Right-wing media outlets are bringing out their familiar playbook in the close gubernatorial election in New Jersey, trying to claim that mail-in votes must be fraudulent if the Democratic candidate is winning them, in light of a Republican lead among Election Day voters.
During the count on election night, Republican nominee Jack Ciattarelli seemed to be ahead for much of the evening before his lead was drastically cut when votes were reported from heavily Democratic areas. Democratic incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy then pulled ahead Wednesday morning as more late-counted votes were tallied. The race is still too close to call, but it is also widely believed that the remaining mail-in votes will lean Democratic.
But far-right outlets such as The Gateway Pundit are running with false claims that Bergen County, the state’s most populous, had already reported 100% of all votes counted before the lead was flipped late in the night from Ciattarelli to Murphy. Reading the site’s post, however, makes it clear that such online claims had come from people reading the election results on media sites — rather than the county’s own election offices — and that those sites appeared to have corrected the claim in their spreadsheets that 100% of votes had reported. (Mail-in ballots in Bergen County races have indeed reportedly favored Democrats this cycle.)
Meanwhile, The Gateway Pundit also trying to figure out the reason that Democrats seemingly decided to not steal the Virginia gubernatorial election, which Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin narrowly won. “So where were the magical votes this year? Was this omission on purpose?” the site now asks. “Was this part of a larger psyop on the American public?”
It seems that the strategy is essentially to repeat in miniature the right-wing media attacks from November 2020 — starting from election night and continuing in the days and weeks afterward — when commentators attempted to discredit the counting of mail-in ballots. Polling and surveys that year indicated that Democratic-leaning voters had become more interested in the option of voting by mail, in part as a result of the coronavirus pandemic (polls also showed that Democrats were more likely to take COVID-19 seriously than Republicans). Thus, the net effect of discrediting the mail-in ballots would have served to give legitimacy to only the early Trump leads on Election Day — which had been predicted as “red mirage.”
The renewed attacks this week began very early on election night, starting with Fox News. On the election night edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson described Murphy as a “finance creep” who had “decided to crown himself king” and “is now god of New Jersey,” before beginning to call into question the election results from the state.
“He’s up for election — that's really a formality in New Jersey, where dead people vote in large numbers,” Carlson claimed. “But what's interesting is that this guy who is a part of the Democratic machine might not be doing as well as he should in a state that's controlled by the Democratic machine.”
Carlson then brought on a special guest: New Jersey gym owner Ian Smith, who has long been celebrated by Fox News for defying public health guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, spreading conspiracy theories about the restrictions, and now encouraging vaccine refusal.
During their interview, Smith also spread conspiracy theories about “the legitimacy of our voting system” if Murphy could win.
The attacks were then taken up in a big way on the alternative right-wing channel Real America’s Voice, starting with a phone interview Wednesday morning with none other than Trump himself.
Trump spoke with RAV personality and Virginia-based talk show host John Fredericks, who has used his network of fake local news sites to push false claims of election fraud. In the interview, Trump complained about the mail-in votes still remaining to be counted in the Garden State.
“So, you know, any time you have ballots, mail-in ballots, they — basically, they're designed so the Republicans can't — just can't win, it’s a very tough thing to win,” Trump said. “There’s a different mentality.”
“Right, exactly,” replied Fredericks.
The talk then continued on former Trump adviser Steven Bannon’s show, War Room: Pandemic. Bannon is one of the most toxic figures of the Big Lie movement, having served a key role in propagating Trump’s claims in the days after the election, helping to incite the January 6 riot, and promoting a vast network of election denial.
Bannon told Fredericks, “In [New] Jersey, John Fredericks, as you know, they’re in South Amboy right now figuring out how to steal this.”
Fredericks then claimed that he had put an activist network in place to stop the purported Democratic effort to steal the Virginia gubernatorial race, also adding: “If we had that right now in New Jersey, you might get a different outcome.”
Bannon also spoke later in the program with Boris Epshteyn, with whom he has previously fantasized about the sham “audits” leading to the “decertification” of the 2020 election. Epshteyn was also priming viewers to reject the legitimacy of the mail-in votes yet again.
“Yes, the governor’s race is close — very, very close. We’ll see what happens,” said Epshteyn. “Being from New Jersey, I will tell you, I’m not going to be trusting any — any — of those vote calculations that they’re putting out there, especially if they’re from Perth Amboy, South Amboy, Camden, Atlantic County, wherever it may be.”