Updated Nov 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Dem campaigns sound alarm about "red mirage" redux

Illustration of an elephant with ballot elements that are distorted and wavy behind it

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Democrats running the party's national campaign arm held a private call with allies and stakeholders Monday night to discuss “urgent messaging” if a flurry of GOP candidates claim victory prematurely, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: In 2020, day-of returns in key states appeared to favor Republicans while it took days to count the mail-in ballots that helped put Democrats over the top. The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the emergence of GOP candidates declining to say they'll accept election results if they lose, is stirring concerns about misinformation.

  • The Democratic National Committee, Democratic Governors Association (DGA), the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC), and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) convened an election-eve call with party allies about these concerns and to lay out the mechanics and timeframes for tabulating results in different states. Individual campaigns went public with similar approaches.
  • As Axios has reported, more than 200 election deniers — candidates promoting baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Trump — are on the ballot around the U.S.

Between the lines: It's also possible Democrats could lose control of one or both chambers of Congress even after all mail-in ballots are counted. Either way, these stakeholders say it's essential that the public understands that it could be days or weeks until the final results are known.

What we're watching: A spokesman for Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) said in a release that "we can expect a premature victory speech on Election Night" from GOP rival Jim Bognet in that House race.

  • Bognet spokeswoman Kate Constantini shot back with a statement saying that “Matt Cartwright is so scared about losing his election tomorrow night he’s already pushing excuses before the polls even open" and that "we look forward to seeing Jim Bognet win in a fair and legal election..."

In Pennsylvania's open Senate race, Democrat John Fetterman, running against Mehmet Oz, released a memo on Monday saying Republicans "are already laying the groundwork to potentially spread false conspiracy theories about the likely 'red mirage' of ballot processing in Pennsylvania."

  • Fetterman's campaign manager Brendan McPhillips said in the memo that Democrats should "buckle up for a long week." Oz's campaign did not respond to a request for comment, though his campaign has previously said he will accept the results of the election.

In Nevada, an outside group aligned with Democrats released a memo on Saturday warning that "these same Republicans who spread the Big Lie may try to use the same playbook, and spread misinformation about remaining ballots" on Nov. 8.

In Michigan, several Democratic House campaigns told Axios they are preparing how to communicate if there's a red-to-blue shift in returns this week. “We are prepared for every scenario," said Mitchell Rivard, a spokesperson for Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.).

In Georgia, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams' "official leadership committee" hosted a call with reporters Monday that also addressed the issue.

  • According to an invite obtained by Axios, an off-the-record portion was planned "to review best practices for responsibly reporting on possible threats and disinformation" and how the state's new voting law (SB 202) "will impact the tabulation and certification of results."

In Arizona, Democrat Katie Hobbs' campaign for governor held an off-record call with key political reporters to answer questions about projected timeline and process for final votes to be tallied. 

  • Hobbs' GOP rival Kari Lake routinely side-steps questions about whether she'll accept the result, telling CNN in an interview last month: "I’m going to win the election, and I will accept that result.”
  • In Wisconsin, the state Democratic Party held an off-record call with key surrogates and partners to talk through election night timing and process. 

Flashback: Trump used voters' confusion around the 2020 tabulation process to falsely claim victory on election night before mail-in ballots were fully counted. Joe Biden's victory was established days later.

  • Trump also publicly encouraged Oz to prematurely declare victory after he'd finished one-fifth of a percentage point ahead of rival Republican Dave McCormick in Pennsylvania's May primary for U.S. Senate.

What's next: "We may not know all the winners of elections for a few days," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a briefing Monday in which she discussed the mechanics of counting mail-in ballots

  • "It takes time to count all legitimate ballots in a legal and orderly manner," she said. "That's how this is supposed to work."
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