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Republican candidate Corey Stewart (left) lost the Virginia Senate race but incumbent Rep. Steve King (R-IA, center) and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL, right) walked away with victories on election night.
Christina Animashaun/Vox

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How white supremacist candidates fared in 2018

Self-described Nazis did poorly, but candidates linked to white supremacist groups did quite well.

In 2018, an astonishing number of self-described white nationalists (including a former president of the American Nazi Party) ran for local, state, and national office in states from California to North Carolina — with the vast majority running as Republicans.

Most of these candidates, like Paul Nehlen and Patrick Little, fell far short of getting to the general election. (Little, for one, decided to refocus on a nationwide campaign of anti-Semitism, including chanting “expel the Jew” outside the White House.) But many far-right candidates either with ties to white supremacists or with white supremacist views of their own made it to the general election.

The good news? The most virulent white nationalists running in 2018 — from Holocaust deniers to one candidate who believes a New York children’s hospital was making kids sick on purpose — lost.

But several candidates with ties to white nationalists — including Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who faced mounting pressure for his past comments and links to far-right groups — won their races.

Self-described white supremacists and Nazis

Loser: Arthur Jones, Illinois’s Third Congressional District

Arthur Jones, a Holocaust denier and former leader of the American Nazi Party, got on the ballot by going door to door to gather signatures without mentioning his long ties to neo-Nazi groups or his own anti-Semitic views. (For example, his campaign website features a lengthy essay on “The Holocaust Racket” and photographs of him protesting outside an event held in honor of a Holocaust survivor.)

The Illinois GOP disavowed his campaign, and national Republican figures like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) even urged voters to choose the Democrat over the avowed anti-Semite.

Jones lost on November 6, finishing with roughly 26 percent of the vote, behind Democratic incumbent Dan Lipinski, but still receiving more than 56,000 votes. As I wrote in July, Jones’s candidacy was more a GOP failure than indicative of the viewpoints of Illinois voters:

State Assembly member David McSweeney, a Republican, spoke with me about what Jones’s run could mean for his party. “The guy is a complete jerk and a nutcase,” he said, adding, “it’s politically harmful to have a jerk and a nutcase like this associated with the party.”

McSweeney is mad at Republicans in Illinois for failing to take Jones seriously at every turn: They said nothing as he gathered signatures to run, they didn’t challenge the signatures when he submitted them, and they didn’t try to run an alternative write-in candidate in the primary. Then, just two weeks ago, they missed an important filing deadline to get a third-party candidate on the ballot.

Loser: Russell Walker, North Carolina state House District 48

Russell Walker, who ran to represent District 48 in the North Carolina House of Representatives, argues on his personal website that “God is a racist and white supremacist”; he was disavowed by both the Hoke County Republican Party and the North Carolina GOP.

In response to his disavowal by the Hoke County GOP, Walker left County Party Chair Hal Nunn a threatening voicemail saying he would force foreclosure on Nunn’s home and cars. (“I’ll put liens on your house, every goddamn car I can find and everything else.”) He also said, “You don’t know where Jews come from,” and was ultimately served with a no-trespassing notice by the North Carolina Republican Party.

On Tuesday, Walker lost his race to Democratic candidate Garland Pierce, an African-American Baptist minister.

Loser: John Fitzgerald, California’s 11th Congressional District

John Fitzgerald ran for Congress for one specific reason: to expose the Holocaust as, in his words, “a fabricated lie.” In appearances on podcasts with avowed neo-Nazis, Fitzgerald has argued that the 9/11 attacks were part of a Jewish plot to force worldwide regime change. (Both of these things are obviously not true.)

He ran for office twice previously, doing so as a Democrat because he was “just trying to get in the system.” And on his campaign website, he wrote that diversity was “NOT a natural or organic evolution for the betterment of society, but a well-financed, orchestrated and premeditated AGENDA to eventually destroy all ethnic groups with the exception of the most powerful and wealthy of JEWS who are purposely promoting it for their own benefit!”

Despite losing support from the California GOP for his extreme anti-Semitism, he finished second in June’s top-two primary to advance to the general election. He lost on Tuesday, with 29 percent of the vote, to Democratic candidate Mark DeSaulnier — but still received more than 43,000 votes.

Loser: Steve West, Missouri state House District 15

After Steve West won the Republican primary for the Clay County seat in the Missouri House, the Kansas City Star revealed he had a lengthy history of making anti-Semitic and homophobic comments, alongside espousing wild conspiracy theories, on his radio show, including arguing in January 2017, “Looking back in history, unfortunately, Hitler was right about what was taking place in Germany. And who was behind it.”

West also believes — incorrectly, of course — that St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in New York is making children sick on purpose (“through vaccines”), “all for a little PR for the Jewish Cabal,” and that conservative Jewish people are “grooming America, just as a pedophile grooms his victim.” Two of West’s three children publicly urged voters not to pick their father, calling him a “fanatic,” and the Missouri GOP condemned him.

On Tuesday, West lost to the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Jon Carpenter.

Candidates with ties to white nationalists

Loser: Seth Grossman, New Jersey’s Second Congressional District

Seth Grossman, a heavily pro-Trump former Atlantic City Council member who is running in a district Donald Trump won in 2016, lost support from the House Republican fundraising apparatus after his past history of racist comments emerged.

This included his decision to share an article from a racist website on Facebook arguing that black Americans “cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well” as white Americans and “are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.” Grossman commented on the article: “Oy vay! What so many people, black, white and Hispanic, whisper to me privately but never dare say out loud publicly.”

He also stated in an April video, “The whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American,” and posted racist remarks on Facebook like, “Blacks were not enslaved by whites. They were enslaved by other blacks and then sold to whites. … I do know of many Africans who wish their ancestors had been taken to America as slaves.”

On Tuesday, Grossman lost his race against Democrat Jeff Van Drew.

Loser: Corey Stewart, US Senate for Virginia

Corey Stewart has reportedly been attempting to moderate his Senate campaign in recent weeks, but he has long ties to both the alt-right and white supremacist neo-Confederates in Virginia. In 2016 he claimed, “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” Though Stewart is a native of Minnesota, he relied extensively on Southern motifs in his campaign, including an all-out embrace of the Confederacy. As I wrote earlier this year:

With Trump has come an all-out embrace of neo-Confederate viewpoints and the alt-right. In 2017, he attended the “Old South Ball” in Danville, Virginia, and gave a speech saying Virginia was the state of “Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson,” adding that the Confederate flag “is our heritage, it’s what makes us Virginia, and if you take that away, we lose our identity.”

At another campaign event in 2017 hosted by an avowed secessionist who attended the disastrous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Stewart again defended the Confederacy, saying, “Virginians, we think for ourselves. ... And if the established order is wrong, we rebel. We did that in the Revolution, we did it in the Civil War, and we’re doing it today. We’re doing it today because they’re trying to rob us of everything that we hold dear: our history, our heritage, our culture.”

Stewart also had high praise for Jason Kessler, the organizer behind the alt-right Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, and DC. He’s appeared with Kessler at multiple events and received Kessler’s endorsement for his failed gubernatorial bid in 2017.

And he’s endorsed anti-Semitic House candidate Paul Nehlen, whom Stewart described in 2017 as a “hero” for challenging House Speaker Paul Ryan. Stewart also paid to use Nehlen’s email list and hired a former Nehlen spokesperson to consult on his campaign.

On Tuesday, Stewart lost to Democratic incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine.

Winner: Steve King, Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District

Steve King has a long history of nativism and racism: He’s endorsed a white nationalist for mayor of Toronto, conducted interviews with alt-right outlets, attended events alongside far-right European groups with Nazi ties, and even kept a small version of the Confederate flag on his desk for years. (Iowa was, of course, a Union state during the Civil War.)

As I wrote in June, King’s all-out embrace of white nationalism has separated him from other conservative Republicans:

In 2016 King filed an amendment to block efforts to place the image of abolitionist luminary Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill: He criticized “liberal activism on the part of the president that’s trying to identify people by categories, and he’s divided us on the lines of groups.”

And in a 2017 interview, speaking about upcoming demographic changes whereby nonwhite Americans would surpass white Americans in population, he said, “I will predict that Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.” (During that same interview, he recommended right-wight strategist Steve Bannon’s favorite and extremely racist book, The Camp of the Saints.)

King’s extremism has had real ramifications for the Congress member: He lost major corporate support following the Tree of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, and Rep. Steve Stivers, the head of the House Republican delegation’s official campaign arm, condemned his tweets and statements on October 30.

But on Tuesday, King beat his Democratic challenger, J.D. Scholten, by 3 percentage points.

Winner: Steve Scalise, Louisiana’s First Congressional District

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise once reportedly described himself as “David Duke without the baggage,” referencing the former Ku Klux Klan leader. And in 2002, Scalise spoke at a gathering for white supremacists known as EURO, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, originally founded by Duke.

Scalise said he didn’t know the event’s background, to which one conservative commentator responded, “How do you show up at a David Duke event and not know what it is?” But he eventually apologized for speaking at the gathering. Though some conservatives called for him to step down from the role of majority whip, he maintained support from then-Speaker of the House John Boehner and other Republicans.

On Tuesday, Scalise won his reelection campaign, defeating Democrat Lee Ann Dugas by nearly 140,000 votes.

Winner: Ron DeSantis, Florida gubernatorial race

Ron DeSantis, who ran against Democrat Andrew Gillum for the role of governor of Florida, leaned hard on his pro-Trump bona fides during the campaign. But he also had a personal history of ties to conservative pundits with white nationalist histories, and received support from white nationalist groups.

As my colleague Andrew Prokop wrote in October:

DeSantis did talk at a conference held by a man with white nationalist views. DeSantis did take money from someone who called President Barack Obama a racist slur (although he condemned the comments and said he will no longer take money from the contributor). He has been reportedly supported by a white supremacist group from Idaho through racist robocalls (which the DeSantis campaign, for its part, called “appalling and disgusting”).

And the first controversy of the campaign came when DeSantis said voters shouldn’t “monkey this [election] up” with a vote for Gillum, though DeSantis denied any racial intent and claimed he was just using a common phrase.

On Tuesday, DeSantis defeated Gillum.

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