2022 midterms

Will Republicans Claim Victory Prematurely in the Midterms?

Will Dr. Oz emulate his mentor on Election Night? Photo: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

One of the great public services of the House select committee on January 6 was the evidence it added to the already strong case that Donald Trump planned for a long time to falsely claim victory on Election Night 2020. His strategy involved demonizing voting by mail all year, ensuring that the votes first counted in most states were from Republicans casting ballots in person on Election Day. That “red mirage” — an artificial GOP lead — was used by Trump to suggest that the later-counted, Democratic-leaning mail ballots were invented or inflated to “steal” the election. And that blatant, deliberate lie became the foundation for many other phony claims about 2020.

Unfortunately, the widespread acceptance of all this nonsense by Republican elected officials and candidates means it could happen again. Most observers are primarily worried that Trump’s 2020 shenanigans may have served as a dress rehearsal for 2024. But there are already signs of 2020-election deniers refusing to accept their own possible defeat this year.

The risk is particularly high in states that keep election officials from sorting, verifying, and counting mail ballots before Election Day, guaranteeing they’ll be counted last. Alabama, the District of Columbia, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin all put mail ballots aside until Election Day; Maryland doesn’t allow their processing until after Election Day.

Many of these states won’t be in play for major elections on November 8. One that probably will be, though, is Pennsylvania, where conditions are ripe for a red mirage, as Bloomberg reports:

All of the factors that led the state to be the epicenter of Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election are once again in place: a divided electorate, disputes over election rules, a delay in counting Democratic-leaning mail ballots and Republican candidates who are willing to go to extreme lengths to contest the results.

… Pennsylvania is likely to be a focal point on election night because of the way it counts votes. Unlike other states with heavy vote-by-mail use, counties there can’t begin the time-consuming processing and counting of mail-in ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day. In 2020, Joe Biden wasn’t declared the winner of the Keystone State — and the presidency — for four days, until the Saturday after the election …

So far, 71% of the 1.2 million mail ballot applications are from Democrats, according to state data.

If Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz has a big lead in first-counted votes and shaky prospects of ultimate victory, you can bet his mentor, Trump, will advise him to claim victory right away and poison the atmosphere for the recognition of absentee ballots trickling in for days. Yes, Oz is the rare MAGA candidate who has agreed to accept election results win or lose. But he could choose to impose his own interpretation of “winning,” and act as though it’s his opponent, John Fetterman, who is challenging the results.

Fortunately for democracy, Pennsylvania’s maximum-MAGA gubernatorial candidate, Doug Mastriano, may be too far behind to credibly pull off a red-mirage maneuver. The same could be true of New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc and Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon.

But every race is close in Wisconsin, another state that bans early processing and counting of mail ballots. And in that savagely polarized state, neither GOP incumbent senator Ron Johnson nor gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels has been willing to promise acknowledgement of the election results if they are adverse. With Wisconsin Republicans already sowing doubts about the state’s bipartisan election commission, a red-mirage scenario could develop there as well.

There is one state where top Republican candidates are so wildly committed to “stolen election” fables that it wouldn’t take much of a gap between Election Day and mail-ballot vote counting to create a red-mirage claim or at least a quick decision to challenge the results before they are known. That’s Arizona, where gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and gubernatorial candidate Blake Masters are already signaling an unwillingness to accept defeat, as I pointed out recently:

During a CNN interview on Sunday morning, after Lake was asked three times whether or not she would accept the election result this November, she responded, “I’m going to win the election and I will accept that result.”

And Lake won’t be alone in shrieking about a stolen election. Senate candidate Blake Masters suggested that voting machines might well add the thousands of votes to the totals for his opponent Mark Kelly.

So it will be more important than ever to combat early victory claims that have not been confirmed by major media “calls,” including the gold standard, the Associated Press. As we learned in 2020, self-proclaimed “victors” who try to steal an election and then shout “Stop! Thief!” at the real winners can be hard to rein in.

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Will Republicans Claim Victory Prematurely in the Midterms?