Corrected, 4:28 p.m. | At least nine Republican Senate candidates have a political résumé with a contentious item: filing or actively supporting one of the failed lawsuits that furthered former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rife with fraud.
Since many GOP candidates support Trump’s claims, participating in lawsuits could help some stand out in crowded Republican primaries, where they need to win over Trump supporters who still say voter fraud played a role in President Joe Biden’s win.
But some Democrats think focusing on the 2020 election could be a liability for Republicans in next year’s midterms, especially with voters who have rejected Trump’s divisive rhetoric or his unfounded concerns about the validity of the last election.
Some of those Republican candidates have already started to highlight their role in those past lawsuits — even though they fell flat under judicial scrutiny — as the issue of “election integrity” has taken hold of the party with Trump at the helm.
Arizona Senate hopeful Jim Lamon, at a July rally with Trump, touted an unsuccessful lawsuit he and other Trump electors filed to challenge his state’s election results as “something that had to be done.”
Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, who signed briefs that urged the Supreme Court to take up longshot lawsuits that challenged the election results in four states that were key to Biden’s victory, has remained a vocal backer of Trump’s claims and has the former president’s backing in his bid for Alabama’s open Senate seat.
And a comment from former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, whom Trump has endorsed for Senate in part because of an unsuccessful lawsuit he championed that challenged that state’s results last fall, suggested that more legal action will come in 2022.
Laxalt, who is hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, told a radio show last month that 2020 lawsuits “just came too late.”
“With me on the top of the ticket, we’re going to be able to get everybody at the table and come up with a full plan, do our best to try to secure this election, get as many observers as we can, and file lawsuits early, if there are lawsuits we can file to try to tighten up the election,” Laxalt told The Wayne Allyn Root Show on Aug. 24.
Going to court
As the Trump campaign’s co-chair in Nevada, Laxalt announced at a news conference two weeks after the election that the campaign was filing a lawsuit that demanded that Trump be declared the winner of Nevada or that the election results be tossed out.
The suit called into question roughly 40,000 votes, more than Biden’s nearly 34,000-vote margin of victory in the state, and alleged that illegal ballots were cast by dead voters, people who did not live in Nevada and people who voted in another state.
First Judicial District Court Judge James T. Russell dismissed the case, writing in a ruling that “there is no credible or reliable evidence that the 2020 general election in Nevada was affected by fraud.” The state Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
In neighboring Arizona, Lamon and other Trump electors filed a lawsuit against Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs that sought to decertify the state’s results. The lawsuit alleged that phone surveys and statistical modeling showed there were “at least 412,494 illegal ballots that were counted in Arizona,” or more than 10 percent of ballots cast. Biden won the state by more than 10,000 votes.
U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa dismissed the case, writing in her ruling that “the Complaint’s allegations are sorely wanting of relevant or reliable evidence.” The ruling was appealed, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the case.
In Pennsylvania, Army veteran Sean Parnell, who lost a House race last fall and has Trump’s endorsement in his bid for the state’s open Senate seat, joined GOP Rep. Mike Kelly in a lawsuit that sought to toss out all of the Keystone State’s mail ballots.
The suit alleged that Pennsylvania’s expansion of vote-by-mail violated the state’s constitution. The state Supreme Court dismissed the case, noting that the plaintiffs challenged the new procedures more than a year after they were enacted.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal, which one election law expert had dubbed “Perhaps the Dumbest Argument Ever Made in Emergency Petition to the Supreme Court.”
Multiple Republicans running for open Senate seats in GOP-leaning states formally expressed their support for a lawsuit led by Texas challenging election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, which argued that election administration changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic were unconstitutional.
Three candidates in Missouri signed amicus briefs supporting the Texas lawsuit, including state Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long. Two North Carolina lawmakers, Rep. Ted Budd and former Rep. Mark Walker, also signed on to the House GOP’s amicus brief, as did Brooks.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected that effort, denying Texas the right to move forward with the lawsuit, saying the state “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.”
Republican Senate candidates have already begun to clash over the 2020 election as they vie for Trump’s endorsement and the backing of his supporters.
And candidates’ responses to the 2020 election appear to be influencing Trump’s endorsements. In an endorsement statement last month, Trump said Laxalt “fought valiantly against Election Fraud.” The former president also noted in his endorsement of Parnell earlier this month that Parnell “will fight for Election Integrity.”
Trump so far has not taken sides in the Arizona Senate primary, where Republicans are competing to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. During a July event in Phoenix that featured Trump, Lamon touted his election lawsuit.
“As your elector, I felt an obligation, along with the other electors, to sue Gov. Ducey [to] say, ‘Stop, we need to find out what’s going on,’” Lamon said to applause from the crowd. “I then sued Vice President [Mike] Pence for the same thing. It was tough to do, but it had to be done.”
Doubts about the 2020 election could fire up the party’s base. Nearly a third of all voters, mostly Republican or Republican-leaning ones, believed Biden won because of voter fraud, according to a Monmouth University poll from June.
Some Republicans also do not believe that challenging the 2020 election could haunt them come November 2022.
“Voters will be more focused on what a failure Joe Biden and Democrats have been at home and abroad with full control of the federal government and those are the issues they’ll be voting on,” Parnell spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement.
Chris Wilson, a GOP pollster working with Laxalt’s campaign, wrote in an email that “if Democrats are bringing up 2020 lawsuits in the fall of 2022 in some feeble attempt to motivate their base then it’s a clear sign the GOP is on their way to an historic majority in both House and Senate.”
While it’s not yet clear if or how Democrats could use these lawsuits against the GOP candidates in the general election, some Democrats believe the lawsuits will be a liability.
Jazmin Vargas, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the lawsuits and an emphasis on the 2020 election showed Republicans are “out of touch with general election voters and the issues they care about.”
“The Big Lie is such a problem for Republican candidates in general elections because it’s such a clear signal to people who believe in our democracy, many of whom are Republicans, that you side with Trump over the truth,” veteran Democratic consultant Martha McKenna said. “It’s as simple as that.”
This report has been revised to reflect the correct district where Judge James T. Russell serves.