The key candidates who threaten democracy in the 2022 US midterms

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Several races were on the ballot this fall could have profound consequences for American democracy. In some states, Republican candidates who doubted the 2020 election results, or in some cases actively worked to overturn them, were running for positions in which they would have tremendous influence over how votes are cast and counted. There has been deep concern they could use their offices to spread baseless information about election fraud and try to prevent the rightful winners of elections from being seated.

In total, 291 Republicans – a majority of the party’s nominees this cycle – have questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, according to a Washington Post tally.

Related: What are the US midterm elections and who’s running?

They’re running to be governors, who play a role in enacting election rules. They’re running to be secretaries of state, who oversee voting and ballot counting. They’re running to be attorneys general, who are responsible for investigating allegations of fraud handling litigation in high-stakes election suits. They’re running to be members of Congress, who vote to certify the presidential vote every four years. They’re running to be state lawmakers, who can pass voting laws, launch investigations, and, according to some fringe legal theories, try to block the certification of presidential electors.

The Guardian is looking at some of the key candidates who pose a threat to US democracy, and how their races turn out.

Doug Mastriano. Photograph: Hannah Beier/Reuters

Doug Mastriano

Update: Mastriano lost to Democrat Josh Shapiro on election night.

Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, played a key role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. He was the “point person” for the Trump campaign in Pennsylvania as lawyers put together fake slates of electors for Trump, according to emails obtained by the New York Times. He also organized an event with Rudy Giuliani after the 2020 election in which speakers spread misinformation about the election. He hired buses and offered rides to the US Capitol on January 6 and was there himself. He has supported the idea of decertifying the presidential race in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state, which is not possible.

If elected, Mastriano would wield considerable power over elections in Pennsylvania. The state is one of a handful where the secretary of state, the chief election official, is appointed by the governor. Mastriano has said he has already picked someone, but hasn’t said who. The Philadelphia Inquirer has speculated he could pick Toni Shuppe, an activist who has spread voting misinformation and false theories linked to the QAnon movement. Mastriano has also said he would decertify election equipment and cause all voters in the state to reregister to vote.

Arizona Republican candidate for Secretary of State Mark Finchem (R-AZ) speaks on stage before a rally ahead of the midterm elections in Mesa, Arizona, U.S., October 9, 2022.

Mark Finchem. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Mark Finchem

Update: Finchem lost to Democrat Adrian Fontes, confirmed on Saturday, 12 November

Finchem, a member of Arizona’s state house of representatives, was the Republican nominee for Arizona secretary of state, which would make him Arizona’s chief election official. Finchem, a member of the Oath Keepers, was at the US Capitol on January 6. He introduced a resolution this year to decertify the election. In 2020, he was one of several lawmakers who signed a joint resolution asking Congress to reject electors for Joe Biden.

He has said, falsely, that Joe Biden did not win the election in Arizona in 2020. “It strains credibility,” he told Time magazine in September of Biden’s victory. “Isn’t it interesting that I can’t find anyone who will admit that they voted for Joe Biden?” When a reporter asked him whether it was possible that people he didn’t know voted for Biden, Finchem said: “In a fantasy world, anything’s possible.”

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Republican nominee for governor Kari Lake holds a press conference in front of her campaign headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, on October 27th, 2022.

Kari Lake. Photograph: Olivier Touron/TBEN/Getty Images

Kari Lake

A former news anchor with no prior political experience, Lake made doubting the 2020 election a centerpiece of her successful bid to win Arizona’s GOP nomination for governor.

If she wins the governor’s race, Lake would be one of the statewide officials charged with certifying the results of the presidential election. She has called the 2020 election “corrupt and stolen” and said she would not have certified it. She joined an unsuccessful lawsuit to require ballots in Arizona to be counted by hand, which experts say is unreliable and costly. She has backed ending mail-in voting, which is widely used in Arizona.

U.S. Republican candidate for Attorney General Abraham Hamadeh reacts on stage before a rally ahead of the midterm elections in Mesa, Arizona, U.S., October 9, 2022.

Abraham ‘Abe’ Hamadeh. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Abraham ‘Abe’ Hamadeh

The Republican candidate for Arizona attorney general, Hamadeh has never held elected office and is making his first attempt to win a seat. Hamadeh, a former prosecutor, said he would not have signed off on Arizona’s election results, which showed Joe Biden won. Hamadeh, who is endorsed by Trump, has called the 2020 election “rotten, rigged and corrupt” and said if he won, he would “prosecute the election fraud of 2020 and secure the 2024 election so when Donald Trump runs and wins again in 2024, everyone will know it’s legitimate”.

Blake Masters, Republican candidate from Arizona, running for election to the U.S. Senate in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections, reacts during a rally held by former U.S. President Donald Trump in Mesa, Arizona, U.S., October 9, 2022.

Blake Masters. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Blake Masters

Update: Master lost to Democrat Mark Kelly, confirmed on Friday, 11 November.

Masters, the Republican candidate for US Senate in Arizona, was endorsed by Trump and has received major financial backing from his former boss the tech billionaire Peter Thiel. Early in his race, Masters posted a video saying: “I think Trump won in 2020.” He also said he would have objected to certifying the 2020 election results during the primary, as other Republican senators did on January 6.

Since winning his primary, he has sought to soften his views on the topic. He removed language from his campaign website that claimed the election was stolen. During a debate, he pointed to media coverage and big tech going against Trump instead of outright saying the election was stolen. But he has strongly stated the election was stolen to certain audiences, telling TBEN News that he still believes Trump won. And Trump himself called Masters after a debate against the Democratic senator Mark Kelly, with Trump telling Masters he had “got to go stronger” on election fraud claims to win in November.

His rhetoric on elections has remained heated during the general election. When Trump came to Arizona in October, Hamadeh told the crowd he would “lock up some people and put handcuffs on them”, but then, during a debate with his opponent, Democrat Kris Mayes, he would not say exactly who should be locked up or for what.

Congressman Andy Biggs participates in panel at CPAC Texas 2022 conference at Hilton Anatole.

Andy Biggs. Photograph: Lev Radin/Shutterstock

Andy Biggs

Update: Biggs won re-election against the Democrat Javier Ramos, confirmed on Wednesday.

Arizona’s Biggs was one of 147 Republicans in Congress who voted against certifying the election results, but his involvement in January 6 went further than that. Ali Alexander, who helped organize the “Stop the Steal” protests, has said that Biggs helped him formulate strategy, according to Rolling Stone. Biggs is also said to have requested a pardon for his actions around January 6.

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Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, prior to the Arizona Senate Republicans hearing review of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County at the Arizona Capitol, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Phoenix.

Anthony Kern. Photograph: Ross D Franklin/TBEN

Anthony Kern

As an Arizona state representative in 2020, Kern was present at the Capitol on 6 January. He also briefly participated in a widely panned review of the 2020 election in Maricopa county that provided fodder for more baseless claims but ultimately affirmed Biden’s victory. He also signed on to a letter requesting that Pence delay the count of the electoral vote. Trump endorsed Kern in November 2021, saying Kern “supported decertifying” the election results.

Nevada’s Republican secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant attends the Florida Election Integrity Public Hearing event, in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. September 10, 2022.

Jim Marchant. Photograph: Marco Bello/Reuters

Jim Marchant

Update: Marchant lost to Democrat Cisco Aguilar, confirmed on Saturday 12 November.

Marchant was the Republican nominee for secretary of state in Nevada. He is linked to the QAnon movement; he has said he was pushed to run for the position by Trump allies and a prominent QAnon influencer. He led a coalition of far-right candidates seeking to be secretary of state in key battleground states.

He lost a 2020 congressional race by more than 16,000 votes, but nonetheless challenged the result by alleging fraud. He has since traveled around the state pressuring counties to get rid of electronic voting equipment and instead only hand-count paper ballots. Such a switch would be unreliable – humans are worse at counting large quantities of things than machines – as well as costly, and take a long time, experts say. He has falsely said voting equipment is “easy” to hack and said that Nevadans’ votes haven’t counted for decades. He has claimed there is a global “cabal” that runs elections in Nevada and elsewhere.

Michigan Republican Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo addresses the crowd, at a Save America rally at the Macomb Community College, 1 October 2022.

Kristina Karamo. Photograph: Amanda Jones/Shutterstock

Kristina Karamo

Update: Karamo lost to the Democrat Jocelyn Benson, confirmed on Wednesday.

Karamo, the GOP nominee for secretary of state in Michigan, became nationally known after the 2020 election when she claimed she witnessed wrongdoing as ballots were being counted in Detroit. The allegations were debunked, but Karamo, a community college professor who has never held elected office, went on to rise in conservative circles. She appeared on TBEN News and was a witness at a high-profile legislative hearing about election irregularities. She joined an unsuccessful lawsuit to try to overturn the election. She has claimed “egregious crimes” were committed and said on a podcast: “It’s time for us decent people in the Republican party … to fight back. We cannot have our election stolen,” according to Bridge Michigan.

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She has also come under fire for comments on her podcast comparing abortion to human sacrifice and opposing the teaching of evolution in schools, according to Bridge Michigan.

Matthew DePerno, who is running for the Michigan Republican party’s nomination for state attorney general, speaks at a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump on April 02, 2022 near Washington, Michigan.

Matthew DePerno. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Matthew DePerno

DePerno lost to the Democrat Dana Nessel, confirmed on Wednesday morning.

DePerno, a lawyer who has never held elected office, became a celebrity in conservative circles for his work after the 2020 election. He helped lead a lawsuit in Antrim county, in northern Michigan, where a clerk made an error and posted incorrect information on election night. He claimed election equipment was corrupted, and a judge authorized an investigation of the county’s election equipment that became the basis of an inaccurate report that Trump allies used to spread misinformation about the election. A Republican-led inquiry into allegations of fraud found his actions to be “​​misleading and irresponsible”. DePerno has said he would arrest Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat serving as Michigan’s top election official, as well as Dana Nessel, his Democratic opponent in the attorney general’s race.

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DePerno also faces potential criminal charges for unauthorized access to voting equipment. A special prosecutor is investigating the matter.

Representative Steve Carra is interviewed before the Michigan Election Integrity Rally, 12 Oct 2021.

Steve Carra. Photograph: Scott Hasse/Shutterstock

Steve Carra

Carra won his re-election bid against Democrat Roger Williams, confirmed on Wednesday.

Carra, who was running for re-election to the Michigan house of representatives, signed a letter in 2020 asking Mike Pence to delay Congress’s counting of electors. He also sponsored legislation to require an audit of the 2020 race, even after the 2020 results were already confirmed there.

Kim Crockett speaks during the first day of the Minnesota State Republican Convention, May 13, 2022, at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minn.

Kim Crockett. Photograph: Glen Stubbe/TBEN

Kim Crockett

Crockett lost to the Democrat Steve Simon, confirmed on Wednesday.

Joe Biden won Minnesota by more than 230,000 votes in 2020. But Kim Crockett, the Republican nominee for secretary of state, has nonetheless called that victory into question.

Crockett has described the 2020 election as “rigged” and agreed with an interviewer who suggested it was “illegitimate”. She has said, “I don’t think we’ll ever know precisely what happened” when it comes to the 2020 race. That is false – there’s no evidence of fraud or other malfeasance in Minnesota, which had the highest voter turnout in the US in 2020.

Crockett has harshly criticized Steve Simon, the incumbent secretary of state, for reaching a court settlement that required the state to count late-arriving ballots (an appeals court blocked the agreement). If elected, Crockett has pledged to cut the early voting period in the state (Minnesota has one of the longest early voting periods in the US), get rid of same-day voter registration, and require photo identification to vote.

Audrey Trujillo, the Republican nominee for secretary of state in New Mexico, courts voters at a campaign rally in Rio Rancho, N.M., on June 24, 2022.

Audrey Trujillo. Photograph: Morgan Lee/TBEN

Audrey Trujillo

Trujillo lost to Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver on election night.

Trujillo, the Republican nominee for secretary of state in New Mexico, has called the 2020 election a “coup”.

“Until we get a handle on the voter fraud in NM, all elections are going to continue to be rigged. Why run? Run to lose? Thoughts anyone?” she tweeted last year.

She has also appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast, where she falsely suggested Biden could not have won the election because she only saw Trump signs in the state (Biden easily won the state by nearly 100,000 votes). She supported an effort in one county not to certify the primary election because of unproven fraud allegations.

She has also pushed other conspiracy theories related to school shootings and Covid vaccines, according to Media Matters.

Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels is seen before a televised debate Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in Madison, Wis.

Tim Michels. Photograph: Morry Gash/TBEN

Tim Michels

Michels lost to the Democrat Tony Evers, confirmed on Wednesday.

Michels, the Republican nominee for governor in Wisconsin, said earlier this year that the 2020 election was “maybe” stolen. Donald Trump, who lost Wisconsin by 20,682 votes, only requested a recount in two of the state’s largest counties, both of which affirmed Biden’s victory in the state.

After pressure from Trump, Michels said this year he would consider signing legislation to decertify the 2020 election, which is not legally possible.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to anti-abortion activists outside the U.S. Supreme Court, in Washington DC, November 1, 2021.

Ken Paxton. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Ken Paxton

Paxton won his re-election bid against the Democrat Rochelle Garza, confirmed on Wednesday.

Paxton, seeking his third term as Texas attorney general, was one of Trump’s closest allies in the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 race. He filed a lawsuit at the Texas supreme court seeking to block Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania from certifying their election results.

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones (R) speaks to the media on the day of an election debate at the Georgia Public Broadcasting offices in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. October 18, 2022.

Burt Jones. Photograph: Dustin Chambers/Reuters

Burt Jones

Update: Jones won his race, confirmed Wednesday.

A state senator who is running to be Georgia’s lieutenant governor, Jones served as one of 16 fake electors in Georgia in 2020. He helped amplify Trump’s baseless fraud claims after the 2020 vote and was among a group of state senators who called on Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, to convene a special session to address changes to election law – a suggestion Kemp rejected. If elected lieutenant governor, he would oversee the Georgia senate and have a role in controlling the flow of legislation in the chamber.