Why Brad Raffensperger’s victory in Georgia’s primary is surprising

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA</span>
Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

Hello, and Happy Thursday,

You’ve probably heard by now – on Tuesday night Brad Raffensperger won a surprise victory against Jody Hice in the Republican primary for secretary of state.

Raffensperger was one of three candidates in Georgia that won over Trump-backed candidates who had embraced the idea of a stolen election. My colleague Lauren Gambino wrote about how those victories were a major blow to Trump in his quest to punish those who refused to overturn the election.

I can’t emphasize how much of a surprise it was that Raffensperger won the GOP primary outright on Tuesday. As late as a few weeks ago, it was widely believed that Raffensperger faced an uphill battle in fending off Hice. “Ultimately, it’s gonna be Hice that’s gonna win that thing,” Jay Williams, a Republican strategist in Georgia told me earlier this month. If Raffensperger had a chance, it was believed he would have to win in a runoff election.

One takeaway I have from Raffensperger’s victory is that support for Trump and uncertainty about the election doesn’t necessarily translate into voting for other candidates. When I began to see Raffensperger doing well on Tuesday evening, I kept hearing the voice of Carolee Curti, an 82-year-old retiree in Rome, a city in Marjorie Taylor Greene’s deeply conservative district, who told me she voted for the secretary of state. “I felt that under all that pressure, he did a good job,” she said after casting her vote. “I know it upset Trump, and I’m a Trump person, but fair is fair.”

Raffensperger also found a way to appeal to Republican voters concerned about fraud in elections while defending the 2020 election results. The central issue in his campaign was preventing non-citizen voting, which is virtually non-existent in Georgia. He also championed SB 202, Georgia’s new law that imposes new restrictions on mail-in ballots and drop boxes, and prevents handing out food or water within 150 feet of a polling place.

“He has been threading this needle from the outset of the 2020 election,” Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University, told me earlier this month. “From the moment he announced that the election results were what they were and that Joe Biden had won the election in Georgia, he immediately pivoted towards pledging to do more to improve election security, I would argue in an attempt to appease conservative voters who probably were not gonna be satisfied with him.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also has a good rundown of some of the other reasons Raffensperger won. Georgia voters can choose to cast their votes in either party’s primary, and there appear to be tens of thousands of Democrats who cast ballots in the GOP contest. Hice also campaigned poorly, the AJC noted, never expanding his base and saving money for a runoff that never came.

A few weeks ago, when I spoke with Raffensperger in Georgia, I asked him if he ever got tired of having to continue to debunk baseless claims about the 2020 election. When he said no, I asked him if he could continue to do it forever.

“Don’t have to,” he said. “May 24. Then it’ll be decided.”

Also worth watching …

  • Democrats are headed for a runoff in their nominating contest for secretary of state.

  • A Republican who was part of a fake set of electors for Donald Trump in Wisconsin wants to be the chair of the agency that oversees elections in the state.

  • Five Republicans running for governor in Michigan face potential disqualification from the ballot after submitting fraudulent signatures.

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