biden was inaugurated in January 2021, reporter James Brooks, then with the Anchorage Daily News and now with the Alaska Beacon, asked Dunleavy if Biden won the election legitimately. Dunleavy would not respond directly, saying, "Joe Biden won this election. Joe Biden was -- has been sworn in today. So he is the president." Though Brooks asked two more times if Dunleavy believes Biden won legitimately, Dunleavy again avoided a straight answer.
In July 2022, the Anchorage Daily News reported that "Dunleavy did not respond to several questions sent to his campaign spokesman about his position on the 2020 election results." A Dunleavy campaign spokesperson told the newspaper that Dunleavy would remain focused on his own race.
Dunleavy succeeded in Alaska's top-four primary in August, advancing to the general election as the leading Republican in the race. The Dunleavy campaign did not respond to a CNN request for comment.
Arizona: Kari Lake
Arizona Republican nominee Kari Lake has put false claims about the 2020 election at the center of her campaign -- repeatedly and falsely declaring the election "stolen" and even calling it "disqualifying" and "sickening" that her top rival in the party primary wouldn't say the same. In an interview with The New York Times in early August, after primary voters had cast their ballots, Lake said of Biden: "Deep down, I think we all know this illegitimate fool in the White House -- I feel sorry for him -- didn't win."
Lake, a former longtime local news anchor at a Fox station in Phoenix, has said she would not have certified Biden's victory in Arizona if she had been governor. She has continued, even in 2022, to demand the decertification of the Biden-won states of Arizona and Wisconsin, though that is a legal impossibility.
Lake has made numerous false claims about the 2020 election. She has falsely claimed Biden didn't receive 81 million votes he indeed received, falsely claimed Trump won Arizona, though he actually lost by more than 10,000 votes, and promoted baseless conspiracy theories about the vote count and about election technology company Dominion Voting Systems.
Lake has advocated for the imprisonment of Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is now her Democratic opponent for governor; there is simply no sign Hobbs broke the law. Lake has also called for the imprisonment of unspecified journalists she claims have told lies about the election and other subjects.
The Lake campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Arkansas: Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former White House press secretary under Trump, has run a low-profile Arkansas gubernatorial campaign with only sporadic public comments to the media. But when the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper asked her this spring whether she believes the election was stolen from Trump, Sanders declined to affirm the election's legitimacy -- saying, "I don't think we'll ever know the depths of how much fraud existed." She continued: "We know there is fraud in every election. How far and wide it went, I don't think that will be something that will be ever determined."
Sanders didn't go nearly as far as her obscure primary opponent, who flatly declared the election stolen. Still, she chose to vaguely cast doubt on the outcome. (There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, certainly not enough to have changed the winner in any state.)
The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
California: Brian Dahle
California Republican nominee Brian Dahle, a state senator who is challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, refused to answer directly when The Los Angeles Times asked him in a May article whether Biden was legitimately elected, saying only that Biden is "our president." In late April, the website CalMatters reported that Dahle "notably did not affirm the 2020 election results, even after CalMatters pushed his team to clarify Dahle's position on Trump's conspiracy theory about widespread voting fraud. In a TV interview a day later, he said: 'Joe Biden is our president, no doubt.'"
The Dahle campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Colorado: Heidi Ganahl
Colorado Republican nominee Heidi Ganahl, a businesswoman and University of Colorado regent who is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Jared Polis, refused on multiple occasions -- including in late 2021 and early 2022 -- to say whether Joe Biden won the election legitimately. In November 2021, Ganahl praised a group of election conspiracy theorists that has knocked on Colorado doors looking for evidence of fraud, saying the group was "doing great things," the website Colorado Newsline reported.
In April 2022, the Colorado Sun reported that when Ganahl was pressed on a local radio show about whether she believes the election was "stolen," she refused to answer directly and said, "I think there's a lot of questions about what happened in the election."
The Colorado Sun reported that Ganahl said in mid-June that "I don't believe there was enough fraud that would have flipped the election." But she also said "there are a lot of procedural things that were weird about this election," criticizing states' pre-election changes to their elections policies and Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg's hundreds of millions in donations to local elections offices around the country. (Those donations helped cash-strapped offices deal with the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic but have been criticized by Republicans, sometimes conspiratorially, as inappropriate private influence.)
In July, Ganahl chose a running mate, Navy veteran and businessman Danny Moore, who falsely claimed on Facebook in January 2021 that Biden was "elected by the Democrat steal" and posted other baseless conspiratorial claims about the election. Because of these comments, Moore was removed in 2021 as chair of Colorado's redistricting commission.
After he was removed as chair, he told The Gazette newspaper of Colorado Springs that he isn't a conspiracy theorist and doesn't believe Trump got more votes than Biden. He said, "Joe Biden is the duly elected president. Joe Biden is the commander-in-chief."
The Ganahl campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Florida: Ron DeSantis
Appearing on Fox News two days after the 2020 election, incumbent Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hinted at the notion that Republican legislators in key swing states could potentially override the presidential choices of state voters. DeSantis was one of the first prominent Republicans to publicly float this idea.
DeSantis said, "Especially if you're in those states that have Republican legislatures, like Pennsylvania and Michigan and all these places: call your state representatives and your state senators. Call Under Article II of the Constitution, presidential electors are done by the legislatures, and the schemes they create and the framework. And if there's departure from that, if they're not following law, if they're ignoring the law, then they can provide remedies as well. So I would exhaust every option to make sure we have a fair count."
DeSantis continued into early December 2020 to say he was encouraging Trump to "fight on," according to a Politico report at the time. When DeSantis was asked in mid-December 2020, after the Electoral College ratified Biden's victory, if he accepted the Biden win, he responded, according to Politico: "It's not for me to do. But here's what I would say: Obviously we did our thing in Florida. The College voted. What's going to happen is going to happen."
On multiple occasions since then, DeSantis has refused to respond directly when asked if he thinks Biden was legitimately elected or if the election was rigged. Instead, he has generally pivoted to praise of how the election was handled in Florida, which Trump won, and to other comments.
DeSantis's office did not respond to a July request from CNN to explain where he stands on the legitimacy of Biden's win.
Idaho: Brad Little
Incumbent Idaho Gov. Brad Little endorsed the Texas lawsuit in December 2020 that attempted to get the Supreme Court to toss out the election results in four states won by Biden.
Little's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Illinois: Darren Bailey
Illinois State Sen. Darren Bailey, the Republican nominee who is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker, signed a letter that asked an Illinois member of Congress to object, on January 6, 2021, to the certification of Biden's victory; the letter said, "Certifying this election is tantamount to legitimizing fraud." (The letter was previously reported by the Effingham Daily News.)
Bailey vaguely promoted the false suggestion that there was voter fraud sufficiently widespread to have changed the outcome. On November 12, 2020, five days after television networks unofficially called the race for Biden, Bailey wrote on Twitter: "TRUMP.....4 more years! It's coming......#voterfraudistreason." In a Facebook video on December 3, 2020, he said it is "appalling" that other Illinois Republicans were calling on Trump to "give up" the fight and baselessly hinted that "illegal voting" had led to Republican defeats in races in the Chicago area.
The Bailey campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Iowa: Kim Reynolds
Incumbent Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in December 2020 that she wanted Iowa to join the Texas lawsuit that tried to overturn Biden's victories in four states, and she lamented that the state wasn't given an opportunity to sign on because Iowa has a Democratic attorney general. She blocked an effort by that attorney general, Tom Miller, to formally submit his opposition to the lawsuit.
Days after Biden's January 2021 inauguration, Reynolds said on WHO 13 News of Des Moines, "I think he is legitimately elected." But she continued to baselessly suggest there were unanswered questions "about the integrity of the election process."
Reynolds' office did not respond to a request for comment.
Kansas: Derek Schmidt
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the Republican gubernatorial nominee who is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Laura Kelly, signed on to a legal brief in support of the Texas lawsuit that sought to overturn the election results in four states. Schmidt said in a statement in December 2020: "Texas asserts it can prove four states violated the U.S. Constitution in an election that affects all Americans, so Texas should be heard."
The Schmidt campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Maine: Paul LePage
Maine Republican nominee and former governor Paul LePage, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Janet Mills, falsely claimed in a local radio appearance the week after the 2020 election: "This is clearly a stolen election." He proceeded to make baseless claims about voter fraud and baselessly declare that Democrats don't want fair elections. (His comments were previously reported by Beacon, a Maine website.)
LePage has not limited such claims to the 2020 election. This April, he claimed that out-of-state voters bused into Maine to vote in a 2009 referendum on same-sex marriage, though there is no evidence for that either. And in 2018, upon certifying a Democrat's victory in the first congressional election in US history ranked-choice voting, LePage wrote the words "stolen election" next to his signature.
Asked for comment, the LePage campaign responded by asking CNN to cite the source for his claim that 2020 was a "stolen election." When provided a link, the campaign did not respond again.
Maryland: Dan Cox
Maryland state representative Dan Cox, the Republican nominee in the race to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, has been a particularly aggressive denier of the 2020 results.
Cox co-organized buses to Trump's January 6, 2021, rally in Washington, writing on Twitter that he was doing so to "#StoptheSteal" (a "steal" that didn't occur). During the insurrection at the US Capitol that day, as the mob raged against the vice president who had no power to thwart the certification of Biden's win, Cox tweeted: "Pence is a traitor." The month prior, Cox had called on Trump to seize voting machines.
In a speech in late 2021, which was previously reported by The New York Times, Cox said that Trump was "the only president that I recognize right now" and falsely said Biden wasn't elected but "installed, in my opinion." In a post on Facebook this June, Cox referred to the 2020 election as a "GREAT HEIST."
The Cox campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Massachusetts: Geoff Diehl
Massachusetts Republican nominee Geoff Diehl initially rejected false claims about the 2020 election, saying days after he launched his campaign in July 2021 that "I don't think it was a stolen election" and that Republicans need to "stop crying over spilled milk."
But Diehl soon began shifting. By the time he won the primary in September 2022, he was explicitly saying that the election was stolen.
Asked in an interview late in July 2021 whether he thought the election was stolen, Diehl said, "I don't know. I don't think you or anybody knows at this point." The next month, Diehl called for a "forensic audit" in Massachusetts to search for "possible irregularities." In October 2021, Diehl issued a statement falsely saying, "Sadly, it has become clear as the audit results from Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania have come to light, that the 2020 election was rigged." The next day, Trump announced he was endorsing Diehl.
In August 2022, Diehl said in radio comments that were noted by the Democratic Governors Association: "The fact of the matter is: I was wrong initially. It definitely was an election that was stolen from Trump. And it was rigged in a way that should never happen again."
Diehl, a former state representative, is running against Democrat Maura Healey, the state attorney general, for the post being vacated by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. A Diehl campaign spokesperson said Diehl had no comment for this article.
Michigan: Tudor Dixon
Michigan Republican nominee Tudor Dixon, a conservative commentator and anchor who is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, falsely claimed at Republican primary debates that Trump was the legitimate 2020 winner in Michigan, where Biden actually defeated Trump by more than 154,000 votes, and that there was fraud sufficiently widespread to have swung the election to Biden.
In a reply Dixon tweeted to Trump in November 2020, she falsely wrote, "Steal an election then hide behind calls for unity and leftists lap it up."
Dixon has sometimes taken a somewhat softer line, complaining about the election without calling it stolen. MLive.com reported that she said at one point in July that there was enough fraud "that we have to be very concerned," adding, "I don't think we can see enough of the evidence because we weren't able to look back and some of that is destroyed now." (It isn't clear what she was talking about.) In a Fox News interview in late July, Dixon dodged when asked if she thought the election was stolen, saying instead, "Well, it's certainly a concern to a lot of folks here in Michigan because of the way the election was handled by our secretary of state."
The Dixon campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Minnesota: Scott Jensen
At a Minnesota Republican primary debate in December, eventual nominee Scott Jensen would not offer a firm answer when asked if he thinks Biden won a "constitutional majority" in the Electoral College. Instead, he responded, "I can't know what I don't know, and I think that we have to take that attitude towards 2020."
Jensen, a physician and former state senator, went on to uncritically report that someone on the ground in Arizona's Maricopa County, where Republicans conducted a partisan sham "audit," had told him that thousands more mail-in ballots were returned than were sent out to voters; that claim is based on a misunderstanding of the county's records. He then added, "I don't think there's any question that we've had enough shenanigans that we should want to do something about our election integrity. Which states crossed the line, which states hit a certain threshold, I can't know that."
Jensen baselessly suggested at a Republican event in April that Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, should be imprisoned. And Axios reported that as Jensen campaigned across Minnesota in the summer of 2021, he complimented Mike Lindell, the pillow businessman who has propagated wildly inaccurate conspiracy theories about the election, for working to "get rid" of voting machines. (Jensen told Axios he has never talked about Lindell's specific theories about 2020 election and "wouldn't know what he's saying.")
The Jensen campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Nevada: Joe Lombardo
Nevada Republican nominee Joe Lombardo, the Clark County sheriff who is challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, has not done the same kind of explicit election denial as some of the others on this list. Lombardo has said the election was not stolen and that Biden was legitimately elected.
However, Lombardo has also fomented doubts about the election.
In 2021, Lombardo told the Reno Gazette Journal that he didn't have the information necessary to say if the 2020 results were accurate, and he added that "we had an environment where it was easy to commit fraud." (There is no evidence of any widespread fraud in Nevada in 2020.) This March, KRNV News 4 of Reno reported that Lombardo said he couldn't say whether Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske was wrong to say there was no widespread voter fraud in 2020, since there hadn't been a comprehensive audit.
In an email to CNN in July, Lombardo campaign spokesperson Elizabeth Ray said in an email that "Joe Lombardo has been clear ... he has not been presented with evidence to show that any fraud would have changed the outcome of the 2020 election." She added that, "however," Sisolak and his allies "have passed laws that make it easier for bad actors from any party to commit fraud."
Sisolak campaign spokesperson Reeves Oyster responded in an email: "Nevada has one of the strongest election systems in the country thanks to Governor Sisolak, who passed common sense legislation to ensure every eligible Nevadan can safely and easily cast their ballot. Joe Lombardo -- on the other hand -- has instilled doubt in our elections and cozied up to election deniers to appeal to his base while trying to ignore the Big Lie and its deadly ramifications for law enforcement officers. Lombardo's willingness to take both sides of the Big Lie demonstrates he's just another craven politician who will do or say anything to win."
New York: Lee Zeldin
New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee who is challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, voted against the certification of Biden's victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania. In his speech that day, January 6, 2021, he claimed that he was objecting because "rogue" state officials had made "unlawful and unconstitutional" changes to elections policies.
The Zeldin campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Pennsylvania: Doug Mastriano
Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is running against Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has made an extensive effort to overturn the 2020 election.
In late 2020, on social media and in interviews, Mastriano made numerous false claims about supposed election fraud. (His comments were previously listed by WHYY radio.) Behind the scenes, Mastriano sent false claims about supposed fraud to the Justice Department. He also organized a November 2020 hearing in Pennsylvania in which Trump and lawyer Rudy Giuliani made false election claims.
Mastriano's campaign chartered buses to the Trump rally in Washington on January 6, 2021. Mastriano himself was pictured on Capitol grounds during the riot at the Capitol that day. (The FBI subsequently questioned him, according to a source familiar with the interview; Mastriano has not been charged with anything.) Later in 2021, Mastriano spearheaded an effort to begin a so-called "forensic investigation" of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race is especially important for elections because its governor appoints the secretary of state, the top state elections official.
The Mastriano campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
South Dakota: Kristi Noem
Two days after Election Day in 2020, incumbent South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem baselessly claimed on Twitter that Trump was fighting "rigged election systems" and hinted that there were issues in "Democrat-run" states.
Then, in an ABC interview that aired five days after the election, Noem asserted that "dead people voted in Pennsylvania" (the number of such cases turned out to be tiny, and at least three involved registered Republicans) and referred to Michigan "computer glitches that changed Republican votes to Democrat votes" (in reality, a single, conservative county's human error in reporting unofficial results had been quickly corrected). On Twitter, Noem added a reference to unspecified "illegal activity" in Nevada and declared that there were "so many serious election integrity concerns."
Noem attended Biden's inauguration in January 2021 and congratulated him on the occasion. But she declined the following week to agree that the election was free and fair, the South Dakota Standard reported -- acknowledging to reporters that "we now have President Biden" but also saying "I think there's lot of people who have doubts" about whether the election was fair and transparent.
The Noem campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Texas: Greg Abbott
Incumbent Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke positively about the lawsuit that sought to overturn the results in four states (which was filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton) -- telling a Spectrum News 1 television reporter in December 2020 that the lawsuit "tries to accelerate the process, providing certainty and clarity about the entire election process. The United States of America needs that."
Abbott congratulated Biden on his inauguration in January 2021. In the fall of 2021, after pressure from Trump, he supported a state audit of the 2020 election in four counties in Texas, a state Trump won.
The Abbott campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Wisconsin: Tim Michels
When Tim Michels, the Republican nominee in Wisconsin who is challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, was asked by a conservative radio host during the Republican primary in May whether he believes the 2020 election was stolen, Michels said, "Maybe." According to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Michels added that "certainly, there was a lot of bad stuff that happened" and that there were "certainly illegal ballots."
The Journal Sentinel reported that Michels, a businessman, baselessly said at a campaign event in May: "President Trump probably would be president right now if we had election integrity." At a campaign event in July, The Washington Post reported, Michels said: "My very first priority is election integrity. Everywhere I go on the campaign trail, people, the media, everybody says, 'Tim, Tim, was the election fixed? Was the election rigged?' I have a lot of questions, as everybody else has questions."
Inn a brief interview with the Post and in other forums, Michels would not directly say whether he would, as governor, endorse an effort by other Republicans to decertify Biden's 2020 victory in Wisconsin -- again, an impossibility. He said at a Republican town hall in early August: "I will look at all the evidence and everything will be on the table and I will make the right decision."
Michels told the Journal Sentinel in June that it was too hypothetical to say at that point whether he would certify the 2024 results in Wisconsin.
The Michels campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
This story has been updated to add Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Massachusetts nominee Geoff Diehl.
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