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.”
After the Supreme Court dismissed the Texas lawsuit later in December 2020, Schmidt issued a statement saying “the Court’s decision means it is time to put this election behind us.”
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.