The day after Colorado’s primary elections, when Pam Anderson’s victory was clear, the candidate called both of her primary opponents to congratulate them on a well-fought race. Neither responded, Anderson says.
“That’s not usual,” Anderson, who has run three previous campaigns, told The Daily Beast. “I think it is symptomatic of this undercutting of some of our institutional norms.”
Anderson is the Republican nominee for secretary of state in Colorado. She faces off against incumbent Sec. Jena Griswold (D) in November. But while Anderson prepares for her upcoming race, some Colorado Republicans are still re-litigating the primary. One of Anderson’s primary opponents, Tina Peters, has baselessly blamed her loss on election fraud.
And Peters isn’t alone. From Colorado to Florida, a new cohort of Republican primary candidates have adopted a local version of Donald Trump’s election denial, refusing to accept their losses, even if it means accusing their own party of election tampering ahead of the general election.
Peters, the clerk for Colorado’s Mesa County, became a prominent personality in Stop The Steal circles after she allegedly breached voting machines in her office and leaked their data to conspiracy theorists, incorrectly claiming that the machines showed evidence of vote tampering in the 2020 election. Peters has pleaded not guilty to 10 criminal charges stemming from the breach. Peters and another 2020 denier, Mike O’Donnell, later ran for Colorado Secretary of State, a role that would place them in charge of the state’s elections.
Peters and O’Donnell lost by a significant margin, with Anderson netting 43 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, as the results rolled in on election night, Peters called foul, accusing state election officials of “cheating,” the Associated Press reported. “Looking at the results, it’s just so obvious that it should be flipped,” Peters told supporters.
Peters raised $256,000 (mostly from out-of-state donors) for a recount, which confirmed Anderson’s victory. She then challenged the recount in a lawsuit, which a judge dismissed this month. O’Donnell, for his part, has spent the post-primary months sharing pictures of houses in which he believes a suspicious number of voters are registered. (Neither the Peters nor the O’Donnell campaign returned requests for comment.)
Anderson said she wasn’t surprised by Peters’ refusal to accept the primary results. As a former executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, Anderson has previously worked with Peters, including when Peters’ office forgot to count hundreds of ballots in a 2019 election.
“So I was pretty familiar with Tina’s style and approach,” Anderson said. “And I certainly saw a lot of the rhetoric that was coming out of Mesa County. I read all the reports that were coming in, and it was one of the reasons that I decided to run.”
Across the country, other Republican candidates have also become familiar with election-denying opponents within their own party.
Rep. Daniel Webster, a U.S. representative from Florida, was among 147 Republicans who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory on Jan. 6, 2021. Although he did not explicitly allege voter fraud, Webster’s office issued a statement citing “serious allegations of fraud and irregularities” and stating that “we share these grave concerns.”
That statement was not enough to prevent conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer from running against Webster and labeling him as an enabler of Democrats. “Dan doesn’t believe the 2020 election was stolen,” Loomer’s website reads, next to a large, red “X.”
Loomer, who has previously described herself as a “proud Islamophobe” and “pro-white nationalism,” lost to Webster during their August primary. But she did not concede defeat, instead delivering a tearful address baselessly accusing the Republican Party of fraud.
“I DO NOT CONCEDE,” Loomer wrote in a blog post on her campaign site. “And I encourage all of my supporters and all of my voters to NOT support Daniel Webster and the corrupt ESTABLISHMENT RNC and Big Tech voter fraud machine that is propping his feeble body up and depriving my constituents of the representation they deserve and need. I am calling for Daniel Webster to RESIGN because everyone knows he is beyond unfit to serve. He didn’t campaign. He refused to debate me, and it’s because his health is worse than Joe Biden’s [...] I DO NOT CONCEDE! BECAUSE YOU DO NOT CONCEDE WHEN THERE IS THEFT INVOLVED!”
Webster’s campaign dismissed the allegations, noting that Loomer had previously cried fraud in her longshot campaign against Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel in 2020.
“She likes to claim everyone else is a ‘RINO’ meanwhile she is the one engaging in RINO behavior as she calls on her followers to support Democrat candidates and oppose the most conservative Governor in the country as he runs for re-election,” Webster’s campaign told The Daily Beast in a statement. “This behavior is right out of the Democrats playbook and exemplified by President Biden—attack conservatives and refuse to accept responsibility and the facts.”
Loomer’s campaign did not return a request for comment. Webster’s solidly red district will almost certainly reelect him in November, regardless of Loomer’s calls for his resignation. But a growing trend of election-denying local candidates threatens to shake public confidence in the general election.
At least a dozen primary candidates this year “have lost their election and then immediately cried fraud,” 538 reported in August. Some, like Peters and failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor, have backing from Big Lie celebrities like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell—who, in turn, have supported bogus election “audits” and encouraged followers to barrage local election officials with record requests.
Now, as they head into the general election, Republican nominees will vie for votes from people who may have backed primary rivals who still refuse to concede.
Webster’s campaign has cut against Loomer’s fraud allegations by accusing her of “aligning herself with the likes of Liz Cheney by opposing Republicans.”
Meanwhile Anderson, who does not deny President Biden’s 2020 win, cautioned that fear-based election rhetoric might actually alienate voters, especially in states like Colorado, which has a large independent voting bloc.
“It’s important to me to be able to stand up in this campaign and say, this sort of polarizing rhetoric just throws fuel on the fire and undercuts that larger group of people that can be influenced by false rhetoric,” she said. “We need to restore that more professional, ethical approach to these offices.”
As it turns out, her primary opponent O’Donnell has already been the subject of election-fraud blowback. After Anderson’s victory, supporters of Tina Peters baselessly suggested that Colorado officials had transferred some of her votes to O’Donnell, causing her to lose.
O’Donnell took issue with one of those claims, which appeared in a blog post from an anchor on Mike Lindell’s web show.
“What I find crazy, post primary election,” O’Donnell wrote on Facebook, “is the assertion that because I got any votes AT ALL, the elections in Colorado must be absolutely rigged and I must have cheated.”
He soon resumed posting pictures of Colorado homes that he thought had suspicious voter registration records.
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