Originally published in Business Insider, by Grace Panetta
Former President Donald Trump took his train of grievances down to Georgia, but the voters wanted no part in it.
Trump tried to exact revenge on incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp for certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory by endorsing his challenger, former Sen. David Perdue, who said he wouldn’t have certified the 2020 election.
But Perdue received a swift and brutal shellacking from Kemp, losing to the incumbent governor by over 50 points with over 95% of the votes in as of Wednesday morning.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who Trump unsuccessfully pressured to “find” him 11,780 votes on an extraordinary post-election phone call, beat expectations and defeated Trump’s endorsed candidate, Rep. Jody Hice, outright, narrowly avoiding a June runoff election.
Kemp, Raffensperger, and Georgia’s voters sent a resounding message to Trump that his election grievances have outstayed their welcome in the Peach State, and, importantly, reduced the chances of partisan meddling in the 2024 election.
These victories show the limits of campaigns driven by Trump’s sour grapes, but they don’t mean that Trump’s election lies have lost their potency among Republican voters. Indeed, in open primaries for key election posts around the country, candidates who pose a threat to fair elections in 2024 are making headway with and without Trump’s endorsement.
“In 16 states right now, there are still people in the running who are election denier candidates,” Al Vanderklipp, a fellow at the nonpartisan Election Reformers Network who tracks secretary of state races, told Insider.
Incumbency and poorly-run campaigns helped Kemp and Raffensperger beat their opponents
In Georgia, Kemp and Raffensperger’s victories not only proved the power of incumbency, but the importance of effective candidates and well-run campaigns.
Despite Trump’s endorsement, Perdue’s campaign struggled to gain support from the jump. Perdue, a wealthy businessman, spent less on his campaign than on expensive new property, The New York Times reported, and stayed largely off the air in the final stretch of the race, reportedly frustrating Trump.
Perdue also finished his campaign by making a racist remark directed at Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, accusing her of “demeaning her own race.”
But Kemp focused on solidifying his support among the right-wing of his party after Trump’s attacks in 2020, including with a new voting law, using both his political savvy — and the powers of his office — to consolidate a broad coalition of support behind his campaign.
Hice, for his part, ran what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution described as an “abysmal” campaign focused on appealing to pro-Trump election denier die-hards. While Raffensperger ran on his record of defending Georgia’s elections, strategically tacked right to appeal to Trump voters, and padded his campaign coffers with some of his own money.
In Georgia, which has no formal party registration, around 40,000 Democratic and liberal voters are estimated to have crossed party lines and voted in the Republican primary to oppose Perdue and Hice, the AJC reported.
Elsewhere in the country, though, without those specific conditions, election denier candidates are gaining ground.
Candidates who attacked the 2020 election results made headway in Alabama
Last Tuesday, for example, a candidate who played a major role in supporting Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, won in a crowded open primary field to secure the gubernatorial nomination in Pennsylvania.
In the general election, Mastriano will go up against Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro. If elected, Mastriano would not only hold significant influence over the battleground state’s voting laws, but also appoint Pennsylvania’s chief election official.
And in Alabama, candidates who have pushed misinformation about the 2020 election and future elections made serious inroads on Tuesday night — even without a Trump endorsement.
The race to succeed outgoing Secretary of State John Merrill is headed to a runoff between current state auditor Jim Ziegler, who is endorsed by prominent election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, and state Rep. Wes Allen.
Allen has said he would withdraw Alabama from an interstate consortium that helps states keep their voter rolls more accurate and up to date, based on the falsehood that it’s a “leftist” group funded by George Soros. In reality, the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, is nonpartisan and funded by the participating member states.
Meanwhile, a 24-year career election official in the Alabama secretary of state’s office, Ed Packard, barely made a blip, only receiving eight percent of the vote.
GOP Rep. Mo Brooks, one of Trump’s top allies in his efforts to overturn his 2020 election in Congress, is headed to a Republican primary runoff for US Senate against Katie Britt.
Trump endorsed and then un-endorsed Brooks for going “woke” after Brooks suggesting that Republicans should move on from 2020 at an August 2021 rally — an event at which Brooks still decried “the voter fraud and election theft in 2020.”
Once-obscure races for secretaries of state who oversee election administration are seeing an unprecedented influx of outside attention and campaign spending, with election denier candidates in the lead in many states, according to a new analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice.
Already in this primary cycle, less closely-watched races for secretary of state in Nebraska and Idaho show the grassroots appeal of election denialism in deep-red states, Vanderklipp noted.
In both those states, neither of which have runoffs, candidates who attacked the integrity of the 2020 election ended up splitting the vote but ultimately earning more total votes than the more mainstream, non-election denying winners.
In Nebraska, two right-wing challengers earned, together, over 27,000 more votes than incumbent Secretary of State Bob Evnen. And in Idaho, Phil McGrane narrowly defeated state Rep. Dorothy Moon by just 4,450 votes.
“I think we should be very concerned, especially given the vote split in Nebraska,” Vanderklipp said. “You still have a lot of support for these candidates. And these are primaries, which are already more likely to draw out people from the extremes, are low-information races — not a lot of people even know who the secretary of state is.”
Major tests lie ahead in Arizona and Michigan
Elsewhere in the country, it’s more of the same.
Michigan Republicans have nominated Kristina Karamo, an election denier backed by Trump, to run against incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Trump has also endorsed Matthew DePerno, a major figure in efforts to overturn and cast doubt on the 2020 election, for attorney general.
And this summer, election-denying candidates are running in primaries in key battleground states including Arizona and Nevada. Trump has endorsed two such candidates, Kari Lake for governor and Mark Finchem for secretary of state in Arizona, which was the site of an expensive partisan post-election review driven by falsehoods about the 2020 election.
Statewide officials, like secretaries of state, cycle in and out of office. But the election denialism movement has firmly established a foothold at the local level since 2020, and will be hard to uproot.
Over 357 currently-serving Republican state legislators participated in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, according to a recent New York Times analysis. Trump allies have also begun taking over local canvassing boards in states like Michigan.
General elections in battleground states like Michigan and Arizona, Vanderklipp said, will be “where you’re going to really see if, indeed, the Bie Lie is repudiated.”
“Nobody really knows what’s going to happen once we get a person like this in one of these high-level election positions,” Vanderklipp added. “Because of the way our system is set up, if it’s not a close election in 2024, then they might not do anything. If it is a close election, then they might have the power to put their thumb on the scale.”