Primary victories showcase strength of the ‘Big Lie’ in the Republican Party

Candidates who ran on the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen secured victories in Tuesday's primaries up and down the ballot in Arizona and Michigan, two of the states at the center of that conspiracy. This scenario sets up stark contests for governor, Congress and secretary of state in November. NewsHour's Stephanie Sy and Jessica Huseman of Votebeat join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, last night's elections also showcase the continuing strength of the so-called big lie in the Republican Party.

    Candidates who ran on the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen won primaries up and down the ballot. And they won in two of the states at the center of that conspiracy, Arizona and Michigan, setting up stark contests for governor, Congress and secretary of state in November.

    For more on the results and what they mean, I am joined by our own Stephanie Sy. She's in Phoenix. And Jessica Huseman, she is the editorial director of Votebeat.

    Hello to both of you. Thank you for being with us.

    Stephanie, I'm going to start with you.

    A lot of the most closely watched races, as we have just mentioned, last night, were in Arizona, where you are based. A number of Republican candidates there running on the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen. Tell us about what they were saying and what happened.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Yes, Judy, if there was any doubt about former President Trump's influence on the Republican Party in Arizona, the results of this primary are unmistakable.

    All five of the candidates officially endorsed by the former president one or are winning their races. All five won Trump's endorsement by repeating conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, which, of course, we know multiple court cases, audits, even a Republican-led partisan review here in Arizona have proven to be untrue.

    For the U.S. Senate nomination, for example, Republican primary voters chose political novice Blake Masters as their candidate. He was a virtual unknown in politics here and was behind in the polls for most of the race, Judy, until he gained Trump's endorsement earlier this summer. And that was after he said that he would have objected to certifying the 2020 election if he had been senator on January 6.

    We also saw a resounding victory — you mentioned this earlier — for the Trump-endorsed candidate for secretary of state, Mark Finchem. Finchem is a state representative. He has been linked to QAnon. And he recently said that he believes the devil conspired to steal the 2020 election.

    And, finally, Judy, we are still watching the governor's race between another election denier, Kari Lake, who former President Trump, he has been stumping for her for months — he was here just a few days ago stumping for her — and Karrin Taylor Robson, who was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence.

    We should say that Ms. Lake today declared victory, but that is premature. The results are still not in. If Lake were to lose the nomination though, Judy, she has spent weeks sowing doubt into the election process, a direct play from the Trump playbook.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Jessica Huseman, let me come to you.

    We just heard Stephanie mention Mark Finchem, the nominee now, won nomination to be secretary of state in Arizona. He is now one of six nominees to be secretary of state around the country who are election deniers. How important do we think that is going to be, not just for November, but for future elections?

  • Jessica Huseman, Editorial Director, Votebeat:

    I think it's crucially important.

    I think, in 2020, a lot of the reason that the country did not fall into complete chaos is because of the actions of one or two individuals, one of whom was the secretary of state in Georgia. And that could easily happen in another state. It could come down to that state and that person calling the shots and that state would be crucial not only to the well-being of that state's government, but to the national government as well, to democracy as a whole.

    So I don't think it can really be overstated how important these positions truly are.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I want to come back to you, Stephanie, because we know Arizona is a purple state. It's a state that Joe Biden won in 2020 by something like 11,000 votes.

    So what does that mean these Republican candidates could be facing this November?

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Well, here's what the two candidates we know have won are facing, the current secretary of state and an astronaut.

    Whoever wins the GOP nomination for governor we will be up against Katie Hobbs. She is the current secretary of state, the highest election official here. And, in 2020, when Trump supporters protested en masse claiming fraud, she was up against that. She certified the election alongside Republican Governor Doug Ducey, who has been censured by the state GOP party, and she has faced death threats ever since.

    She tweeted today, Judy, she is — quote — "ready to take on whichever extreme Republican is nominated."

    Then, in the general election in November, that key Senate seat that may determine the balance of power in the Upper Chamber, Blake Masters, who was a Silicon Valley chief operating officer for Trump ally Peter Thiel's company, he's going to be facing Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut.

    Kelly has already received the endorsement of nearly 50 prominent independents and Republicans, including, Judy, a few Republican mayors who were turned off by the options on the GOP side. Independent voters are very important in this state. They make up 34 percent of the voters here.

    So the big question, Judy, is whether those voters will be put off by some of these GOP candidates' conspiratorial views and, like they did in 2020, swing the other way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jessica Huseman, let me ask you about another state where we're seeing this divide play out in the Republican Party. That's in Michigan.

    This is again a state that Joe Biden won narrowly in 2020. What is standing out to you about these races?

  • Jessica Huseman:

    I don't think that I was particularly shocked by any of the successful candidates in Michigan.

    I will say that the dynamics in Michigan are really interesting, because the person who won for governor — for the Republican nomination for governor has been asked, but has dodged several questions about whether or not she believes the 2020 election was stolen. She said she did once, but hasn't really given much more detail on that.

    But it's very convenient for every Republican in Michigan that they have someone who is already on the ticket as the Republican nominee for secretary of state in Kristina Karamo who is very full-throated in her belief that the election was stolen, tipping well into conspiracy, well beyond normal Republican concern about election integrity.

    And so, in a lot of ways, she gets to be the voice for those questions, and everyone else can just kind of fall in line.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And very quickly, Jessica, a final question to you.

    Another way we're seeing former President Trump's influence play out as in congressional races. Three of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach him were on the ballot. They faced primary challenges. Tell us what we saw there.

  • Jessica Huseman:

    It was a good night for Donald Trump last night.

    I think that what we saw last night was that it's — he's really continued to have a stranglehold on the party. And I don't think that we're getting out of that anytime soon. But this puts us in a really interesting place for November, where we have two — we have a very extreme candidate and a middle-of-the-road candidate.

    And so we will see how it plays out in November. But the Republican Party at least is certainly still very much in Trump's corner.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much to look at and to pore over from these results from last night.

    Jessica Huseman, Stephanie Sy, we thank you both.

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