Both Mr. Craig and Mr. Johnson have been widely regarded as frontrunners for the party’s nomination in a key battlefield state, where Republicans have clashed with Democrats over the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and pandemic restrictions.
More than half of the 21,305 signatures submitted by Craig’s campaign were rejected, leaving him with 10,192 valid signatures, the agency said in its report, noting that little effort had been made to vary handwriting.
“In some cases, instead of trying to sign several signatures, the circulator deliberately scribbled illegibly. In other cases, they circulated petition sheets among themselves, each filling out a line,” the agency said of the petitions for Mr. Craig.
Mr. Craig identified Vanguard Field Strategies, an Austin, Texas firm that helped manage the recruiting effort, which he said relied on several subcontractors previously unknown to him. He said it was up to the company to have checks and balances in place to detect fraud, calling it “short-sighted” and unrealistic to expect a busy candidate to verify more than 20,000 signatures.
Vanguard Field Strategies confirmed on Tuesday that 18 of the people identified in the polling agency report as having fraudulent petitions in circulation were working for another company that outsourced it to collect signatures. The company declined to identify the subcontractor, which it labeled a nationally respected Republican company in a statement Tuesday.
“The allegations of fraudulent activity and individuals infiltrating Chief Craig’s campaign in an attempt to sabotage it are deeply concerning,” Vanguard president Joe J. Williams said in a statement. “I hope those accused of fraud (who did not work for Vanguard or were paid) are held accountable if the allegations are true.”