Nov 9, 2021 - Politics
The questions GOP candidates refuse to answer ahead of 2022 election
Illustration of three elephants, one covering its eyes, one covering its ears and one covering its mouth.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

One year from the 2022 elections, Republicans in Colorado are feeling the midterm momentum, buoyed by historical results favoring the party out of power and the GOP’s win in the Virginia governor's race.

Driving the news: First, though, Republican candidates need to find answers to a handful of tricky questions about former President Donald Trump, the legitimacy of the 2020 election and how to look at the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The topics are quickly emerging as divergent litmus tests for party primary voters who want to see unyielding loyalty to Trump and independents who disfavor the ex-president.

State of play: A number of Republicans competing in high-profile races are outright refusing to discuss these issues, even as experts say there's no sidestepping them.

  • Former Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who is now running for governor, wouldn't say whether President Biden won the 2020 election.
  • Justin Olson, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona, wouldn't either.

What they're saying: Dick Wadhams, a GOP consultant, said the questions "are very important. They are important because Donald Trump is making them important."

  • David Flaherty, a prominent pollster who has worked for Republicans, added: "It matters to the general election voter, but it also matters to the Republican primary voter. It's a very tight position to be in in Colorado."

Zoom in: In Colorado, U.S. Senate contender Ron Hanks, who crossed the police line at the U.S Capitol on Jan. 6, is making election conspiracy a primary part of his campaign. But other Republicans are less vocal.

  • Colorado gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl, the only statewide elected Republican, is one of the candidates trying to avoid questions.

In Ganahl's campaign launch and a recent interview with Axios, she refused to say whether she supports Trump. "I'd rather look forward than backward," she told us, adding, "Donald Trump is not running; I am."

  • She declined to say multiple times whether President Biden was legitimately elected or whether fraud colored the 2020 election because it was a "divisive question."
  • And she would not specify whether she considered the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol an "insurrection," or discuss the events at length.
  • She offered: "It was a bad day for our country."

Of note: One other issue that Ganahl sidestepped was the Texas abortion law that bans the procedure after six weeks.

  • She labeled herself "pro-life" but would not say whether she supports a ban on abortion in Colorado, and acknowledged she hadn't looked at the Texas law.

Between the lines: In Virginia, Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin walked a narrow path that spoke to his base but avoided being vocal on these lightning rod issues.

  • At a campaign rally, one of his prominent supporters talked about election fraud, but Youngkin dodged the topic.

Yes, but: Democrats in Colorado say they won't let voters go uninformed in next year's election.

  • "Republicans are splintered on this stuff, and there's no fixing it," said Democratic strategist Steve Welchert. "The disease runs deep, and it's starting to get to the marrow of the bone."
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