ATLANTA, Ga. — Next year’s secretary of state election in Georgia was already shaping up to be a tense and dramatic fight: the incumbent, Brad Raffensperger — who enraged former President Donald Trump for refusing to overturn the state’s election results — is facing a primary challenge from a Trump-endorsed fellow Republican, Rep. Jody Hice.
On Tuesday morning, the race got even more interesting with the entry of the first major Democratic candidate, state Rep. Bee Nguyen, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who has helped lead the fight against Republican-backed bills that restrict voting rights in the state.
“Republicans have done everything in their power to silence the voices of voters who chose an America that works for all of us, and not just some of us,” she said in her announcement video. “But we will not allow anyone to stand in the way of our right to a free and fair democracy.”
In an interview this week, Nguyen, 39, said that Raffensperger deserved credit for standing up to Trump and rejecting his false claims of voter fraud after the November election. But she also noted that since then, Raffensperger had largely supported the voting rights law passed by the Legislature in March and continued to consider himself a Trump supporter after the former president promulgated his falsehoods about the Georgia election.
“I’ve been at the forefront of battling against voter suppression laws in Georgia,” Nguyen said. “Watching everything unfold in 2020 with the erosion of our Democracy, I recognized how critically important it was to defend our right to vote.”
She added, “I believe Georgians deserve better, and can do better.”
Trump lost Georgia by around 12,000 votes. After the election, he made personal entreaties to both Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, asking the two Republicans to intervene and help overturn the results. When they declined, Trump vowed revenge.
In late March, the former president endorsed Hice, a pastor and former radio talk-show host from Georgia’s 10th Congressional District. “Unlike the current Georgia Secretary of State, Jody leads out front with integrity,” Trump said in a statement.
It’s not the only race in Georgia that Trump is hoping to influence in an attempt to exact retribution against those he deems disloyal. In January, Trump vowed to campaign against Kemp as he sought reelection. Since then, former state Rep. Vernon Jones, a former Democrat and a vocal Trump supporter, has entered the race, but Trump has not endorsed him.
On Monday, however, the Georgia political world took notice when state Sen. Burt Jones, a Republican, tweeted a photo of himself and Trump meeting at Trump’s Florida home. Jones, who did not return calls for comment Monday, hails from a wealthy family and could put his own funds into a statewide race. But if he is interested in higher office, he has a number of choices beyond governor, including possibly jumping into next year’s contest for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Raphael Warnock.
Nguyen, a supporter of abortion rights and critic of what she has called Georgia’s “lax” gun laws, could struggle to connect with more conservative voters beyond her liberal district in metropolitan Atlanta. She first won the seat in December 2017 in a special election to replace another Democrat, Stacey Abrams, the former state House minority leader who left her position to make her ultimately unsuccessful challenge to Kemp in 2018.
Abrams, who is African American, may be gearing up to run against Kemp again next year, and if Nguyen can land a spot on the general election ballot, it will reflect the changing demographics that helped Democrats like President Joe Biden score upset wins in Georgia in recent months.
In March, Nguyen was among a group of Asian American Georgia lawmakers who forcefully denounced the mass shootings at Atlanta-area massage parlors in which eight people were killed, including six women of Asian descent.
Georgia’s secretary of state race, normally a low-profile affair, will be watched particularly closely next year given the razor-thin margins of the state’s recent elections, and its growing reputation as a key battleground in the presidential election.
Raffensperger finds himself in a frustrating position. A statewide poll in January found that he had the highest approval rating of any Republican officeholder in the state, the likely result of the bipartisan respect he earned for standing up to Trump. But Hice has a good chance of overpowering Raffensperger in a GOP primary, given rank-and-file Republicans’ loyalty to the former president.
Two other Republicans, David Belle Isle, a former mayor of the city of Alpharetta, a suburb of Atlanta, and T.J. Hudson, a former probate judge, are also running.