BUFORD, Ga. — Incumbent Brad Raffensperger resisted a challenge from his Trump-backed opponent, Rep. Jody Hice, in Georgia’s Republican secretary of state primary on Tuesday, NBC News projects.
With 98% of constituencies reporting, Raffensperger had 51.9% of the vote, while Hice had 33.8%. Two lesser-known candidates — former Alpharetta mayor David Belle Isle and former judge TJ Hudson — were in single digits.
Because Raffensperger received over 50% of the vote, he was able to avoid a runoff against Hice, which is required under Georgia state law if no candidate wins an outright majority.
As political insiders essentially declared him a walking dead candidate, Raffensperger made the rounds of the state. He said he spoke to chambers of commerce and Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and sent the message that the allegations of widespread voter fraud were not true.
“I drove over 40,000 miles on my truck last year, just to visit people, in all parts of the state,” Raffensperger said Tuesday night.
Raffensperger’s victory is a blow to the broader movement of candidates backed by former President Donald Trump who have run primarily on the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
The secretary of state in Tuesday’s primaries pitted an incumbent who refused to bow to pressure from Trump to nullify the election in his favor against a challenger who voted to nullify the will of his state’s voters. Strategists and political observers had seen the race as a key early test of the endurance of the lies Trump and his allies perpetuated about the 2020 election.
Veteran Republican consultant Chip Lake said Raffensperger’s victory was stunning because early last year internal GOP polls showed him receiving less than a fifth of the GOP primary vote.
“It’s the biggest political comeback I’ve seen in this state,” Lake said.
Raffensperger will face the winner of the Democratic Secretary of State election on June 21. State Representative Bee Nguyen is one of the candidates who will advance; NBC News has not predicted who their opponent will be.
Overall, Georgia voters on Tuesday night repudiated Trump-backed candidates who repeated the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. GOP Governor Brian Kemp was on track to rout his Trump-backed challenger David Perdue by 50 percentage points, while Attorney General Chris Carr edged his Trump-endorsed opponent by a similar margin.
Raffensperger had been caught in the crosshairs of Trump and his allies since Joe Biden emerged victorious from the state, winning just under 11,800 votes, and he explicitly rejected a request from Trump to overturn the election results. . He claimed he did the right thing by standing up to Trump while offering wholehearted support for a restrictive voting bill that Kemp signed into state law last year, as well as tough talk about preventing undocumented immigrants from voting.
Raffensperger hailed the law Kemp signed, attributing the increase in turnout to him because, he said, it gave people confidence in the electoral system.
Raffensperger said he explained the facts to voters during his tour of the state: 28,000 Georgia voters simply decided not to vote in the 2020 presidential race, and all congressional candidates combined received 33,000 votes from more than Trump.
Hice, a conservative pastor representing a largely rural district in eastern Georgia, built his campaign on allegations that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, frequently firing Raffensperger for the way he l managed and its consequences.
Raffensperger said Tuesday night: “I don’t like to use that word, but he’s lying.”
Much more than just who is Georgia’s top election official was at stake. The future of how elections in the state are overseen — and, perhaps, the mechanism for selecting the next president – was also up for grabs.
It was just one of many races across the country — for secretary of state, attorney general and governor — in which candidates who falsely claim Trump won the election are running for jobs that have the power to influence the results of future races.
The Georgia GOP primary contest in particular is almost certain to have a direct effect on the 2024 presidential race, as the state, which the Democratic presidential nominee won in 2020 for the first time in 28 years, will be at again a critical battlefield.
Raffensperger had long been the target of Trump’s ire. After the election, Trump latched onto numerous conspiracy theories to claim he won Georgia, blaming Raffensperger and Kemp for the loss – though his various claims have been debunked, with multiple recounts and audits confirming the result.
Trump, who also lost legal challenges over the results, then called Raffensperger to urge him again to void the results in the days before the January 6, 2021 vote count.
Raffensperger did not oblige, and in March 2021 Trump had persuaded Hice to run.
Hice, on the other hand, voted to reject state-certified election results in Georgia and Pennsylvania on Jan. 6, even after a crowd of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. In an Instagram post deleted since the morning of Jan. 6, Hice wrote, “This is our moment of 1776.”
He was also among several Republican members of Congress who were involved in a planned effort to pressure Vice President Mike Pence into nullifying the election by throwing out electoral votes from some states won by Biden, according to the New York Times, which cited recent testimony given to the House committee investigating the riot.