SEATTLE – Loren Culp lost Washington’s gubernatorial race by more than 545,000 votes, but he’s not conceding – and said he’s not going away.
Culp, the Republican who took 43% of the statewide vote against Gov. Jay Inslee, has taken a page from President Donald Trump’s playbook by attempting to sow doubts about the election results and lobbing unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
In recent days, he and his campaign manager, Chris Gergen, also have turned their anger on top Washington Republicans, including Secretary of State Kim Wyman and state House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox.
The post-election moves suggest an effort by Culp to stay relevant and form a political organization to push the state Republican Party further toward his brand of angry populism.
Culp, in online video chats with supporters, has attacked Wyman for criticizing Trump, and for “pushing this vote-by-mail crap” in Washington and across the nation.
Gergen, in a Facebook video rant this week, threatened to oust Wilcox from office for allegedly criticizing Culp’s failed campaign during a recent House GOP caucus meeting.
“I will make sure you are unseated, because you wanted to run your mouth in front of the caucus and throw my guy under the bus. It’s a debt you’ve created and it’s a debt you are going to pay,” Gergen said.
Wilcox, who was unanimously reelected this week as House GOP leader, said Friday he didn’t want to get into a back-and-forth with the Culp campaign. But he pointed out GOP legislators who prevailed in swing districts this year “had to outperform the top of the state and national ticket.”
Wyman said despite Culp’s repeated claims of irregularities, he has not brought forward any tangible evidence to her office. Noting voter fraud is a class C felony in Washington, she said Culp should disclose such crimes if he’s aware of them.
“Otherwise, you need to stop making these wild accusations,” she said.
State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, wasn’t impressed with Culp’s post-election agitating. “I think it’s unfortunately just a sad attempt to remain relevant,” Stokesbary said. “He got trounced.”
Though Stokesbary said Republican lawmakers have had concerns with ballot integrity in general, “I haven’t heard anybody other than Culp who has any concerns with how the 2020 election played out in Washington state.”
State Republican Party Chair Caleb Heimlich in a statement defended Wyman as “a nationally respected elections administrator who prioritizes the fairness and security of our elections,” adding “we are extremely lucky to have her overseeing our process here in Washington State.”
Some Republicans have viewed Culp, a first-time candidate and small-town police chief, as a disastrous gubernatorial pick, who all but guaranteed continuation of the GOP’s losing streak in the state.
Culp’s 25% general-election vote share in King County – home to nearly one-third of the state’s voters – was the worst in at least four decades for the GOP.
But Culp did channel a swath of grassroots Republican support, succeeding in powering through a crowded August primary with a constant series of in-person political rallies that defied coronavirus-driven restrictions, including mask mandates.
Chris Vance, a former state Republican Party chairman who left the GOP over its embrace of Trump, called Culp “the leader of the Republican Party” in the state. “The base of the party right now is much closer to Loren Culp than it is to J.T. Wilcox,” he said.
Gergen said Culp’s movement will continue, calling it the “largest conservative group in the state.” He pointed to the $3.1 million the campaign raised through small donors, along with more than 80,000 Facebook followers.
“The Republican Party is going to handle things differently from here on forward. Because we the people have a brand-new expectation. We expect to win,” he said in the online video chat with supporters. “And if you are not going to fight for us, like Loren Culp is fighting for us, then you are going to be gone.”
As his gubernatorial campaign winds down, Culp said he expects to have a new vehicle to accept donations from supporters in the coming weeks, which he suggested could help pay for unspecified legal challenges. On Friday, he posted an appeal on Facebook, seeking to raise $50,000 by Nov. 25 to investigate fraud.
Culp recently lost his job as police chief and sole police officer in the small town of Republic, Ferry County, due to budget cuts. He has been offered a job with the county Sheriff’s Office, but has given no indication he will take it.
So far, neither Gergen nor Culp have publicly produced evidence of voter fraud in Washington. But they say they are collecting proof, including evidence of voting by noncitizens and dead people, and double registrations.
Gergen urged Culp supporters to deluge Wyman with complaints about the state’s voting system. “I want you people to be upset and to be angry that you are being cheated,” he said.
Wyman’s office has received dozens of emails and other messages from Republicans echoing Culp’s complaints, with some demanding a recount, which is not permitted under state law given the big margin of Inslee’s victory.
On Wednesday, a group of 20 or so demonstrators gathered in the rain and pounded on the door at the state Capitol in Olympia, seeking to speak with Wyman.
Carrying signs and at least one small “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flag, they demanded to enter the Capitol, which is closed to the public due to the pandemic.
Assistant Secretary of State Mark Neary stepped outside and spoke with the demonstrators, according to Kylee Zabel, spokesperson for Wyman’s office.
The group “expressed a variety of concerns about the integrity of Washington state’s voter rolls,” Zabel said, including accusations of noncitizens voting in the election.
Neary advised them to provide evidence if they had it, and to contact state legislators if they wished to change the laws regarding the state’s voting procedures.
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