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If it wasn’t so important, secretary of state race would be fun

By Tom Baxter

If there wasn’t so much riding on it, next year’s secretary of state race would be great fun to watch.

Between the two parties, the race has all kinds of storylines, with no certainty about where they all lead, except that the outcome will have a big impact on people’s confidence that their votes will be counted.

On the Republican side, we’ll have a nationally watched primary battle waged over the outcome of last year’s election. The top headline on U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s campaign website says “Endorsed by President Trump,” with three arrows pointing to a box that says “Donate.” That neatly sums up how it is that a sitting member of Congress without serious competition could end up in a down-ballot statewide race.

Hice may have a longer-term strategy, with an eye on the governor’s mansion in the future perhaps. But the best explanation for what is at best a sideways career move is that Trump recruited Hice to be his agent of vengeance on Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for his disloyalty in upholding the results of the election in Georgia, and Hice spotted an unusual opportunity.

It’s hard to think of an elected official, not under indictment, who has been pronounced dead with as much certainty as Raffensperger after his rupture with Trump. Not only is he not dead yet, but he’s up on television, frequently, in a public service announcement that looks a great deal like an early campaign ad, paid for through the federal Help America Vote Act.

With Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis moving forward in her investigation of Trump’s attempts to pressure Raffensperger and other officials into overturning the presidential vote in Georgia, a lot can happen between now and the May 24 primary. There may be enough hard-core Trump supporters still angry at Raffensperger to deny him another term next year, but he has resources, including the sort of business support that is beginning to line up behind Gov. Brian Kemp.

At some point in their race, the Republicans have to pause from pounding each other at least for a minute to talk about which one matches up best against a Democrat. What does Hice say when he’s asked, as he’s sure to be, whether he accepts the results of the 2020 election, and what impact does his answer have on the general election?
If the Republican primary is shaping up as a referendum on Raffensperger’s performance last year, and an early test of Trump 24, the Democratic primary looks like a contest between the party’s traditional establishment and its emerging support in the Metro Atlanta suburbs.

The first Democrat to declare for the secretary of state race was state Rep. Bee Nguyen (pronounced, conveniently, “win”), who represents the DeKalb County district which Stacey Abrams held before her. Her detailed dissection of a witness’s claims about the Georgia vote went viral after a hearing last December, and appears now on her campaign website.

Nguyen has drawn two older Democratic opponents and could draw more before the qualifying period next March. Former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, who lost a primary race to U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux last year, said he had hopes of becoming the state’s first African-American secretary of state. He has competition for that distinction in Floyd Griffin, a former state senator and former mayor of Milledgeville.

This is going to be a race in which the last election, the voting bill passed by the General Assembly this year, and H.R. 1, the Democratic voting bill now in Congress, are likely to get a full airing. It shouldn’t be a race that’s all about Trump, but in the Republican primary it will be hard to get him out of the middle of the room. Hice has pledged to get rid of the Dominion voting machines, so that and other conspiracy-laced issues will presumably be debated.

The danger is that this race will further politicize the office which is supposed to guarantee honest and fair elections, and leave one side, or both, even more distrustful. But it should be quite a show.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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