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This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: ‘US midterms countdown — election deniers want your vote’

Marc Filippino
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Thursday, November 3rd, and this is your FT News Briefing.

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The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by another three quarters of a percentage point yesterday. And in our US midterm election series, we’re gonna go to Arizona, where election deniers have a real shot at running the state. I’m Marc Filippino, and here’s the news you need to start your day.

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The Federal Reserve raised interest rates yesterday by 75 basis points. It is the fourth time in a row it has done so. Fed chair Jay Powell signalled that the US central bank is prepared to slow down the pace of its monetary tightening. But . . . 

Jay Powell
We may ultimately move to higher levels than we thought at the time of the September meeting.

Marc Filippino
So rates at a higher level than the Fed expected, but at a more gradual pace. Investors didn’t like any of this. The S&P 500 ended the day down 2.5 per cent. The Nasdaq dropped more than three. The Fed’s Colby Smith has more on why Powell was so adamant about staying the course.

Colby Smith
So there’s been some scepticism about the Fed’s commitment to doing what it needs to do in order to get inflation under control. There’s been some scepticism about whether they will proceed with interest rate increases as the unemployment rate ticks up. We see more job losses, and we see growth slow substantially. That’s really I think what he’s trying to counteract is this idea that the second the economy starts to turn in a more substantive way, that the Fed’s going to pivot abruptly and back away from its tightening plans. And I think that that’s the message that Powell is trying to send at the current moment, is that, you know, they actually realise that to get inflation under control, they are going to need to see the economy slowing, and they are gonna need to see job losses. And that’s a really important admission from the chair in terms of economic pain to come.

Marc Filippino
OK, but is this working? So far, inflation hasn’t really budged in the direction that the Fed wants it to.

Colby Smith
The rate increases are definitely having an impact on the economy, and you can see it more in the real-time data than you can in some of those lagged monthly prints, whether it’s with jobs or inflation in particular. I definitely think the resilience of the economy has surprised people at the moment, but overall, I would say they’re starting to have an impact and that will only amplify over time.

Marc Filippino
That’s the FT’s US economics editor Colby Smith.

Audio clip of a call to vote
Please . . . Please . . . Please . . . Vote! Vote!

Marc Filippino
Next week, Americans go to the polls for the midterm elections. It may not be an exaggeration to say the very foundation of America’s democracy is at stake. This all started back when then-President Donald Trump contested the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. He said that the election was stolen and Joe Biden didn’t actually win. Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol in January 2021 in protest. Today, a majority of Republicans still believe that the election was stolen. And dozens of Republican candidates in these midterm elections are using that to fuel their campaign rhetoric. In our midterm election series today, we’re going to look at election denialism, as it’s called, and we’re focusing on Arizona because in that state, there are three Republicans running for key offices that oversee elections. All these candidates are election deniers, and they all have a good shot of winning their races. The FT’s Caitlin Gilbert has been reporting on this, and she joins me now. Hi, Caitlin.

Caitlin Gilbert
Hi, Marc.

Marc Filippino
So, Caitlin, why is Arizona known as ground zero for election denial candidates?

Caitlin Gilbert
Yeah. So, in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, most of the kind of famous or most viral conspiracies we saw take off started in Arizona. Part of that was due to the margin Joe Biden ended up winning by. It was very, very close. Obviously, this is a product of how people are getting election results on the night of November 4th and then leading in the days following as that race was still not yet called. So I think partly because of the way in which that election shook out and then sort of circulated out around the country.

Marc Filippino
Right. I see that connection. So we should actually mention that election denialism has been around for a while. It didn’t actually start with Trump, although it was definitely heightened under his presidency.

Caitlin Gilbert
So I would say, like, the concept of election denial denialism is probably as old as, I don’t know, elections themselves. You can probably find people throughout US elections contesting the results in some form or another. But the closest kind of event to what we saw in 2020 was probably the 2000 election during the Bush versus Gore presidential election. The vote sort of came down to a very, very close race in Florida, getting down to the hundreds of ballots. And you had a group of Republican operatives, staffers literally protest the local election officials doing a hand recount of that results.

Marc Filippino
So now, jumping back to now, we have candidates across the country at multiple levels saying the 2020 election was not legitimate, the election process is flawed or rigged. Are these efforts organised?

Caitlin Gilbert
Oh, yes. Part of this is very much Trump-backed. There is a specific, what he calls the America First Secretary of State Coalition. But the Republican party is also obviously heavily invested in their candidates. This was a huge kind of like contrast in the primaries where you saw Trump endorsed folks who mirrored him in saying the election was stolen in 2020, beating out candidates who were less likely to say that. It’s pretty clear that the Republican party has done the former and gotten fully behind all their candidates, regardless of their stances on the 2020 election in particular.

Marc Filippino
Let’s go back to Arizona and the candidates who say the 2020 elections were unfair and the system’s rigged. One is former state lawmaker Mark Finchem. He’s running for the position of secretary of state, which oversees elections.

Mark Finchem
When you steal something, that’s not really a win. That’s a fraud.

Marc Filippino
That’s Finchem speaking at the US Capitol the day before the January 6 insurrection, where he was also present. Another Arizona election-denying candidate is a former TV anchor named Kari Lake.

Kari Lake
I’m always worried about voter fraud because we have a system right now, an election system that people don’t have faith in.

Marc Filippino
And finally, there’s Abe Hamadeh. He’s a former county prosecutor who’s now running for state attorney-general. Now Caitlin, if someone like Mark Finchem gets elected to secretary of state and an election comes along that he does not sign off on — and as secretary of state, he has to in order for it to be processed — what would happen then?

Caitlin Gilbert
Yeah, that’s where we get into the very scary sort of crisis-of-democracy territory. This is an unprecedented thing to happen. And it’s not really happened at all, right? We saw almost all of the secretary of states in swing states in 2020 get this immense pressure to not certify. They all did because that is their job, legally. And they have to do it by a specific deadline as per state law. So if we start to get into territory of missing deadlines and secretaries of state just choosing not to certify, as Mark Finchem said he would, we just sort of enter a period of lawlessness. There’s no, like, law in Arizona. I would imagine the only real stopgap we have is through the courts. We had this happen in New Mexico at the local level earlier this year. The primary result, a local canvasing board essentially refused to certify an election, but the secretary of state sued them with the state Supreme Court essentially to be like, hey, you have to do your job. And then they did. But if you have folks high enough up, like the secretary of state, like the governor, all kind of on the same page when it comes to election denialism, that would functionally just put democracy, with a small d, in crisis.

Marc Filippino
So Caitlin, for this story, you did a ton of reporting on election processes. What struck you the most after digging up so much information and speaking to so many people?

Caitlin Gilbert
Yeah, so I spent a lot of time talking to folks who study sort of on an academic level what the process actually entails. There are so many checks in place and so much of it is transparent. I was actually really stunned at how much effort and work goes into ensuring the security of our elections. And I think the thing that I was most struck by was in talking to folks actually working in elections at the local level, a lot of people have left their positions because the pressures are kind of insane. And, you know, folks are getting death threats. But there are folks who are kind of like newly emboldened to do their jobs and continue to do their jobs. And so talking to them, I think, especially ahead of this next set of elections, they really conveyed to me that they have never felt, you know, that their job was as important as it is now.

Marc Filippino
Caitlin Gilbert is a data visualisation journalist with the FT. Thanks so much, Caitlin.

Caitlin Gilbert
Thanks, Marc.

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Marc Filippino
You can read more on all of these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.


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