Tuesday’s election will be one final test of election denialism in the 2022 midterms

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The November election produced a clear message in several competitive states: 2020 election denial was not popular on the ballot.

But in Georgia, one final test occurs in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate runoff where Herschel Walker, who has previously endorsed some of those falsehoods, is in a tight contest with Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock.

A number of Republican candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump who promoted falsehoods about the 2020 election, such as Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, fell short in tight races. Secretary of state races and other down-ballot candidacies with platforms fueled by 2020 misinformation saw similar trends.

Like many Trump endorsees, Walker frequently echoed Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in Georgia after the 2020 election. He wrote on Twitter during that time that Georgia, among other states, should “vote again” to “maintain our democracy” and that the Supreme Court should “step in and uphold our constitution.”

He later falsely questioned why Gov. Brian Kemp was “refusing to ensure that Voter Signature Verification was enforced” that year. “Shows that something is up,” he continued, retweeting a tweet in which Trump also criticized Kemp and GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The claim has already proved unpopular in Georgia: Kemp and Raffensperger beat former Sen. David Perdue and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, respectively, in May’s GOP primaries. Both Perdue and Hice were endorsed by Trump and campaigned on 2020 falsehoods.

Ben Berwick, a counsel at nonprofit Protect Democracy, said while voters across the country rejected many candidates who campaigned on election denialism, it remains a pressing issue going into 2024 because of how many of those races still were close. Future confidence in elections, he said, will hinge on efforts from public figures to combat misinformation.

“Even though (Walker) would not have direct control over election administration, in Georgia, for example, it is dangerous to have public officials with a substantial platform be elected and then be in a position to spread a lot of disinformation and continue to undermine confidence in our election,” Berwick said

‘You can be skeptical of anybody’

Since his post-2020 remarks, Walker has acknowledged that Democrat Joe Biden won the presidential election. He has not often invoked Trump in recent speeches and does not publicly question the 2020 election in his remarks. Instead, he frequently criticizes his opponent for voting with Biden and speaks on a variety of other Republican “culture war” talking points.

That hasn’t deterred some of Walker’s supporters, however, who back Trump and his election denial. It’s an issue that those supporters say is part of the reason why they continue to support the Senate candidate despite allegations against him involving violence against women and accusations that he paid for abortions in the past.

“On paper he did, in front of the world he did, but in reality, who knows?” Spencer Miller of Austell said of Biden’s victory in 2020. “Arguments have been made, and you can be skeptical of anybody that wins an election.”

Clifton Mullis of Cleveland said that he hoped Walker would address abortion and “the voting, the way that Trump did win,” backing the false claims. “I feel like it was scammed,” he said. Other Georgia officials who have stood by the results have not persuaded him, Mullis said.

Dan Cooper, a contractor in Cobb County, discounted the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race between John Fetterman and Trump-backed Mehmet Oz as one that “just makes no sense.” Cooper said he believes voter fraud has continued in swing states such as Arizona and Michigan where Democrats had success this year, and that his thinking is informed in part by the misinformation-riddled film “2000 Mules.”

Warnock, for his part, has made clear that he is opposed to 2020 election denialism. At an Atlanta rally Saturday night targeting Asian American voters, he referenced the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol in talking about his runoff election that year.

“They claimed that the election was being stolen, but we know what was behind the claim,” he said. “What was really behind the claim was the premise that this new emerging and diverse electorate, of the red, yellow, brown, Black and white, a marvelous sea of God’s diverse and variegated humanity ... didn’t get to choose the future of this country.”