If they win, they’d serve as their states' top law enforcement officers and would have the power to use their office to tilt the outcome of presidential elections. If Trump should run again in 2024, and the outcome is close in a handful of states, the actions attorneys general are able to take could also give Trump cover to claim falsely claim victory once again.
“To the extent that election results are challenged, or that there are attempts to undermine results, it will be the state attorneys general representing the state and the results in court that perhaps matters most to protecting the will of the voters,” said Joanna Lydgate, the CEO of States United Action, a nonpartisan group that tracks the races.
Along with the governor and, in most states, the secretary of state, the state attorney general is part of a trio of elected officials who oversee, administer, defend and certify elections and election results. Election deniers are also running in many states for secretary of state and governor.
State attorneys general have the ability to launch or defend against election lawsuits — such as ones seeking to include or challenge ballots — that can ultimately affect how and which votes are or are not counted. They also provide legal guidance to election officials on how to interpret state policies governing elections and maintain prosecutorial powers for election fraud, voter intimidation and other potential election crimes.
“It really matters that your attorney general is committed to defending the vote, no matter what the outcome is,” Lydgate said.
The power of state attorneys general was on display in 2020 in a federal lawsuit — one of at least 63 filed by Trump allies in various courts — brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, seeking to overturn the presidential election results in four swing states.
Sixteen state attorneys general supported it, while the attorneys general in the four purple states at the center of the suit — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the suit, which it did.
According to States United Action, at least 15 men and women who have denied the results of the 2020 election are running to be their states’ attorney general in 14 states — nearly half of the 30 where there are contests for attorney general in this year's midterms. That includes four in the pivotal battlegrounds of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, whose 2020 results were all decided by just a few thousand votes. In all four, there are also governor and secretary of state elections this year, with election deniers running in nearly every contest.
This is what the election denying attorney general candidates in those states have said:
Conservative attorney John Gordon is challenging the incumbent attorney general, Chris Carr, in the GOP primary.
The election — along with closely watched primary contests for governor and secretary of state in the state — is on Tuesday.
Gordon, who Trump has endorsed, has built his long-shot campaign around false claims that Trump won the state in 2020. (Biden won Georgia by about 11,800 votes. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state).
Gordon, nevertheless, has vowed, if elected, to open a new investigation into election fraud in 2020 and has said he will “expose the fraud” and “will prosecute the people that are responsible for this.”
Gordon didn’t respond to questions from NBC News.
Carr, for his part, has repeatedly said there was no widespread voter fraud in the state, earning the wrath of Trump, who in his endorsement of Gordon slammed Carr for doing “absolutely nothing to stop the 2020 Presidential Election Fraud which, as facts have shown, and are showing, was rampant.”
Carr’s office didn’t respond to questions from NBC News.
State Sen. Jen Jordan, the leading Democrat in the race, slammed Gordon in an interview.
“When you have a handpicked candidate who has been chosen specifically because he’s sworn fealty to Donald Trump and has promised to do whatever he can, if and when Trump runs again, that the election results are going to go in his favor, everyone should be worried,” she said.
“At the end of the day, the attorney general’s office should not be about partisan politics, or one politician or party," Jordan said. "It’s about enforcing the law and, in this case, defending the popular vote.”
Karen Mueller, one of the three Republicans running for the chance to go up against the incumbent attorney general, Josh Kaul, a Democrat, claims Joe Biden didn’t win the state in 2020. The other two attended a rally where a prominent right-wing militia that sought to overturn the election was present.
Mueller, an attorney who has vowed to investigate doctors who won’t prescribe the animal-deworming medication ivermectin to treat Covid-19 patients, was part of an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn the 2020 presidential results in Wisconsin.
In a January memo written on behalf of the Amos Center for Justice and Liberty, a conservative legal organization she founded, Mueller alleged a broad conspiracy in Wisconsin that included “wide-spread election fraud” that was in part the product of measures taken by the Obama administration and with the help of grant money provided by Mark Zuckerberg.
Her campaign website lists “election violations and fraud” as a central tenet of her platform, demanding that “the 2020 presidential election results must be decertified to restore the integrity and transparency of Wisconsin’s future elections.”
Biden beat Trump in Wisconsin by 20,600 votes. There is no evidence of widespread election fraud in the state, and claims to the contrary have been repeatedly dismissed by courts and the state’s bipartisan election commission.
Mueller didn’t respond to questions from NBC News.
Kaul’s office repeatedly defended the results of the 2020 election in Wisconsin in that lawsuit, and others.
“A different attorney general who is not committed to protecting the will of the voters could have all sorts of negative effects on the future of democracy,” Kaul said in an interview. “We need an AG who defends the will of the voters, not who attempts to undermine them.”
While Adam Jarchow and Eric Toney, the two other Republican attorney general candidates, haven’t denied the results of the 2020 election, both spoke at a rally where a flag of the Three Percenters — a right-wing militia group connected to the Jan. 6 insurrection — was prominently featured. Members of the group have been charged with conspiracy in the attack on the Capitol.
Jarchow, a former state representative, didn’t respond to questions about the 2020 election. Toney, the Fond du Lac County district attorney, also didn’t respond to questions, though he told the Wisconsin Examiner in January that he does not support the group and didn’t know the flag was on display at the event.
Attorney Matthew DePerno — who state Republicans have already endorsed as their nominee in the attorney general race to take on Democratic incumbent Dana Nessel — has repeatedly espoused debunked conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election results in Michigan, winning him the endorsement of former President Donald Trump in his primary race.
DePerno filed a suit alleging sweeping voter fraud in the state, citing a 2020 election night error in Antrim County that showed Joe Biden winning the reliably red county. The problem was quickly fixed. A state trial court judge and a state appeals court judge both dismissed the suit.
DePerno has also argued that any Michigan resident should have the right to demand a vote audit of the state’s election results.
Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, a result upheld by multiple lawsuits and audits.
DePerno didn’t respond to questions from NBC News.
Nessel said in an interview that “it’s absolutely essential that you have both an attorney general and a secretary of state in these really essential swing states that believe in democracy and in following the law.”
“It’s not my job as the state’s top lawyer to pick winners in the presidential election," Nessel said.
“I don’t care if it’s a Democrat running, or Donald Trump. If he gets the most votes in the state of Michigan, he gets our electoral votes, whether I like it or not,” she added. “That’s the job, to make sure the will of the people is heard and that the election is properly certified.”
Of the six Republicans running for the party’s attorney general nomination (incumbent Republican Mark Brnovich is running for Senate), at least two have claimed falsely that Trump won the 2020 election in the state.
“The media’s hypocrisy is on full display as they point fingers at those of us who are presenting evidence of a rigged 2020 election,” candidate Abraham Hamadeh, a former prosecutor, told NBC news in a statement.
Biden beat Trump in Arizona by about 10,500 votes, and none of the many lawsuits or audits over the results in the state uncovered any widespread fraud.
Meanwhile, attorney Rodney Glassman told the Arizona Republic last week that Biden didn’t win the election in the state and that Trump “was cheated out of Arizona’s electoral votes.” Glassman didn’t respond to questions.
At a debate last week, two other GOP candidates in the race, attorneys Tiffany Shedd and Dawn Grove, joined Hamadeh and Glassman in saying they would not have certified the 2020 election results in the state if they'd been in a position to do so.
Shedd, Grove and the other two Republican candidates in the race — Andrew Gould and Lacy Cooper — didn’t respond to questions.
Kris Mayes, the only Democrat in the race, called it “unfortunate” that “we have so many Republican candidates who have said they will attempt to undermine the faith of our voters in our election system.”
Mayes vowed, if she wins, to “defend the result of elections here in Arizona, regardless of who wins.”