Thu. Jun 8th, 2023

Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Republican official who famously rebuffed former President Donald J. Trump’s requests to “find” enough votes to help him overturn the 2020 election, defeated a Republican primary challenge on Tuesday.

Mr. Raffensperger, who serves as Georgia’s top elections official as secretary of state, won his G.O.P. primary against Representative Jody Hice, a Republican congressman who voted to overturn the 2020 election and who was backed by Mr. Trump.

The Associated Press called the victory for Mr. Raffensperger, who was able to win back the trust of Republican voters in Georgia by promoting himself as a champion of “election integrity” and rebutting falsehoods made by Mr. Trump and his allies about the 2020 election. His victory amounted to a repudiation of Mr. Trump’s attempts to weaponize 2020 election falsehoods into political success in 2022.

Mr. Raffensperger did not mention Mr. Trump by name in his victory remarks on Tuesday night, but he made a clear reference to him. “Not buckling under the pressure is what the people want,” Mr. Raffensperger said.

Though Mr. Raffensperger was a hero to many Democrats for his refusal to overturn the 2020 election, he will still face stiff opposition in the general election in November. Democrats have placed a premium on secretary of state races across the country as a means of combating what they view as a wave of new restrictive voting laws.

The contest in Georgia between Mr. Raffensperger and Mr. Hice elevated the once-sleepy down-ballot race into a hyperpartisan dogfight, helping to bring national attention to races for secretary of state across the country. After Mr. Hice earned Mr. Trump’s backing, a host of candidates who have publicly questioned or disputed the results of the 2020 election in several states announced their candidacy for secretary of state, worrying Democrats, election experts and some Republicans.

After the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Raffensperger became perhaps the most famous secretary of state in the country, as a leaked audio call showed him resisting Mr. Trump’s pressure. And though he lamented the former president’s loss publicly, Mr. Raffensperger repeatedly asserted that Georgia’s elections had been free and fair.

This immediately put him in the cross hairs of Mr. Trump, who has focused his political capital on ousting Republicans who either went against his whims after the 2020 election or voted for his impeachment after the riot at the Capitol.

Mr. Trump quickly endorsed Mr. Hice, the first secretary of state candidate to earn his endorsement, in March of last year. “Jody has been a steadfast fighter for conservative Georgia values and is a staunch ally of the America First agenda,” Mr. Trump said. “Unlike the current Georgia secretary of state, Jody leads out front with integrity.”

As he sought to fend off Mr. Hice’s challenge, Mr. Raffensperger shifted to the right. He was one of the most vocal proponents of the state’s new voting law, which added numerous new regulations and restrictions to casting ballots, even though the law also stripped Mr. Raffensperger of some of his powers as secretary of state.

Mr. Raffensperger dismissed his opponent’s campaign as mere political opportunism.

“I have a good record to run on — he’s got nothing to run on because he’s done nothing,” Mr. Raffensperger said in an interview. “In fact, when we had the Republican House, Republican Senate and a president that was Republican, he didn’t introduce a single piece of election reform legislation and neither did any of his other fellow members.”

Mr. Hice at times campaigned with the vigor of a presidential candidate as he crisscrossed the state in a chartered jet. He often criticized Mr. Raffensperger for mailing ballot applications to what he described as every voter in the state during the 2020 election. Mr. Raffensperger mailed ballot applications to all active voters, not every voter, and it was during the primary, not the general election.

“I voted against Kevin McCarthy to be our leader, and I was punished for doing so,” Mr. Hice said at an event last week, referring to his removal from the House Armed Services Committee. “But in doing so I stood up to leadership, unlike Brad Raffensperger.”

But after a harshly fought, yearlong primary campaign, both candidates spent the final days before Tuesday largely out of the public eye.

Mr. Raffensperger retreated from the campaign trail to oversee the primary elections in his capacity as secretary of state. Mr. Hice met mostly with local Republican groups that prohibited media access.

Maya King and Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting.

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