A parallel reality opened up on November 3, 2020, and tens of millions of Americans fell into it. For the past three and a half years, while the rest of us have been attending to the necessities of our daily lives, those in the parallel dimension have been living through an authoritarian nightmare in which American democracy has been supplanted by the rule of an illegitimate impostor president. In their reality, Donald J. Trump won a second term that day – securing victories in both the popular vote and the Electoral College tally – only to have it yanked away from him by a cabal of Democrats, global elites, and voting machine companies. In their reality, this is possibly the greatest crime ever committed; it has suspended their liberty, forced them to live under an unelected regime, and left them in doubt as to whether this nation, conceived in liberty, brought forth by our fathers upon this continent, will last.

This is the alternate reality of the group of people who we have collectively shorthanded as “election deniers.” Since that November day almost four years ago, countless millions have lived in that reality, if only within their heads, their hearts, and their Facebook groups. They have broken from our shared reality in an important way, and most show no signs of returning. Worse still, the group living in this alternate reality has not dwindled in the past three and a half years – it has grown. For the rest of the population, this inexorable descent of millions of our countrymen into an alternate reality has gone largely unnoticed. For Republican candidates, strategists, and elected officials, that descent is a daily reality.

Most Republican voters live in the alternate reality. Polling since the 2020 presidential election has shown that about 70% of Republicans believe that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. And they don’t believe this in some vibey, ephemeral way; they have developed intricate subplots to make the alternate reality inside their heads fit more snugly with the concrete reality around them. For instance, Republican voters are now less likely to condemn the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol than they were in 2021, because many of them now wrongly believe the insurrection to have been “instigated by law enforcement to suppress political dissent,” per a Washington Post report

And it is not just Republican voters who live in the alternate reality. Both Donald Trump and the Republican Party itself have decreed the alternate reality to be the only acceptable reality. The former president, who maintains an 80%+ approval rating among Republicans, has largely declined to endorse any candidates who will not profess a belief that the 2020 election was stolen from him. And the Republican National Committee, now run by Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara, sent out a robocall earlier this month claiming that there was “massive fraud” in the 2020 election.

I describe this set of beliefs as an “alternate reality” because it is the only term that fits. Because, to be clear, the 2020 election was not stolen. And this is not a difference of opinion. It’s not even a matter of opinion. Saying that the 2020 election was stolen is not an opinion, it is a competing fact claim. Nor is it a situation where two well-meaning, good faith groups have dutifully analyzed the evidence and arrived at different conclusions. Every attempt to to find evidence to substantiate the claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump by large-scale election fraud or other underhanded means has come up empty; even the ones led by Republicans. And it is not only state-led investigations which have failed to see any evidence for the claim that the election was stolen, it’s the courts. Trump and his allies filed more than 60 lawsuits pushing their claim, virtually all of which have been withdrawn or dismissed. The belief that the election was stolen from Trump is not only unsubstantiated, it is debunked. Except, of course, within the alternate reality, where the overwhelming majority of Republican voters still live.

Last week, I wrote about the possible aftermath of this year’s presidential election, and how, if Joe Biden were to win reelection while Republicans maintained control of the House of Representatives, there is a high likelihood that the House would throw the election to Trump in a 12th Amendment vote of state delegations. One of the points I attempted to make in that column was that the possibility of a split result in this year’s election makes it crucial for Democrats, liberals, and progressives to support – and possibly even vote for – sensible, democracy-defending Republicans in GOP congressional primaries this summer. To determine who those sensible democracy defenders might be, I attempted to collect a full dataset of where every Republican congressional candidate in Colorado stands on the issue of the 2020 election. Of who lives in the alternate reality and who, despite many and varied policy differences on virtually every other issue, lives here in the prime reality with the rest of us. 

And that’s when I found that no such dataset exists. Many Republican candidates running for congress this year, both nationally and here in Colorado, appear to have made it to within about six months of the next presidential election without ever having been asked whether they accept the results of the last one. To those of us doing chores and paying rent in reality, it might seem like a fringe issue. To the Republican voters these candidates are trying to court, though, it is a major issue. It is a reality-defining issue. And yet, many candidates have never been asked about it.

So I decided to ask them. 

After publishing last week’s column, I reached out to every active Republican congressional candidate in the state of Colorado – about 30 of them, plus or minus the few who failed to meet ballot access deadlines over the past week – and asked each of them the same question: “​​do you believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, either by voter fraud or other means?”

To encourage their participation, I wanted to be methodologically transparent. I told each campaign that I was asking the same question of every other campaign, gave each of them the same deadline for answers (noon on Wednesday of this week), and told them that I would file every candidate into one of three categories: yes, no, or won’t say.

Much to my delight and surprise, many candidates replied to me. Some gave short answers, while others provided long trains of reasoning. Unsurprisingly, around half of the candidates declined to respond to me. To fill the gaps left by those who declined to respond, I researched each of them to find out if they had ever provided an answer to the question before. I watched candidate forums, I read public candidate survey answers, and I trolled through candidate websites for any reference to the 2020 election. After doing that, combined with the responses to my survey, I was able to determine a position for 16 of the 26 current Republican congressional candidates in Colorado. The rest of those who declined to respond have been filed in the “won’t say” category.

I admit to being surprised by some of the responses I received. Rep. Mike Lynch, for instance – who was the top-ranking Republican in the Colorado House of Representatives until earlier this year – gave me a quite emphatic “no,” the election was not stolen. I do not know Lynch (running for CD-4) well, but confess that I had passively assumed that rising to leadership in that particular caucus might require one’s screws to be at least a bit loose. Others who provided a simple “no” were Peter Yu, running in CD-4 out on the plains, and John Fabbricatore, who is challenging Congressman Jason Crow in the Aurora-based CD-6. 

Several of the candidates who replied to me said that they do not believe that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, but have other concerns about impropriety regarding how certain aspects of it unfolded. Two of them – Curtis McCrackin, who is running in mountainous CD-3, and Valdamar Archuleta, the sole challenger to Denver’s long-time incumbent Congresswoman Diana Degette – mentioned the “Twitter files,” which purported to substantiate right-wing conspiracies about social media platforms censoring conservative views. McCrackin told me that he does “not believe the election was stolen through voter fraud” but believes “there has been tremendous corruption by the justice department, the FBI and the CIA regarding their conversations with Twitter and the promotion of the Steele dossier.” Archuleta mentioned the controversial TIME Magazine article from February 2021 titled “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the Election,” and opined that some of the tactics described in the article cross ethical lines, but were “probably not illegal.” He feels, however, that some of the revelations from the Twitter Files indicate that those tactics “​​may have crossed the line into illegal territory,” but concedes that this suspicion has not actually been confirmed.

Russ Andrews, running in CD-3, also told me that he does not believe the election was stolen. He does think, though, that Trump was disadvantaged by the wave of changes states made to their election systems in the leadup to that election to accommodate Covid-safe voting. “He also lost due to his bombastic personality and because we have a HIGHLY partisan, corrupt media,” Andrews told me.

Others in the “no, the election was not stolen from Donald Trump” category put themselves there with their answers in candidate forums, as is the case with CD-4 candidates like Richard Holtorf, Deborah Flora, and Jerry Sonnenberg – though Sonnenberg gets into the category by the skin of his teeth, having told the audience at a forum that “we know Democrats cheat,” before mumbling that he has not seen evidence to persuade him that the 2020 election was stolen.

Then there are the “won’t says,” those who have declined to take a position on the issue one way or another. While my gut instinct is that “won’t say” is still a better answer than “yes,” it also feels like a more cowardly and craven one. Because, if we are being honest, those in the “won’t say” category are not without a view on the issue – they are just afraid to voice one, afraid to turn off one set of voters or the other. 

Sergei Matveyuk, who is challenging Congresswoman Brittany Pettersen in Lakewood-anchored CD-7, was the only person to file himself into the “won’t say” category. “As you may know I don’t have a primary opponent so I won’t be participating,” Matveyuk told me. The others in the “won’t say” category are there because they did not respond to my inquiry, and I could not locate any other record of them answering the question.

And then we have the deniers, the candidates who either live in the alternate reality or are attempting to fool voters who do. None of them responded to me personally; each of them has made their position on the question known publicly and frequently.

Lauren Boebert, now running in CD-4, built her brand on election denial. “There is no way that anyone can call the 2020 presidential election fair,” Boebert declared in November 2020, after her election but before she was sworn-in as a member of congress. Nothing about her position has changed substantially in the intervening years. When asked at a candidate forum in January whether the election was stolen from Donald Trump, Boebert raised her hand in agreement, adding, “There was election interference for sure.”

Ron Hanks, running to replace Boebert in CD-3, was quite literally at the January 6th insurrection. Hanks not only believes that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump by voter fraud and other shady deeds, he believes that Colorado Republicans have been the victim of a sophisticated voter fraud scheme going back to the 1990s. In June 2021, Hanks traveled to Arizona, where right-wing conspiracists were gathering at the site of a ballot “audit” in Maricopa County. When that audit was completed, organizers claimed that it had revealed that 300 dead people in the county had voted in the past election – only to subsequently have those claims completely debunked.

Like Boebert, Dave Williams was an early adopter of the stolen election conspiracy. Williams, the Colorado Republican Party chairman and a candidate in the Republican primary to replace Doug Lamborn in Colorado Springs’ CD-5, was part of a group of legislators who initially pointed the finger at Dominion Voting Systems in the aftermath of Trump’s 2020 loss. In a 2022 radio interview, Williams again asserted that Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate.

Trent Leisy, a candidate whose entire appeal to voters is built around his 100% loyalty to the man who he calls the “rightful President,” Donald J. Trump, is proud to proclaim his denial of the 2020 election to anyone who will listen. And Ted Harvey, a former state legislator who sat-out most of the Trump era before attempting to reintroduce himself to voters as a respectable face for the die-hard MAGA movement, has answered “yes” to the stolen election question at multiple candidate forums so far this year. Fortunately for fellow denier Boebert, who the two men were up against in CD-4, both Harvey and Leisy have now terminated their campaigns.

And now I have the thing which I set out to find last week: a dataset of where Colorado’s congressional candidates stand on the issue which has thrust millions of Republican voters into an all-consuming paranoid fantasy. It is not perfect – it remains shocking to me that so many candidates have avoided taking a position for this long, or that the rest of the news media has let them get away with it, despite the vise-like grip the question holds on the minds of so many voters — but it is usable.

The good news – and the news I genuinely did not expect when I set out to collect this data – is that the deniers are outnumbered by those who accept the results of the last presidential election. Despite the prevalence of the alternate reality among Republican voters, denialism is significantly underrepresented on the state’s Republican primary ballots this year. Twice as many candidates were willing to openly defy the false orthodoxy pushed by their party and the former President than were willing to openly embrace it.

Without knowing the position of those hovering fecklessly in the middle, though, it’s impossible to know where the true majority lies. Election-denying candidates underperformed in the 2022 midterms, doubtless leaving some Republican strategists heading into this cycle of the mind that their candidates would be better off neither affirming nor denying the results of the 2020 election. There may be some wisdom in that. If I were a Republican voter, though, I would not be satisfied with the cagey act. I would want an answer, and I would not consider voting for a candidate who was too timid to provide one.

That being said, I am definitively not a Republican voter – but someone you know might be, and they might find this information useful. In case they do, I have broken my findings down by district below. Enjoy.