Glenn Youngkin, the Republican private equity executive locked in a tight Virginia governor’s race with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), has said during debates that he would “absolutely” accept the results of Tuesday’s election were he to lose.
But some of Youngkin’s most ardent right-wing allies and supporters do not feel the same way. In the week leading up to Election Day, several of Youngkin’s prominent right-wing supporters ― including some who’ve acted as surrogates for his campaign ― have set the stage to claim that Democrats fraudulently stole the election.
With polls tightening in recent weeks, the Virginia governor’s race is a toss-up that either candidate could win, and the narrative in Virginia and nationally suggests that Youngkin has momentum and enthusiasm on his side heading into the race’s final 24 hours.
In that environment, Youngkin’s right-wing allies have once again primed conservative voters to believe that there’s no way a Democratic candidate like McAuliffe could prevail unless there is fraud, even in a state where Democrats have won every statewide election since 2009, including two governor’s races, four presidential contests, and multiple races for lieutenant governor and attorney general. Even if Youngkin were to lose and concede the race to McAuliffe, it seems inevitable that some of his most influential backers will refuse to accept defeat.
The loudest of those claims have come from Amanda Chase, the Virginia state senator who faced formal censure earlier this year after she attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that precipitated the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and who has repeatedly lied about widespread election fraud in the 2020 contest former President Donald Trump lost.
Chase has used radio interviews, Facebook and other platforms to spread elaborate and convoluted conspiracy theories about Democratic plots to “steal” the Virginia election, the biggest contest to take place since Trump’s loss last year.
But she is not alone: At a recent campaign event, country music singer John Rich insisted that a Youngkin loss would be the result of fraud while sharing a stage with the GOP gubernatorial candidate. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and conservative radio host John Fredericks have suggested that Democrats are attempting to steal the race. And Trump himself has spread the same old lies.
“I am not a believer in the integrity of Virginia’s elections,” Trump said in a statement Monday morning, adding that “lots of bad things went on, are going on.”
The blatant lies in the days ahead of the Virginia race highlight the lingering dangers posed by steadfast Republican refusals to tell the truth about the 2020 election: that Trump lost a fair and legitimate contest, and that voter fraud is a rare occurrence that has not marred any recent American election. Thanks to Trump and the GOP’s repetition of such falsehoods, nearly half of Republican voters believe that Trump won the 2020 race, and are set to follow their party in treating any Democratic victory as inherently illegitimate.
Youngkin in May said that Biden won the election, and reiterated at a gubernatorial debate that there “wasn’t material fraud” during the 2020 contest. But he has refused to refute conspiracy theories spread by voters at his events or his own surrogates. He has insisted that “election integrity” is the most important issue in the race rather than a code word for GOP conspiracy theories and election lies. And he has continued campaigning alongside lawmakers like Chase, who transitioned seamlessly from claiming that last year’s election was stolen to saying that this one will be.
The late polling swing toward Youngkin has only fueled these efforts.
“Everything’s moving in Youngkin’s direction and the Republicans but a lot of people fear that this is going to get stolen,” Fredericks, the conservative radio host whose show has turned into a platform for incessant conspiracy-mongering over the final weeks of the election, said on his Oct. 27 show. “They’re gonna try and cheat. We’ve got all kinds of irregularities now going on in Fairfax County.”
Fairfax County, an affluent northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., that has swung toward Democrats in recent elections, has emerged as the focal point of right-wing conspiracies. Fredericks has suggested that Fairfax is an epicenter of fraud multiple times on his show since Oct. 27, while bringing on prominent guests to repeat the baseless claims.
Retired Col. John Mills, a former Trump administration official, suggested during one appearance that Democrats and election officials are working in concert to commit absentee ballot fraud in the county.
“Fairfax is the Fulton County, Georgia, of Virginia,” Mills said on the Oct. 27 show, referring to the largest county in Georgia that was key to President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state. Republicans have baselessly asserted that widespread mail-in ballot fraud occurred there in 2020, and have used those claims to justify a partisan attempt to take over the Fulton County election board.
No such fraud actually took place in Fulton County or anywhere else in Georgia, a fact election reviews, hand recounts and the state’s Republican governor and secretary state have repeatedly confirmed. The basis for Fredericks’ and Mills’ claims, meanwhile, is a lawsuit that claims Fairfax County elections officials improperly accepted absentee ballots during the early voting period.
A judge dismissed the suit on Friday.
On Oct. 28, Fredericks used his show to claim, without evidence, that election officials in other counties have helped Democrats “go into nursing homes and extract votes from people that were incapacitated,” a baseless assertion that mimics Trump and other conservatives’ claims that Democrats mined votes from dead and otherwise incapacitated voters last year. (That, too, is a lie.)
Bannon, who has called Virginia an important test of the strength of Trump’s Make America Great Again movement, used Fredericks’ Oct. 29 show to insist that Democrats are “going to steal” the election, because “they can’t win elections they don’t steal.”
During that appearance, Bannon also reiterated the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and spread conspiracy theories about supposed fraud in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin, all states where regular and routine audits, recounts and reviews of last year’s contest have found zero evidence of fraud and confirmed Trump’s defeat.
Chase has appeared at events with Youngkin. She, Bannon and Fredericks attended a rally alongside GOP lieutenant governor candidate Winsome Sears last month where attendees pledged allegiance to a flag carried at the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Youngkin condemned that episode, and has at times tried to maintain arm’s-length distance from the most explicitly conspiratorial assertions made by surrogates like Chase. But his campaign has not denounced them even when given the chance, and at times, his supporters have asserted that Democrats are engaged in election thievery while on stage with Youngkin himself.
Rich, the country music singer, claimed at an Oct. 27 get-out-the-vote rally in Blacksburg, Virginia, that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) won his September recall race through fraud, despite a margin of victory of more than 3 million votes. He also falsely claimed former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams (D), who has campaigned for McAuliffe in Virginia, was responsible for a nationwide Democratic election theft scheme.
“I almost bought an apartment in Virginia just so I could vote for him, you know, do it like Stacey Abrams does,” Rich said at the event. “Why the hell is Stacey Abrams in Virginia right now? What is that? What is she doing up here?”
“We know what she’s doing up here,” Rich continued. “Do you really think California voted for Gavin Newsom again? I don’t think so. Stacey Abrams was probably out there too.”
Youngkin previously responded to Chase’s election conspiracies by saying he hasn’t spoken to her about the issues she has raised.
“I haven’t heard from the senator on this one, so I don’t know,” he told reporters on Oct. 28. “But let me just tell you what we’re doing because I believe this election will be fair, I believe this election will come out big time in our favor. We’ve got huge amounts of momentum and at the end of the day we’re going to get a lot more votes than the other guy.”
Youngkin said his campaign has run a “great election operations system” and that he believed votes “will be counted fairly.”
He has also previously said he would respect the results of the race, even if McAuliffe wins.
“I believe we’re going to get 50%-plus in order to win,” Youngkin told a voter who asked him to promise not to concede at an August campaign event, according to the Virginia Scope. “I can’t promise you I won’t concede, because I’m going to actually do what’s best for Virginia. … If I end up finding myself in a circumstance where we’ve lost but what’s right for Virginia is for me to concede, I’ll concede.”