Attendees at Trump’s Jan. 6 rally push false election claims into Virginia legislative campaigns

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Most Republican candidates running for the Virginia legislature this year are centering their pitches to voters on issues like education, cost of living and gun rights.

But for a small segment of candidates, former President Donald Trump’s misrepresentations about a rigged 2020 election remained a big selling point ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

“There is still an underlying mistrust of the election process on the part of Republicans,” said State Senator Amanda Chase, who is running in a three-way primary for a GOP-leaning seat in the suburbs. of Richmond.

Chase has consistently repeated Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen, once called for martial law to overturn the results, and was censured by the state senate for lying and expressing support for those who attacked the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

She is one of at least six Republican candidates for the General Assembly who attended Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally or subsequent march to the Capitol. All say they did not enter the building during the riot, and none have been charged with a crime. Another GOP candidate is a lawyer who worked on Trump’s attempts to reverse his loss in Wisconsin, a result that has been confirmed in recounts and audits.

Nearly three years after Democrat Joe Biden won the White House, the message from the Virginia candidates shows the durability among Republicans of Trump’s claims, which has been reflected in previous election cycles and echoed in surveys. In interviews, recent appearances or social media posts, the candidates who were in Washington on January 6 have either defended claims that the election was rigged, worn their presence as a badge of honor or pledged to pursue major changes to Virginia’s election laws if elected. .

Virginia is one of the few states that holds its state legislative races in odd years. Every seat is on the ballot in a year when control of the General Assembly, which is split between Democrats and Republicans, is up for grabs.

Midway through last year, candidates who rejected the 2020 results fared poorly, with Holocaust deniers losing all offers for a statewide position in the swing states of Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Virginia, a near-swing state with its unusual off-year election cycle, is being closely watched for clues to voter sentiment heading into the next year’s midterm or presidential cycle. How some of the Jan. 6 attendees are faring this year could offer further insight into voters’ willingness to support candidates who continue to accept false claims from Trump, who lost the state to Biden. in 2020 by around 10 percentage points.

Most of the Virginia Statehouse candidates who attended the Jan. 6 rally or march said that if Republicans could win majorities in both houses, they would push to reverse the vote changes passed by Democrats. They expanded access to early voting and mail-in ballots, and eliminated the old voter ID requirement.

John McGuire, a former Navy SEAL and current member of the House of Delegates, has said in interviews that he wants to change the election laws to “turn Virginia red again.”

“If we can lock up the guns and get the House, get the Senate, change the election laws, get rid of election season, get voter ID, ban these drop boxes that aren’t secure, we could have a red state that could be in play for 2024,” he said in an April interview on the John Fredericks radio show.

To be clear, the 2020 election was not stolen from Trump, who is dominating early primary polls for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. Multiple reviews, recounts and audits in battleground states where Trump has challenged his defeat validated Biden’s victory. Even Trump’s former attorney general said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, and dozens of judges, including several appointed by Trump, have dismissed his claims. An Associated Press review of every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states contested by Trump found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

None of Virginia’s six legislative candidates are running in one of the highly competitive swing districts that are expected to help determine party control in the fall. In all but one case, the winner of the Republican nomination is almost guaranteed to win the seat.

McGuire has already won a party-organized Senate nominating contest in a heavily Republican district after receiving an endorsement from Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Another, former Chase aide and House candidate Jody Pyles, recently lost his bid for the GOP nomination to an incumbent in another party-led process. Neither responded to requests for comment.

Philip Hamilton, a longtime candidate with no lead opponent in a heavily Democratic Senate district that includes Charlottesville, said he wonders if Biden was legitimately elected but isn’t emphasizing the issue in his campaign.

In addition to Chase, the other Jan. 6 entrants in Tuesday’s ballot are current state delegates Dave LaRock and Marie March.

LaRock did not accept an interview request from the AP but answered questions via email. He has made 2020 a central part of this year’s campaign as he competes with seven other Republicans for the party’s nomination to a dark red Senate seat in the Shenandoah Valley region.

“I have no regrets participating in the peaceful and political free speech rallies on January 6. I spoke out against the violence and law breaking as soon as I heard about it from the media” , he said, adding that people who didn’t break the law “had every right to be there.”

Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who at one time suggested that Trump could summon the military to prevent Biden from taking office, endorsed LaRock last month. He praised LaRock for his “loyalty to the cause” when LaRock wrote a letter asking then-Vice President Mike Pence to delay certifying Virginia presidential voters in the 2020 race.

March, who did not respond to requests for comment, told a crowd about her attendance on Jan. 6 in April, mentioning at a campaign event that the restaurants she owned were “relentlessly attacked” because she was there.

March faces a primary contest against fellow delegate Wren Williams in one of the few incumbent matchups in the state, following new district maps created by redistricting.

Williams, who worked on Trump’s legal team in Wisconsin, said in an interview that the 2020 election was “absolutely rigged,” but liberals are the ones keeping the issue front and center. Biden’s victory in Wisconsin and the absence of any widespread fraud was confirmed by recounts, a nonpartisan audit and even a partisan investigation ordered by legislative Republicans.

“I feel like the left is the most interested in 2020 and the 2020 election and January 6 because they inevitably have very little case to run with the administration of Joe Biden and the wreckage and the damage they’ve done to America over the past few years,” Williams said.

The six candidates who were in Washington on Jan. 6 are part of a longer list of Republicans running in Virginia who pushed false claims about the 2020 election, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said in a new research report.

The group’s research counts 16 total candidates in the 2023 Virginia state legislative races who engaged in what the DLCC calls “election denial or other undemocratic activity.”

Among them are candidates who attended local “Stop the Steal” rallies after the 2020 election, shared false allegations of voter fraud or promoted the debunked “2,000 mules” film.

Heather Williams, acting chair of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said these types of candidates “pose a continuing threat to our democracy.”

“State legislatures are the most influential level of the ballot when it comes to our elections and voting rights, and with these extreme candidates and lawmakers vying, the stakes couldn’t be higher this cycle,” he said. she declared.

Rich Anderson, chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, pushed back against that argument. He said in an interview that while he thinks most GOP candidates are impatient, candidates should be given license to freely discuss their beliefs on any issue.

America is a “solid” nation that has been through “much worse than anyone who might worry about the 2020 election process and its end result,” he said.


Swenson reported from New York.


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