This Candidate Thinks The 2020 Election Was Illegitimate. But He’d Rather You Didn’t Know That.

This Candidate Thinks The 2020 Election Was Illegitimate. But He’d Rather You Didn’t Know That.

Roughly 200 Republican candidates running for Senate, House, governor, attorney general or secretary of state have indicated publicly that the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate, despite all the evidence to the contrary.1

That number, though, is almost certainly an undercount. For example, according to audio the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shared with FiveThirtyEight, Army veteran Erik Aadland, the Republican candidate for Colorado’s 7th Congressional District, told members of the Mountain Republicans Club on June 21 that he was concerned by how the 2020 elections were “undermined by fraud, how they were corrupted, and now how we have an illegitimate government in power.”

FiveThirtyEight could not independently confirm the audio’s authenticity or the circumstances of its recording, though the voice in the audio is similar to Aadland’s. However, FiveThirtyEight was able to independently confirm that Aadland spoke at the monthly meeting of the Mountain Republicans Club, a local conservative group, in Evergreen, Colorado, on June 21. His campaign did not respond to several requests for comment. We also reached out to the Mountain Republicans Club to ask about the event, but received no response.

Many candidates, like Aadland, may now be hesitant to say the 2020 election was fraudulent out of fear that it could cost them at the polls. The voice purported to be Aadland’s admitted in that leaked audio to being strategic in how he talks about the 2020 election, saying, “I don’t always use this kind of language on the campaign trail because I am so deliberate with what I say, because the consequences of not winning are so significant. So I am strategic. I don’t go out and talk about election integrity on and on and on because it’s not an issue that wins us this race.”

Case in point: Colorado’s 7th District is competitive, but it is also 6 percentage points bluer than the nation as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric.2 According to the FiveThirtyEight House forecast, Democratic state Sen. Brittany Pettersen has an 87-in-100 chance of winning the seat, which is open due to the retirement of Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter.

But at the same time, this is the exact kind of seat that could become more competitive if the national environment improves for Republicans. The district has a FiveThirtyEight elasticity score of 1.14, meaning that for every 1 percentage point the national political mood moves toward a party, Colorado’s 7th District is expected to move 1.14 percentage points toward that party.

Republicans who have denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election have won primaries across the country and up and down the ballot this cycle, especially in House races and in Western states like Arizona and Nevada. But Colorado Republicans largely bucked this trend in their June primaries, backing businessman Joe O’Dea, who accepted the results of the 2020 election, over state Rep. Ron Hanks, who attended the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, for U.S. Senate. Similarly, former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, who accepted the results of the 2020 election, defeated Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who was indicted on charges related to a security breach allegedly stemming from her ties to election deniers, in the secretary of state primary. Even Aadland himself wasn’t the most pro-Trump option in his primary; that distinction went to former Trump campaign staffer Laurel Imer, who was more open about her belief that Trump was the rightful winner in 2020.

This could be one reason Aadland’s public stance on election integrity has evolved so much. He started off the election cycle running for the U.S. Senate and fully denying the 2020 election. In June 2021, he told the Jefferson County Men’s Club, “The 2020 election, it was rigged. Absolutely rigged.” But in December of that year, he switched to running for the House, and somewhere along the way, he started to backpedal. In April 2022, he danced around the question on conservative talk radio, ultimately answering, “I’m certain there was fraud in the 2020 elections. I have a sense that it influenced the outcome. Can I say definitively? No.” (This was enough for us to reclassify him as “raised questions” and not “fully denied” in our tracker of Republicans’ stances on the 2020 election.) And in August 2022 — after the Colorado primary — a reporter for Colorado Newsline noticed that the Jefferson County Men’s Club had taken down the video with Aadland’s previous, more extreme comments.

As we enter the thick of general-election season, more candidates may distance themselves from their previous actions or rhetoric relating to the 2020 election. We’ve already identified a few examples: Virginia state Sen. Jen Kiggans, who is the Republican nominee for the commonwealth’s competitive 2nd District, was one of only four state senators to vote for a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election in Virginia in early 2022, but a campaign spokesperson told FiveThirtyEight in August that Kiggans “believes Joe Biden is president.” And in January 2021, Michigan state Sen. Tom Barrett joined with 10 other state senators to send a letter to members of Congress urging them to investigate election-fraud claims. But then he started running for Congress in the swingy 7th District, and last month he responded to FiveThirtyEight’s inquiries on the 2020 election via email, acknowledging, “Joe Biden is the President.”

As a result of this new reporting on Aadland, we have switched his designation back to “fully denied” in our tracker. And if other candidates change their tune — either because new comments come to light or they change their position for the general election — it will be reflected on the tracker too. 

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