Every election denier who sought to become the top election official in a critical battleground state lost at the polls this year, as voters roundly rejected extreme partisans who promised to restrict voting and overhaul the electoral process.
The national repudiation of this coalition reached its apex Saturday, when Cisco Aguilar, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state in Nevada, defeated Jim Marchant, according to The Associated Press. Marchant, the Republican nominee, had helped organize a national right-wing slate of candidates under the name “America First.”
With Marchant’s loss to Aguilar, all but one of those “America First” candidates were defeated. Only Diego Morales, a Republican in deep-red Indiana, was successful, while candidates in Michigan, Arizona and New Mexico were defeated.
Their losses halted a plan by some allies of former President Donald Trump and other influential donors to take over the election apparatus in critical states before the 2024 presidential election. The “America First” candidates, and their explicitly partisan statements, had alarmed Democrats, independent election experts and even some Republicans, who feared that if they gained office, they could threaten the integrity of future elections.
Marchant not only repeatedly claimed that Trump had won the 2020 election, but he pledged that if he were elected, Trump would again be president in 2024.
“When my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected, we’re going to fix the whole country, and President Trump is going to be president again in 2024,” Marchant said at a rally held by the former president in October.
During the 2020 election, it was secretaries of state — both Democrats and Republicans — who stood up to efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results. State election officials certified vote tallies over Republican objections, protected election workers from aggressive partisan poll watchers and, in at least one case, refused a personal entreaty from the president.
The next spring, several candidates pushing the false narrative that the 2020 election had been stolen announced their intention to run to be the top election officials in critical states.
Marchant said in an interview with The New York Times in January that he had been approached by Trump’s allies to run for secretary of state and had been encouraged to organize a national slate of like-minded candidates.
He quickly cobbled together the “America First” slate, including candidates from states like Michigan, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. They began touring nationally, holding forums promoting election conspiracy theories, occasionally with leading members of the QAnon movement.
Suddenly, secretary of state races became premier attractions, elevating once sleepy, bureaucratic down-ballot races to the national spotlight. Donations, especially from alarmed Democrats, quickly flooded the races. Nearly $50 million was spent on television advertising in four states — Michigan, Arizona, Nevada and Minnesota — and Democrats had a 10 to 1 spending advantage.
The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State — which in 2019 had just one part-time staff member — had to be built on the fly. Jena Griswold, the secretary of state in Colorado and the chair of the association, hired seven full-time staff members and raised $25 million for the cycle.
“We really believe, and continue to believe, that these races have a tremendous effect on whether this country will continue to have a vibrant democracy,” Griswold said. “Or be able to have one at all.”
Polling races for secretary of state proved difficult, but concern began to grow among some Democrats as polls suggested that voters did not have democracy at the top of their list of concerns heading into the election.
But candidates like Aguilar said they heard about democracy issues daily from voters.
“People are tired of chaos,” Aguilar said in an interview. “They want stability; they want normalcy; they want somebody who’s going to be an adult and make decisions that are fair, transparent and in the best interest of all Nevadans.”
Aguilar, a local businessman with deep ties to the Las Vegas business and gaming communities, announced his candidacy well before the primaries. He said that threats to fair elections weighed on him every day on the campaign trail.
“Look, it was scary,” Aguilar said. “And the burden that I carried throughout the campaign knowing that was pretty extensive.”
Some of the biggest Republican committees and candidates, however, avoided the slate of “America First” candidates. In Nevada, the Republican candidates for governor and Senate never held a rally with Marchant, and they never mentioned his name in the final few months.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which is the arm of the Republican National Committee that oversees races for secretary of state, chose only to back Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state in Georgia who famously rebuffed Trump’s request to “find” him enough votes to overturn the state’s results in 2020.
“Secretary Raffensperger is a principled conservative dedicated to making it easier to vote and harder to cheat, and we congratulate him on his reelection,” Dee Duncan, the president of the RSLC, said in a statement.
Duncan has not mentioned any of the “America First” candidates in his statements or news releases since the polls closed Tuesday.