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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

February 19: Keep an Eye on 2022 Races for Secretary of State

In looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections, there is one category of contests Democrats should pay close attention to, if only because the 45th president is already there, as I discussed at New York:

Even as Congress investigates Donald Trump’s attempted 2020 election coup and considers reforms to the Electoral Count Act of 1887 that aided his schemes for overturning the results, the former president is working hard to undermine future contests around the country. Beyond supporting gubernatorial candidates who have endorsed his election conspiracy theories, Trump is aggressively intervening in state contests for a less high-profile office: secretary of state. At stake is control of the election machinery in states where Trump failed to prevail in his false but vociferous claims that Joe Biden’s victory was illegitimate.

Trump has endorsed candidates in Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan, three very close 2020 states where he got no cooperation from secretaries of state in advancing his wild claims of election fraud. Arizona and Michigan have Democrats in that position, and in Georgia, Republican Brad Raffensperger famously defied Trump’s instructions to find some extra votes to overturn Biden’s win. The 45th president doesn’t want to face that sort of obstruction to his plans in 2024.

To carry out a purge of Raffensperger, Trump recruited Jody Hice, who gave up a safe U.S. House seat to launch a primary run. Raffensperger is also being opposed by 2018 primary rival David Belle Isle. A runoff is possible since Georgia requires a majority of votes to win in primary and general elections. But Hice is the fundraising leader and the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination in a primary that is being overshadowed by David Perdue’s Trump-sponsored effort to get rid of Republican Governor Brian Kemp (who seconded Raffensperger’s certification of Biden’s Georgia win). At this point, the biggest obstacle to a MAGA conquest of the Peach State’s election machinery is the likely Democratic nominee for secretary of state, highly regarded state legislator Bee Nguyen.

In Michigan, Trump’s candidate, community-college professor Kristina Karamo, has a more direct connection with the 2020 election coup effort, as CNN explains:

“Karamo rose to prominence in Michigan after the 2020 election when she alleged to have witnessed fraud as a poll challenger during the state’s count of absentee ballots. The month after the election, Karamo testified before a state Senate committee, signed onto the unsuccessful Supreme Court challenge to Biden’s win and appeared on Fox News conservative opinion shows to promote her allegations and falsely claim widespread fraud occurred in the state.”

If there were any doubt about her allegiances, Karamo dispelled them the day after January 6, 2021, declaiming: “I believe this is completely antifa posing as Trump supporters … I mean, anybody can buy a MAGA hat and put on T-shirt and buy a Trump flag.” She has opposed COVID-19 vaccines and the teaching of evolution and called public schools “government indoctrination camps.”

Karamo has an early fundraising advantage over her two Republican rivals, state legislator Beau LaFave and Township Clerk Cindy Berry. Perhaps most important, the nomination will be decided at an April 23 GOP convention rather than a primary, which should help the activist-fueled Karamo unless delegates decide she is unelectable. Incumbent Democrat Jocelyn Benson has been doing well in fundraising, but as with other battleground states, the expected nationwide Republican trend could be enough to tilt the balance, particularly in a down-ballot race in which party preferences will matter most.

In Arizona, incumbent Democrat Katie Hobbs is running for governor. The state is a hotbed of 2020 election revisionism, and three Republican candidates for secretary of state — Shawnna Bolick, Michelle Ugenti-Rita, and Mark Finchem, all state representatives — have been active in efforts to question the 2020 results and skew future elections in the GOP’s direction, as the Associated Press reported last fall:

“Bolick introduced legislation that would allow the Legislature in future presidential elections to disregard voters and choose its own electors to represent Arizona in the Electoral College …

“Ugenti-Rita has been one of the Arizona GOP’s most active proponents of legislation imposing new restrictions on voting, drawing stiff opposition from Democrats who say her measures would disenfranchise people of color.”

But Trump endorsed Finchem, who really does take the MAGA cake:

“Finchem brought Trump attorneys, including Rudy Giuliani, to Phoenix after the election to air bogus allegations that the former president’s narrow loss in Arizona was marred by fraud. Though he’s in the state House, he’s been a mainstay in conservative media promoting Senate Republicans’ partisan review of the 2020 vote count in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous.”

Finchem has been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack for questions about his antics with Giuliani. He also attended Trump’s January 6 rally in Washington and was photographed near the Capitol, though he claims he never entered it.

Fontes, one of the two Democrats in the race, is a former Maricopa County elected official whom Finchem is blaming for trying to interfere with the phony “audit” of the 2020 election in that county.

Only one of the Republicans in the race, businessman Beau Lane, is not running on a MAGA vengeance kind of platform, so depending on general election dynamics, the odds of Trump getting an ally controlling the Arizona election machinery are pretty good.

While these are the three close 2020 states where Trump has already intervened in secretary of state races, others could follow. In Nevada, former state legislator Jim Marchant has proclaimed himself a leader in a national coalition of “America First” candidates for secretary of state, which includes the Hice, Karamo and Finchem. He leads the three other Republican candidates in fundraising. The vibrant GOP field was buttressed by the retirement of two-term incumbent Republican Barbara Cegavske, who was censured by the Republican State Central Committee for her failure to buy into Trump’s election-fraud allegations.

If some of Trump’s candidates do prevail in November, it might make him more confident about running in 2024. He’ll know that in the event of another close race, his acolytes will put their thumbs on the scales and make victory that much more likely.

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