Who will run the 2024 election? They’re on your ballot in 2022.
Twenty-five states will elect their chief election officers this November — a slate of contests already drawing outsize attention, money and competition as former President Donald Trump continues undermining the results of the last national election.
The jobs vary from state to state. But many secretaries of State (and a handful of other posts with similar job descriptions) play a role in certifying election results, along with setting policies that govern election procedures in states including a number of closely divided presidential battlegrounds.
POLITICO spoke with more than 20 candidates, senior campaign aides and outside group operatives from both parties to paint a picture of the 2022 battleground map for these once-obscure elections. The focus on them has been magnified by Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 election he lost — both his attempts to overturn the results in 2020 and, now, his drive to install loyalists in key election posts around the country before a potential comeback campaign in 2024.
Now, Trump is backing candidates for secretary of State in open battleground races as well as challenging Republicans in primaries who did not back his claims about voter fraud or his efforts to block election certification in 2020.
“Historically, they’ve been incredibly overlooked. But if you think about 2020, you see exactly how important these races are,” said Kim Rogers, the executive director of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, the GOP’s national campaign arm responsible for secretary of state races, declined an interview request. In a statement, RSLC spokesperson Andrew Romeo said that his organization expected national liberals to spend “record money” on secretary races in 2022, and that “the stakes for electing conservative secretaries in 2022 could not be higher.”
Romeo added the group had “no plans” to spend in primaries this year, the first time the group has publicly disclosed that decision.
At least nine states are guaranteed to have new chief election officials next year, heading into an almost-assuredly contentious 2024 presidential election, including major battleground states like Nevada and Arizona. Here’s how the map stacks up.
The Trump endorsements
Trump has endorsed a trio of secretary of State candidates in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, which operatives nearly universally agree will be among the most competitive states in November — and which will all be critical presidential battlegrounds in 2024.
All three of Trump’s endorsees — state Rep. Mark Finchem in Arizona, Rep. Jody Hice in Georgia and community college professor Kristina Karamo in Michigan — have wholeheartedly embraced the former president’s lies about the 2020 election.
Arizona is an open-seat race after current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, opted to run for governor. It is expected to be one of the tightest races in November.
Despite Trump’s early endorsement, Finchem has not been a field-clearer in the primary. Finchem has raised a significant amount of money for his bid from a national network of donors — but advertising executive Beau Lane has kept pace by rallying in-state business leaders to fill his campaign coffers. Lane, who has run an under the radar campaign so far, has not publicly embraced Trump’s 2020 election conspiracies. State Rep. Shawnna Bolick and state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita are also in the August primary.
On the Democratic side, former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and state House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding are vying for the nomination, with national groups largely sitting out the contested primary so far.
Georgia presents perhaps the biggest test of Trump’s sway over election offices. He is backing Hice’s primary challenge against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who famously rebuffed Trump’s attempts to “find” votes in the state after his narrow loss.
Raffensperger has not apologized for turning away the now-former president but has tried to otherwise win back conservatives even while Trump continues to rail against him. But the race isn’t a head-to-head: Other candidates — including former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, whom Raffensperger beat for the nomination in 2018 — are in the race, meaning that the primary could head to a runoff, with recent polling in the state showing Hice leading but not hitting 50 percent.
Regardless of who wins the GOP primary, Democrats are running hard for the seat. State Rep. Bee Nguyen has been a strong financial frontrunner, with significant national Democratic support. But a late entry from former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, along with the campaigns of former Fulton County chair John Eaves, Cobb County Democrat Michael Owens and former Milledgeville Mayor Floyd Griffin, could send Democrats to a runoff too.
Karamo also has not cleared the Republican field in Michigan, but a key Michigan GOP endorsement convention this weekend could clarify the race. Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s reelection campaign is expected to attract particularly strong national support from the Democratic Party.
The broader battleground
The most competitive races stretch beyond just places where Trump has endorsed. Joining those three states in the hyper-competitive bucket is Nevada, to replace term-limited Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske. Cegavske defended the legitimacy of the 2020 election and was censured by the state party for it.
The Republican field is crowded and includes former state Assemblyman Jim Marchant, who has been a ringleader among 2020 election deniers now running for election offices. Marchant has recently pushed for hand-counting ballots, which election officials have derided as costly, slower and less reliable. Other candidates in the race include former state Sen. Jesse Haw, a developer, who is expected to be able to bring significant resources into the contest.
Democrats already have their candidate in Cisco Aguilar, an attorney and former staffer for the late Sen. Harry Reid. Aguilar has been a strong fundraiser so far.
Several other key presidential battlegrounds — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire — don’t appear on this list because their chief election officials are not directly elected. But two more Democratic secretaries have races in the battleground tier: Colorado’s Jena Griswold and Minnesota’s Steve Simon.
Griswold became the first Democrat elected to her office in decades in 2018. She could face Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican local election official who has been indicted for her alleged role in a breach of election equipment and who has closely aligned herself with prominent election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell.
Simon, meanwhile, is running in a state that Democrats warn is not as blue as it appears — and where the potential for third-party candidacies in the state always add a layer of uncertainty.
Other contests that are taking place in states that have been competitive in recent memory but are not expected to reach that top tier of contests this cycle include three incumbents: Republicans Paul Pate of Iowa and Frank LaRose of Ohio, and Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver of New Mexico. Some Democrats are also keeping an eye on Washington, after Democrat Steve Hobbs was appointed to the job last year after former Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, took a role in the Biden administration.
LaRose is part of a class of Republican incumbents facing challengers from the right this year, with candidates of varying degrees of seriousness in Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. In Ohio, there is an outside group that took in more than $1 million last quarter running ads boosting LaRose and attacking his primary opponent, former state Rep. John Adams.
And while Massachusetts is not expected to be competitive in the general election, longtime Democratic Secretary of Commonwealth Bill Galvin is facing a credible Democratic primary challenge from attorney Tanisha Sullivan.
Besides Arizona and Nevada, at least seven other states are guaranteed to elect new chief election officials: Alabama, Alaska (whose lieutenant governor is the state’s chief election officer), Connecticut, Idaho, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Vermont. Their first presidential election is likely to be a tumultuous one for these new officials to manage.
Many states have longtime incumbents opting to not seek another term. North Dakota Republican Al Jaeger first won office in 1992, while Vermont’s Jim Condos and Connecticut’s Denise Merrill — both Democrats — had been in office for over a decade each before hanging it up. There’s a particularly crowded primary to replace Merrill in Connecticut, and the possibility of a Republican wave year has some operatives monitoring the November election in the state.
Some of the Republican primaries in safe red states — particularly Idaho and Alabama — have drawn candidates that have questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s election.
Outside of Washington state, two more secretaries who first took office in 2021 due to a vacancy — California Democrat Shirley Weber and Indiana Republican Holli Sullivan — are facing voters for the first time for their new office.
The lone incumbent secretary yet to announce 2022 plans is Edward Buchanan of Wyoming, the reddest state in the nation. But the Republican incumbent is expected to announce his reelection bid imminently.