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As Republicans talk about election integrity and Democrats talk voting rights, down-ballot races that used to be almost an afterthought are on track to rack up significantly more attention from big political donors and media in 2022.
Throw former President Donald Trump into the mix, and rhetoric around elections for secretaries of state further escalates.
This year, voters in 27 states will decide on their secretaries of state, who in most states are the chief state election administration officials. The contests are happening in what are often major battlegrounds, such as for Democrat-held seats in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota, and Republican-held seats in Georgia, Iowa, Nevada and Ohio.
Trump endorsed Republican primary candidates for the job in Arizona and Michigan and is backing Rep. Jody Hice’s primary challenge to incumbent GOP Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who certified the narrow Joe Biden victory in the Peach State in 2020.
Outside groups are heavily targeting these races. Robert Reich, a former labor secretary, warned in a fundraising pitch for the liberal group MoveOn that Trump wants to “install himself in the White House in 2024” by electing secretaries of state.
“His plot centers around using the 2022 elections to install right-wing loyalists to one of the most obscure, but important, jobs in politics: Secretary of State — the officials who control voter registration, oversee the counting of the votes, and declare the winners and losers of elections,” Reich wrote in the Dec. 26 fundraising pitch announcing MoveOn’s focus on the secretary of state races.
“If Trump’s plot succeeds, Trump-backed secretaries of state in key battleground states will have the power to disregard the will of the people and throw out the necessary number of ballots — thousands or perhaps millions — to ensure that Trump is declared the winner.”
Trump has notably endorsed other down-ballot candidates for state legislature, state agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor and even one for a county judge, according to a tally by Ballotpedia of Trump-endorsed candidates.
Republicans are focusing less on Trump as they contend that Democrats want administrators to change the rules of elections for their own advantages.
“National liberals are ramping up their investments in secretary of state races because they see control of these offices as a way to change the rules to compensate for their inability to win elections with their failed socialist agenda,” Andrew Romeo, director of communications for the Republican State Leadership Committee, told Fox News. “The RSLC is focused on continuing to accelerate our fundraising efforts so we can stop them.”
The Republican State Leadership Committee raises money for Republican candidates running for state legislature, secretary of state and other down-ticket state offices.
Romeo said the committee had not yet finalized a list of targeted races for secretary of state. But, he predicted victories, noting that election integrity measures such as voter ID are popular with the public.
“Republicans will be successful in these races because Americans across the country understand now more than ever the importance of having strong secretaries of state who will make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” Romeo added.
The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, which raises money solely for these races, has cast the upcoming year as about the survival of democracy, saying in a New Year’s Eve fundraising tweet, “There are 27 Secretaries of State races on the ballot in 2022. Help us celebrate the New Year (and more importantly, help us save democracy) by supporting our work here.”
A media spokesperson for the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State did not respond to inquiries for this story.
The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State expects to raise about $15 million, more than 10 times its previous record, Axios reported. Liberal donor Quinn Delaney and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank each donated $250,000 to the group.
The Republican State Leadership Committee announced last week that, along with its strategic policy partner the State Government Leadership Foundation, it had raised a total of $33.3 million in 2021, more than doubling the previous off-year record of $14 million in 2019. That will go for the group’s entire portfolio of state candidates.
The liberal group End Citizens United/Let America Vote will spend $7 million to back six Democratic candidates for secretary of state and attorney general in Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota, CNN reported in June.