Before running for office, Marjorie Taylor Greene was not shy about her support for QAnon — a conspiracy theory that alleges the existence of a widespread child sex trafficking ring run by a cabal of satanic and cannibalistic elites, whom only President Trump can stop. She tweeted “#GreatAwakening” to Alex Jones, called Q “a patriot” and even hosted videos detailing the evidence she believes proves Q is “the real deal.” When she won the Republican nomination for Georgia’s 14th District, academics called her win a “bellwether” for the movement and for American politics, and media outlets wondered if Greene’s win signified a wider trend. Was there about to be a Qaucus in Congress?
Will millions of dollars on TV ads make a difference in the race for the presidency?
Not likely. Greene, who has since tried to distance herself from the conspiracy theory, may very well be the only candidate with ties to QAnon who actually wins her race, according to FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast. But the dozens of Republicans who have voiced support for at least some elements of QAnon show how GOP leadership has allowed QAnon to become a part of the party, even if the GOP hasn’t explicitly embraced it.
Fringe candidates with unusual beliefs can be found in every election, of course, but this cohort of QAnon followers on the ballot is somewhat unique.
“People with crazy beliefs run for Congress all the time, it’s just a question of whether there’s a unifying force among candidates of their crazy beliefs,” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
There’s no master list of QAnon-linked candidates, but some organizations and news outlets have compiled running tallies. Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog group, has put together a list of 31 candidates with active campaigns for Congress whom it links to QAnon, but a “link” is a term with broad interpretation. Some candidates, like Derrick Grayson, a Republican running in Georgia’s U.S. Senate special election, have simply tweeted the #WWG1WGA hashtag.1 Others, like Jo Rae Perkins, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Oregon, have been more explicit about their QAnon beliefs.
“Some of those links are somewhat tenuous,” said Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami who studies conspiracy theories. “I would prefer my candidates to have no connections or links at all to QAnon, but that phrase ‘linked to QAnon’ is often taken to mean that they’re true believers. Some of them are true believers, but not all of them.”
Few of the candidates Media Matters identified have any chance of winning their races. Of the 31 candidates identified by Media Matters, 26 of them have measurable odds according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast. Aside from Greene, only two other candidates of the 26 have better than a 1 in 100 chance of taking their races (and one of those two, Erin Cruz, who’s running in California’s 36th district, has just a 3 in 100 shot), according to our model.2 Greene is running against a Democrat who has withdrawn from the race but remains on the ballot. And another Republican candidate, gun rights activist Lauren Boebert, who’s running in Colorado’s third district, is currently slightly favored to win her race (she has a 59 in 100 shot of winning the seat). She previously appeared on two different YouTube shows hosted by QAnon believers, and said she was “very familiar” with Q and that she “hoped it is real.” More recently, Boebert has said she does not follow QAnon and does not believe in conspiracy theories.
There’s one other Republican candidate not on Media Matters’ list who has a good shot. Burgess Owens, who is running in Utah’s 4th District, has appeared on a pro-QAnon podcast and YouTube channel and has said he thinks the conspiracy theory is worth taking a look at, though he also stated that accusations of him supporting QAnon are “silly.” FiveThirtyEight’s forecast gives Owens a 42 in 100 chance of winning the seat.
Media Matters’ list shows 19 candidates who have at some point expressed support for QAnon and have won nominations around the country. Owens makes 20. All all of them are Republican nominees. For its part, the GOP has done little to distance itself from its QAnon-adjacent candidates, instead rejecting the fact that multiple Republican candidates for Congress have links to the group. Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, told ABC News it’s “a fringe group. It’s not part of our party.”
President Trump, meanwhile, has been repeatedly asked about whether he denounces QAnon, and he consistently demurs, claiming ignorance of the movement and saying its followers “fight” against pedophilia and are people who “love our country.”
“Trump has a track record for a decade where all he does is traffic in conspiracy theories,” Uscinski said. “Trump built a coalition on conspiracy theories. He started 10 years ago with birtherism, he pushed anti-vaxx ideas. This is his modus operandi.” Regardless of how many explicit allies QAnon has in Congress next term, a conspiratorial mindset has already taken root in the GOP.
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UPDATE (October 29, 2020, 5:33 p.m.): This article was updated to include the candidacy of Burgess Owens, who is not on Media Matters’ list.
CLARIFICATION (Oct. 30, 2020: 11:52 a.m.): This article has been updated to make clear that Greene’s pro-QAnon comments were made before she ran for office.