Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger is a national celebrity, thanks to his defiance of Donald Trump’s multiple attempts to overturn the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory in the Peach State last November, and his refusal to find more votes for Trump when the 45th president called him up in early January and asked for a thumb on the scales. He is also, according to a January Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey, the most popular Republican elected official in Georgia, albeit with a mere 47 percent job-approval rating.
The trouble is, according to that survey, Raffensperger is more popular among Democrats than his own Republican Party members. Yet, as he reminded everyone after the recent enactment of Georgia’s highly controversial new law restricting voting opportunities, his views on the core responsibilities of his job as the state’s election director are still very Republican. Indeed, he seems to love the new law — except for a provision that removes him as head of the State Election Board. In an interview with the Journal-Constitution, he expressed happiness that “the law will build trust in elections by requiring more identification of absentee voters,” reflecting the GOP’s circular reason that making voting harder is the answer to a Republican perception that it’s too easy.
That shouldn’t be surprising, though, since, even as he was fighting with Trump and his lawyers, Raffensperger was calling for an actual elimination of no-excuse voting by mail, which Georgia legislators originally considered but rejected as too draconian. Like his predecessor and now Governor Brian Kemp, the current secretary of state is an old-school vote suppressor. But like Kemp, he crossed Trump, and that’s what matters most to his fellow Republicans.
As Politico reported last week in the wake of multiple candidates announcing primary challenges to Raffensperger in 2022, the man may be relatively popular among Democrats (until they focus on his actual views on election law), but he’s all but dead in his own party:
“He’s toast,” said Jay Williams, a Georgia-based Republican strategist. “I don’t know that there’s a single elected official who would put their neck out for Brad Raffensperger right now …”
Jason Shepherd, the chair of the Republican Party in Cobb County, Georgia, said he has friends who are “completely uninvolved in politics” who tell him “there is no way they are going to vote to reelect Raffensperger….”
“I don’t want to say there’s zero chance, but at this point right now, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone in the party who supports the reelection of [Raffensperger],” he said.
One challenger is U.S. Representative Jody Hice, who has already been endorsed by Trump. Another is David Bell Isle, who narrowly lost to Raffensperger in a 2018 GOP runoff. Republican divisions are almost certain to attract a serious Democratic candidacy as well.
Perhaps the politician secretly most pleased by Raffensperger’s quandary is Kemp, who would otherwise be the principal target for MAGA vengeance in 2022. At this point the governor has no announced primary opposition, though recent party-switcher Vernon Jones is playing around with the idea:
Trump himself has encouraged former congressman Doug Collins to take out Kemp, and now there are even rumors ex-Senator David Perdue might make the race. Kemp, though, as Georgia’s chief executive, can do a lot of things to shore up his position, and will also certainly remind Republicans that he defeated Stacey Abrams, who is likely to run against him again, for governor in 2018. Raffensperger can perhaps pitch in to the party’s effort with a voting-roll purge or two. But as someone too high on Trump’s hit list and too low in political capital, he is indeed toasty, if not burned.