“This will be a true test of where the Republican Party is going,” said Jordan Fuchs, who ran Raffensperger’s 2018 campaign and is now deputy secretary of state in Georgia. “There’s some growing pains now that Trump is not the leader of the Republican Party. And these primary elections are going to be defining for us for a very long time.”
Twenty-six states will have secretary of state elections next year, including five of the 10 closest states in the 2020 presidential election, and incumbents from both parties are preparing for tough battles. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat up for reelection in 2022, said she will likely have to raise more money than before — but she expects it to be easier now.
“If anything, the change will be that I won’t have to spend as much time, perhaps, persuading someone or convincing someone of the importance of investing in these races, as you might have in years past,” Benson said.
The battleground map will be similar to the one that presidential candidates fought over in 2020. Hari Sevugan, a senior adviser for iVote, a Democratic group focused on secretary of state races, said the group’s early outlook includes playing defense in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota while looking to pick up seats in Georgia, Iowa, Nevada and Ohio.
The group is also expecting a major increase in its budget. “We’re looking at a budget of $12 to $15 million,” Sevugan said, “compared to where we started: $4 million six years ago.”
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which has an arm focused on secretary of state races, declined to share a battleground map or estimated budget but said it also was expecting competitive races across the map. “With the debate on election integrity now front and center nationally, we are as committed as ever to devoting our resources to electing strong secretaries of state who will work to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” said Andrew Romeo, a RSLC spokesperson.
Operatives who worked on these races noted that, historically, even the most competitive secretary of state race would significantly trail other statewide races in resources and attention.
“Typical secretary of state races, even in a swing state, they’ll have trouble raising $500,000,” said Ellen Kurz, the president of iVote. “For a statewide race, most of them can’t afford polling … they don’t have the resources to even do message research or to get on TV.”
Kurz, who was once described by a Bloomberg columnist as the “Paul Revere” of secretary of state races, was still somewhat skeptical that the current intense focus on election administrators would carry through 2022, at least among big donors. “I feel a little more confident about grassroots support than the elite support,” she said, noting that while she’s been fighting a largely unsuccessful battle to try to get attention to secretary of state races for a decade, there was a noticeable uptick in small-dollar donors for her group in 2020.
But a senior adviser to a Republican secretary of state said the positions are garnering significantly more attention from large, well-funded groups with a stake in how elections are run — a designation that takes in a large slice of the political world.
“It is still a difficult office for candidates of either party to raise money directly into, they aren’t like an attorney general race, certainly a governor’s race,” said the adviser, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly. “But the outside groups, the [nonprofits] and all the different national PACs who want to influence election policy, are absolutely going to spend more money on these races. … Election administration is an area ripe for fundraising.”
In Georgia, Raffensperger’s backers are already tensing for Trump-aligned donors and others to pour money into a Republican primary campaign against him. Potential primary challengers include Vernon Jones, the party-switching former state representative who has publicly mused about a run, and state Sen. Brandon Beach. Fuchs, Raffensperger’s deputy secretary of state, said she expects Jones to get the “majority of the Trump funding and backing” should he decide to run.
Even though Democrats grudgingly applauded Raffensperger for standing up to Trump in 2020, though, they desperately want to put a Democrat in the Georgia secretary of state’s office. It first became a national political flashpoint in 2018, when then-Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp narrowly beat Democrat Stacey Abrams in the governor’s race. Abrams claimed Kemp suppressed the vote, and Kemp lobbed an evidence-free allegation that the state Democratic Party tried to hack the voter registration system on the eve of the election, which investigators found no evidence to support.
Kurz called that race “the game changer” in terms of increasing public awareness about the power and influence of secretaries of state.
“I used to like to say that if I saw Brian Kemp on the street, I don’t know if I’d hug him or punch him,” Kurz joked.