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Republican candidates follow Trump's lead not to concede in their races

The wave of refusals to concede from candidates in state and local races comes as Trump continues to falsely state that he won the 2020 election.
Image: Sean Parnell, Conor Lamb
Sean Parnell (left) is following Trumps lead and refusing to concede against Democrat Conor Lamb (right). Getty Images/CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — While the country has largely focused on President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential election to Joe Biden, it is also having a trickle-down effect in state and local races as defeated Republican candidates follow suit.

Trump's insistence that fraud affected the outcome of the election has fueled down-ballot defeated candidates to make the same claim and are similarly refusing to concede despite falling thousands of votes short.

In a Pennsylvania swing district outside Pittsburgh, Republican House candidate Sean Parnell has not yet conceded his race against a Democratic incumbent and is echoing Trump’s claims of voter fraud and irregularities in the battleground state.

NBC News has called the race for Lamb, who with 95 percent of the votes in, leads with 51.1 percent compared to Parnell’s 48.9 percent. Lamb leads by more than 9,000 votes.

A Purple Heart recipient who tried to unseat Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., Parnell is among a number of GOP candidates who are refusing to throw in the towel in races where a winner has been declared or they’ll clearly lose.

The wave of refusals to concede comes as Trump continues to falsely claim that mass voter fraud fueld Joe Biden’s victory, which has been projected by news outlets since Saturday when the former vice president surpassed the 270 electoral votes needed to win.

To justify not conceding, Trump has been pointing to mail-in ballots — many of which were cast by Democrats because of the ongoing pandemic — which he incorrectly describes as illegal votes.

“Many Republican voters believe that there was fraud in this election,” said Nate Persily, a Stanford University law professor who specializes in election law, about their baseless claims. “It's not a surprise right now that losing candidates have now taken a page out of the Trump playbook since it seems to be working for him, at least among Republican voters.”

In Pennsylvania’s 17th congressional district, Parnell has said that he will not give up until officials finish counting every legal vote. In the meantime, he has been promoting claims on social media, without evidence, that GOP poll watchers were barred from observing the counting of votes.

“I will continue to fight and follow the constitutional process until every legal vote is counted and all legal proceedings are resolved,” Parnell said in a statement Wednesday, a week after the race Lamb declared victory.

Several other House GOP candidates and Republicans running for other offices are making the same argument in their decisions not to concede.

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who lost to Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, did not concede for days despite trailing him by more than 79,000 votes with 98 percent of the vote in. On Friday, after this article published, McSally conceded the race.

Similarly, in Michigan, GOP Senate candidate John James has not conceded in his race against Democratic incumbent Sen. Gary Peters. With 98 percent of the vote in, James is losing by more than 87,000 votes.

“While Senator Peters is currently ahead, I have deep concerns that millions of Michiganders may have been disenfranchised by a dishonest few who cheat,” James said in a statement last week. “When this process is complete, I will of course accept the results and the will of the people, but at this time, there is enough credible evidence to warrant an investigation to ensure that elections were conducted in a transparent, legal and fair manner...Those who object likely have something to hide.”

It's not just races with slim margins.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate in Washington state who lost to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee by more than 548,000 votes — a difference of nearly 14 percentage points — is not giving up either.

Speaking to supporters Monday in a live-streamed video on Facebook, Loren Culp said, “No, I'm not conceding, not doing it… not a quitter. Don't give in. Don't back down. Love a good challenge.” He called it a “warrior mentality.”

“I want every vote to count, I want every legal vote to count and every legal voter to have their say. That's why you don't concede until all those votes are counted,” he said.

It won’t be long until vote tallies across the country are finalized — all states will certify their results within the next few weeks, with the final state, California, certifying its results on December 11.

Experts say there are no practical or legal ramifications to candidates deciding not to concede in an election — it’s merely a formality. They do, however, warn that there are other consequences.

“I think the biggest ramification is that it sows distrust in elections. And there is going to be now a significant percentage that believe you can't trust an election anytime a Republican loses because it has been stolen,” said Matthew Miller, an MSNBC analyst who served in the Justice Department under President Obama.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week found that 70 percent of Republicans say the 2020 election was not free and fair and 63 percent of them distrust the U.S. election system. More than three-quarters of Democrats, by contrast, trust the system.

Another impact, Miller predicted, will be that the false claims of fraud by GOP officials will fuel legislative efforts to pass more restrictive voting laws.

“Republicans will use these made up claims of election fraud to justify further restrictions on voting,” he said. “You will see Republicans in the state legislatures do what they've already been doing around the country which is to try and make it harder for people to vote.”

Miller said it’s not surprising to see so many Republicans not surrendering in their races.

“It's sort of what's been happening for four years, which is every bad idea that Trump has pretty quickly filters out to the rest of the party and gets turned into Republican dogma.”