10 Extremist Candidates to Watch on Election Day

Kari Lake and Blake Masters speak with attendees at a "Save America" rally at Country Thunder Arizona in Florence, Arizona. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

From election deniers to Christian nationalists, this year’s crop of Republican candidates is among the most extreme Americans have seen in recent years.

Since former President Donald Trump and his allies attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election, the Republican Party has come to embrace the practice of sowing doubt in elections, making it a mainstay of their platform. Now in 2022, the Republican Party is running election deniers up and down the ballot. The Washington Post has identified 291 Republican candidates for office who have denied or questioned the 2020 election, while FiveThirtyEight determined that 60 percent of Americans will have an election denier on the ballot this year. Should these election deniers be elected, they can further undermine our democracy, make it harder to vote, and refuse to certify future elections in which their preferred candidate does not win.  

If that wasn’t concerning enough, some candidates are peddling Christian nationalism, calling for the end of church-state separation and for American society and government to be led exclusively by Christians. Other Republican candidates are engaging with far-right conspiracy theories like QAnon, using the conspiracy network to spread their claims of electoral fraud and gather diehard supporters. Some of these Republican candidates are regurgitating white nationalist talking points so much so that white nationalists see them as “fellow travelers.” Other GOP candidates are staunchly against LGTBQ equality and immigrants, promising to roll back the rights of both groups, and there are others still who no longer just flirt with antisemitism but embrace it.

These far-right candidates are running in all 50 states and at all levels of government in the 2022 midterm election cycle, with the social justice research center Public Research Associates identifying 274 far-right candidates.

Right Wing Watch has compiled a list of 10 extreme right-wing candidates we’re watching, with an eye on political newcomers and those who would wield great power over their constituents and future elections should they win. As we approach Election Day this Nov. 8, one thing is clear: Democracy is on the ballot.

Blake Masters

Blake Masters speaks with attendees at a “Save America” rally at Country Thunder Arizona in Florence, Arizona. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Running for U.S. Senate in Arizona is Blake Masters, a 36-year-old venture capitalist. The libertarian turned “America First” candidates is a protégé of Peter Thiel, the billionaire Republican funder who does not believe democracy and freedom are compatible, and has enjoyed the backing of the coup-supporting Mercer family. Though Masters tried to walk back some of his election denialism during a recent debate with Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, his anti-democracy stance is clear: Masters has falsely claimed that Trump won the presidency, and promised Trump that his campaign wouldn’t go “soft” decrying the results of the 2020 election.

Masters is the preferred candidates of white nationalists who see him as a “fellow traveler.” Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, has thrown his support to Masters, while VDARE, a white nationalist-promoting website, has celebrated Masters as an “immigration patriot.” Robert Wallace of the white nationalist Counter Currents outlet said that people like Rep. Paul Gosar and Blake Masters repurpose white nationalist talking points. “So, what does that tell you?” Wallace said. “It tells you that they’re most probably engage with our media outlets. And so they’re sort of fellow travelers. And we have reason to believe that because again, they’re repurposing our rhetoric.”

And what are those talking points? Masters has repeatedly perpetuated a version of the racist “great replacement theory” popularized by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, alleging that Democrats are trying to bring illegal immigrants into the country to replace native-born voters. He has said that critical race theory is “anti-white racism,” and blamed the United States problem of gun violence on “Black people, frankly.”

Master’s attempts to appear more moderate during the general election are at odds with the stances he’s taken. Masters has come out in favor of a national abortion ban and wants to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as persons in the law with full constitutional protections. Beyond making any abortion a crime, such a law could well ban some forms of contraception and fertility treatments. Masters has also suggested the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was a “false flag” operation by the FBI, stated his belief gay marriage should be illegal, and fearmongered about trans people.

A recent poll shows Masters and Kelly neck and neck, while another poll gives Kelly a 6-point lead. Adding to the uncertainty, Libertarian candidate Marc Victor withdrew from the race on Tuesday and encouraged his supporters to vote for Masters.

J.D. Vance

J. D. Vance speaking with attendees at the 2021 Southwest Regional Conference hosted by Turning Point USA at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona, on April 17, 2021. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

J.D. Vance is running for U.S. Senate in Ohio against Democrat Tim Ryan. The author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” Vance was once a “Never Trumper,” but he quickly changed his tune, so much so that Trump fondly called him an ass kisser at a September campaign rally.

Vance has said that he believes the 2020 election was stolen, and he wants to eliminate early voting, despite casting absentee ballots in the 2020 and 2021 elections himself. He has not said whether he would accept November’s election results. Unsurprisingly, Peter Thiel, the billionaire who does not believe in democracy, has poured millions into Vance’s campaign.

If you’re wondering what kind of United States Vance envisions, it’s one where Trump rules with an iron fist and only employs loyalists at all levels of government. “If I was giving him one piece of advice: Fire every single midlevel bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, replace them with our people,” Vance said.

Vance not only defended Tucker Carlson for peddling the racist “great replacement theory,” but has endorsed the racist theory himself. “Our people aren’t having enough children to replace themselves,” he said in a 2019 speech. Vance has described immigration as an “invasion” that replaces “real”—read, white Christain—Americans. “You can’t have so many people coming to the country at a time when our own families aren’t replicating themselves,” he said in a conversation with Christian nationalist Charlie Kirk in 2021.

The white nationalist-promoting VDARE has applauded Vance’s “immigration patriotism,” calling his campaign “a step in the right direction.”

Vance leads Ryan by about 2 percentage points, according to polling analysis from FiveThirtyEight. 

Kari Lake

Perhaps no candidate is more vocal about false stolen election claims than Kari Lake. The former local news anchor has centered her gubernatorial campaign on voter fraud conspiracy theories. She has said that she would not have certified Arizona’s election results, claimed Trump had the 2020 election stolen from him, and called for the imprisonment of top 2020 election officials and journalists, according to reporting from the Guardian. Unsurprisingly, she has been embraced by Trump with open arms.

Lake is eager to take steps to suppress the vote in the name of so-called “election integrity.” She has voiced her desire to do away with electronic voting machines in favor of paper ballots and to eliminate the option of voting by mail. As Right Wing Watch wrote ahead of her primary, “In a sign of what’s to come should she be elected, Lake claims that her campaign is already ‘detecting fraud’ in her race for governor and has vowed not to ‘take orders’ from ‘an illegitimate president like Joe Biden.’”

She has also engaged with Christian nationalists, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and other extremists. Lake appeared last week with Christian nationalist Sean Feucht, and she recently aired an ad featuring the homophobic and anti-Muslim pastor Justin Erickson. In October, she joined various Christian nationalists, self-proclaimed “prophets,” and conspiracy theorists at a two-day event in Phoenix, Arizona. True the Vote, a nonprofit that peddles voter fraud conspiracy theories, held an event this summer where Lake was seen palling around with QAnon conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin. It wasn’t her first time engaging with QAnon conspiracy theorists; Lake joined QAnon conspiracy theorist Ann Vandersteel’s show last January. The white nationalist America First Political Action Conference had also scheduled Lake as a speaker at its February conference, but after public outcry, Lake claimed the marketing material was false.

Lake leads in the polls against Democratic Katie Hobbs by more than 2 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight 

Mark Finchem

Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem speaking with attendees at a “Save America” rally at Country Thunder Arizona in Florence, Arizona. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Republican Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem is running to be Arizona’s next secretary of state. Finchem is a member of the anti-government extremist group Oath Keepers, 11 of whose members are facing seditious conspiracy charges for their role in the storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Finchem was deeply involved in the so-called “Stop the Steal” campaign and was credited with bringing the campaign to Arizona. “Arizona started with one man, State Rep. Mark Finchem,” far-right activist and Stop the Steal leader Alexander told the Church Militant shortly after the attack on the Capitol. “I’m very confident that the Stop the Steal movement has taken over Arizona.”

Finchem aided Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani in his attempts to overturn the will of Arizonans, hosting him in a Pheonix hotel to spread baseless theories about voter fraud. On Jan. 6, 2021, Finchem attended Trump’s “Save America” rally and then watched from the U.S. Capitol grounds as Trump loyalists stormed the building. His election denialism won him an endorsement from Trump last fall, and Finchem has continued to peddle the Big Lie. This February, he tried to decertify the 2020 election results in three key Arizona counties, and as recently as last week, he attended the so-called “Florida Election Integrity Conference 2.0” in Orlando, where he hung out with looney 2020 election conspiracy theorists. Finchem has also hired a lawyer who participated in Trump’s fake elector scheme.

Finchem, who will oversee Arizona’s elections should he win, has called on his supporters to monitor drop boxes in case of fraud. Right-wing activists are doing that just, accusing voters of being “mules” and broadly intimidating voters.

A recent poll shows Finchem with a 1-point lead over his Democratic opponent, Adrian Fontes.

Kristina Karamo

Kristina Karamo speaks to supporters. (Screenshot of political ad on Instagram)

Kristina Karamo, a former community college professor turned full-time election conspiracy theorist, is running for secretary of state in Michigan. Karamo faces an uphill battle against current Michigan secretary of state, Democrat Jocelyn Benson.

After Trump’s loss in 2020, Karamo, a poll challenger, took to Fox News alleging that illegal ballots were tallied for Joe Biden. Karamo rode her false claims of voter fraud to the GOP nomination, getting the endorsement of Trump last fall before being chosen by the Michigan GOP during a party convention this year.

Last week, Karamo filed a last-minute lawsuit, seeking a court order that would reject absentee ballots cast by Detroit voters in the midterm elections. The lawsuit cites the widely debunked “2000 Mules” propaganda film, claiming that “the counting of ballots cast through drop boxes that are not effectively monitored.” Should Karamo’s request be granted, it would eliminate the votes of tens of thousands of people in the majority Black, majority Democratic city.

Karamo broadly traffics in conspiracy theories. Karamo has said that anti-fascist activists—and not Trump supporters—were to blame for the attack on the Capitol. She has said that evolution should not be taught in schools, and said that the LGBTQ movement is part of “Satan’s war against humans” and that its goal is “to indoctrinate society with sexual perversion.” She also has connections to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, and joined fellow election-deniers running for secretary of state at a 2020 election conspiracy theory conference last week. 

Though the gap has shrunk since September, recent polling show Benson with a 10-point lead over Karamo.  

Michael Peroutka

Image from campaign ad by Michael Peroutka, 2022 GOP nominee for Maryland Attorney General

Michael Peroutka, the GOP nominee for attorney general in Maryland, has made it clear that should he be elected, his right-wing view of Christianity will guide his decisions as the state’s top legal officer.

Peroutka has promised to not enforce laws passed by the state legislature should they run counter to his beliefs—and his beliefs are extreme. As Right Wing Watch’s Peter Montgomery wrote this summer, “Peroutka declared in 2014 that the Maryland General Assembly was no longer a legitimate governing body because its support for marriage equality violated God’s law, and that therefore none of the laws it passed were ‘legally valid and legally enforceable.’” Peroutka has also said he would not defend a Maryland statute that ensures a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion; he favors banning abortion without exception for rape or incest, stating, “You have no right to do what God says is wrong.”

Peroutka is also a former board member of the League of the South, a Confederacy-celebrating, pro-Southern-secessionist group the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group. In 2012, he led a meeting of the League of the South in singing “Dixie,” which was adopted as a de facto national anthem of the Confederacy during the Civil War and which Peroutka called “our national anthem.”

Peroutka has also sought the support of QAnon conspiracy theorist network. In April, he appeared alongside Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox at a gathering of QAnon conspiracy theorists called “Patriots Arise.” Conspiracy theorists at the conference threated to kill those responsible for “child satanic trafficking,” warned against an “AI transhuman” plot, and claimed Hitler faked his death.

Peroutka’s extremism isn’t helping him in Maryland. A recent Baltimore Sun Media and the University of Baltimore poll found that Peroutka’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Anthony Brown, led Peroutka by more than 30 percentage points.  

Joe Kent

Joe Kent poses with Steve Bannon. (Photo from campaign Facebook page)

Joe Kent beat out Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted for Trump’s second impeachment, for the Republican nomination to represent Washington state’s 3rd Congressional District. He did so with the help of extremists.

Kent, a former Green Beret, was the favored candidate of the white nationalist America First movement. After Kent defended white nationalist Nick Fuentes following Fuentes’ ban from Twitter, Fuentes and the white nationalist “groypers” who make up the America First movement went all in for Kent online, boosting his profile among the far-right. But after Fuentes formerly endorsed Kent, Kent disavowed the white nationalist. Fuentes claimed Kent had betrayed him and that they had a formal arrangement—something Kent has denied. Kent did however confirm that a political consultant had set up a call with Fuentes and others as part of an effort to expand Kent’s social media reach. While Fuentes may no longer be a fan of Kent, there are plenty of other extremists who are still lending their support to Kent.

In September, CNN reported that Kent had given an interview to Greyson Arnold, a Nazi sympathizer and “lieutenant” of the America First movement. Kent had previously taken a photo with Arnold at an April fundraiser but denied knowing who he was. The AP also reported this summer that Kent had employed a member of the far-right Proud Boys: “Campaign finance disclosures reveal Kent recently paid $11,375 for ‘consulting’ over the past four months to Graham Jorgensen, who was identified as a Proud Boy in a law enforcement report and was charged with cyber stalking his ex-girlfriend in 2018.” Kent is also a close political ally of Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer, a far-right Christian nationalist group whose rallies have descended into violence.

Kent claims the 2020 election was rigged, blames the Jan. 6 insurrection on “Deep State” provocateurs, and hired as his campaign strategist Matt Braynard, who immediately set to work in the aftermath of Jan. 6 repainting MAGA insurrectionists as “political prisoners.” Kent has said without evidence that vote by mail is rife with fraud and has expressed his eagerness to overhaul the election system. He has also promised to impeach President Joe Biden, called for Dr. Anthony Fauci to be arrested for murder, and supports legislation to ban all abortion without any exception.   

Kent faces Marie Gluesenkamp Perez in the general election. While the district is solidly red, there is some suggestion it has moved to more competitive territory in recent weeks as some Republicans have thrown their support behind Gluensenkamp Perez.   

Jim Marchant

Jim Marchant in West Palm Beach, Florida, at a September 2022 “Election Integrity Summit” does an interview with Steve Bannon on his “WarRoom” show. (Photo from Jim Marchant Facebook page)

Jim Marchant lost his bid to represent Nevada in Congress in 2020. Like Trump, that didn’t stop him from claiming the election was stolen from him. This time, Marchant is running for secretary of state in Nevada with Trump and the GOP’s blessings, and he’s eager to correct the perceived injustices suffered by Trump and himself.

Standing next to Trump at a rally in Nevada in October, Marchant said things would be different with him as secretary of state. “When my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected, we’re gonna fix the whole country, and President Trump is gonna be president again,” Marchant said. As Vice News reported, by “fixing” the country, Marchant “means eradicating mail-in ballots, doing away with vote tabulation machines, and binning voter registration rolls—which would force all Nevadans to re-register to vote.”

Vice reported that Marchant has close connections to those peddling the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. “QAnon John,” who organized a massive QAnon conference in 2021, called Marchant a good friend. It was at that same conference, that QAnon adherent Wayne Willott, aka “Juan O Savin,” joined election conspiracy theorists Mike Lindell and Patrick Bryne and Marchant to announce a coalition of secretary of state and gubernatorial candidates that they say will “fix” future elections. Marchant has become the head of the coalition, known as the America First Secretary of State Coalition.

A new poll shows Marchant trailing his Democratic opponent Cisco Aguilar by about 4 percentage points.

Doug Mastriano

Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano (Image from official trailer for Steve Turley’s “The Rise of the American Patriot.”)

By Peter Montgomery

Doug Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator who is running for governor, has built his campaign strategy around energizing and mobilizing every far-right element of the Republican Party base, including QAnon and election conspiracy theorists, abortion-criminalization zealots, Jan. 6 insurrectionists, militant Christian nationalists, dominionist “prophets,” and followers of an apocalyptic sect that worships with AR-15s. That strategic approach is underlined by his refusal to speak with mainstream media while appearing on shows and at events hosted by QAnon believers and gatherings led by other far-right activists.

After the 2022 presidential election, Mastriano took the lead in promoting Trump’s lies about election fraud and in attempting to get his Republican colleagues to contest the outcome. He participated in dominionist prayer calls about overturning the election in which he prayed that “we’ll seize the power” that he said God and the Constitution had given them. Mastriano’s campaign also chartered buses to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Since then, Mastriano has vowed to make every one of Pennsylvania’s 9 million voters re-register to vote and has reminded supporters that as governor he would have the power to appoint a likeminded secretary of state.

Although Mastriano disavows the term, his campaign is awash in Christian nationalism. He campaigns with and is supported by leaders of the Christian nationalist dominionist New Apostolic Reformation, like Seven Mountains proponent Lance Wallnau. At a Christian nationalist gathering in April, Mastriano declared, “In November, we’re going to take our state back,” adding, “My God will make it so.”

Mastriano has also been embraced by virulent promoters of antisemitism and Christian nationalism like Gab founder Andrew Torba. This spring, Mastriano did an interview with Torba, who contributed $500 to Mastriano’s campaign. The campaign then paid Gab $5,000 for campaign consulting; Mastriano has since said that was for ads. While Mastriano has tried to distance himself from Torba’s antisemitism, Mastriano has slammed his opponent, who is Jewish, for sending his children to a Jewish day school, saying it reflected “disdain for people like us.”

If all that wasn’t enough, Mastriano has also signaled support for the Confederacy, posing in a Confederate uniform at a 2017 event at the Army War College, even though 27,000 Pennsylvanians were killed fighting for the Union during the Civil War.

Mastriano trails Democrat Josh Shapiro by more than 9 percentage points, according to polling analysis by FiveThirtyEight.

Ron Johnson

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

Sen. Ron Johnson, who has come under fire for his office’s role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, is running for reelection in Wisconsin.

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection revealed that Johnson’s office had participated in Trump’s fake-elector scheme. That scheme required state Republicans to send forms to Washington with “alternative” fake electors, despite Trump losing the electoral count in these states. On Jan. 6, an aide to Johnson tried to hand-deliver a false slate of electors for the state of Wisconsin to Vice President Pence ahead of the counting of electoral votes that day, according to the Jan. 6 committee findings. Johnson has tried to downplay his role in this effort, suggesting it was a “nonstory.”

Along with downplaying his own role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, Johnson has tried to downplay the violence of Jan. 6, 2021, saying that it couldn’t be called an “armed insurrection” because the insurrectionists didn’t have guns, many of which had been confiscated earlier that day. Never mind that there were plenty of weapons in the Capitol that day, the death of seven people, or the injuries sustained by about 150 police officers. Johnson has also said that he was not afraid of the Capitol rioters, but that he might have been frightened had they been Black Lives Matter protesters. He has criticized investigations into Jan. 6, arguing that Attorney General Merrick Garland’s time would be better spent investigating Black Lives Matter protests. Unsurprisingly, Johnson has tried to paint his Democratic challenger, the progressive Mandela Barnes, as an extremist for his support of criminal justice reform.

Johnson has not said whether he will accept the results of the Nov. 8 election, saying he would feel more comfortable had Gov. Tony Evers signed voter suppression legislation passed by the Republican-controlled legislature. In October, NBC reported that Johnson’s Senate campaign paid more than $20,000 to a law firm that played a role in Trump’s fake elector scheme. Johnson’s campaign says it retained the firm’s legal services in case of a close Nov. 8 election and possible recount.

Though Johnson trailed Barnes in the spring, he now leads Barnes by about 4 points, according to polling analysis by FiveThirtyEight.

***

These candidates threaten our elections and our democracy. By peddling election fraud conspiracy theories, refusing to commit to accepting election results, or trying to disenfranchise voters, these candidates are actively sowing doubt about our elections and thus the need to abide by the results. Should they be elected, they will try to pass legislation to make it harder to vote for certain people, attempt to throw out election results they don’t like, and to create conditions unfairly favorable to GOP wins in the future. Even those candidates who are unlikely to make it into office this year pose a threat; simply by running, they are able to spread their message and move the Overton Window of acceptable discourse.


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