|Dear Readers: We’re delighted to announce that Senior Columnist Louis Jacobson will be taking on an expanded role at the Crystal Ball this cycle. He’ll be regularly analyzing several categories of state-level races for the Crystal Ball: the battles for control of state legislatures and state attorneys general offices, as well as secretaries of state — which is the subject of his piece below. The persistence of former President Trump’s unsubstantiated complaints about the integrity of the 2020 election has raised the visibility of secretary of state races, which will be contested in a little more than half of the states next year.
The Crystal Ball itself won’t be issuing formal ratings in these down-ballot state-level races — we’ll continue to just issue ratings for U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and gubernatorial races in midterm years — but Lou’s years of experience covering and analyzing state politics will provide readers with in-depth analysis of these important but often-overlooked state-level contests.
— The Editors
KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— Next year, 27 states will hold elections for secretary of state. With former President Donald Trump continuing to make election fraud the centerpiece of his effort to return to the presidency — despite the lack of any evidence — the outcome of secretary of state races in 2022 will loom larger than ever, because in most states the office oversees election administration.
— Trump has inserted himself directly in some of these races by endorsing primary candidates in several states.
— Handicapping these races is more complicated than usual because if some of the more aggressively pro-Trump candidates end up winning the nomination, they could enable a more promising outlook for Democrats in the general election.
— In Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, the general election for secretary of state is likely to be competitive regardless of who the Republican nominee is. In addition, another half-dozen races could be competitive, including Democratic-held seats in Colorado, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The early line on secretary of state races
Next year, 27 states will hold elections for secretary of state. In most years, these contests would be an afterthought, even for political junkies. But with former President Donald Trump continuing to make election fraud the centerpiece of his effort to return to the presidency — despite the lack of any evidence that there was widespread voting fraud when Trump lost the 2020 election — the outcome of the secretary of state races in 2022 will likely be more important than ever. That’s because in most (but not all) states, the secretary of state is given significant oversight of the election process — the very election processes that Trump is targeting.
Trump has directly inserted himself in several key secretary of state races by making endorsements. These include endorsements of Republican candidates running in Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan — 3 states that Trump lost narrowly in 2020 and that would be crucial to his winning the presidency if he runs again in 2024. In each of these 3 states, Trump and his allies sought to block the certification of results following the 2020 election. Having a supportive secretary of state next time would provide Trump with a friendlier audience for whatever inevitable complaints he would have about voting processes in 2024.
“The single biggest issue — the issue that gets the most pull, the most respect, the biggest cheers — is talking about the election fraud of 2020’s presidential election,” Trump said at a rally in Iowa in October.
In September, Reuters interviewed 9 of the 15 Republican candidates that had declared secretary of state candidacies in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin; the article found that most supported a push for “more audits or other investigations of the 2020 vote, despite dozens of audits, recounts and court rulings that confirmed Biden’s victory.”
The intense focus on election administration has made the 2022 cycle of secretary of state races an exceedingly tricky one to handicap. I have handicapped secretary of state races for the past decade for Governing, the Cook Political Report, and now for the Crystal Ball. But never in those efforts — nor in any of my other handicapping efforts for other offices all the way back to 2002 — has the landscape been so complicated.
Usually, even a year before Election Day, I’m able to have some sense, even a tentative one, about how a given general election will shape up. This year, not so much. In several of the most important secretary of state contests for 2022, handicapping has become a 2-stage process.
First, a winner will need to be determined in the Republican primary. One factor will likely be decisive for these heavily base-oriented contests: How closely allied is a candidate with Trump? In many states, the identity of the Republican nominee will shape the GOP’s prospects for the general election. Will the Republican simply coast to victory based on party affiliation alone, especially in a midterm election that is looking favorable to the GOP? Or will voters be turned off by a strongly Trump-aligned candidate whose opponent is painting them as a threat to democracy? In the latter scenario, will moderate Republicans vote Democratic and will Democratic and Democratic-leaning independents be energized to turn out to oppose an aggressively pro-Trump candidate?
In this article, we’ll separate the 27 races into 6 categories, plus a bonus category, based on interviews with more than two dozen political observers in the states:
Republican-held seats with a competitive Republican primary that will likely be competitive in the general election (2 seats)
Georgia: Brad Raffensperger (R)
Raffensperger infuriated Trump by rejecting his request to “find” enough votes to make Trump the winner over Joe Biden in Georgia, and by forcefully opposing the outgoing president’s allegations of election fraud in the state. Such positions led to death threats against Raffensperger and his family.
Trump is aggressively backing a primary challenge to Raffensperger by Rep. Jody Hice (R, GA-10). “Nobody understands the disaster of the lack of election integrity like the people of Georgia, and now is our hour to take it back,” Hice said at a Trump rally in Georgia.
There’s another challenger in the GOP primary: David Belle Isle, who lost a runoff to Raffensperger in 2018 and who told Reuters that he believes Biden should not have been declared the winner. Political observers in Georgia suggest that Raffensperger will be at a steep disadvantage in a primary dominated by Republican base voters.
The Democrats have a primary as well, with three leading candidates. State Rep. Bee Nguyen is a well-regarded legislator and outspokenly progressive; John Eaves is the former chair of the Fulton County Commission; and Floyd Griffin is a former state senator and mayor of Milledgeville.
Given Trump’s intense focus on backing Hice, the contest promises to be one of the midterm’s marquee races. Regardless of which candidates become the parties’ nominees, it’s likely to be a competitive race, even as Democrats brace for midterm headwinds nationally.
Nevada: Open seat (Barbara Cegavske, R, is term-limited)
Nevada, like Georgia, is a state that Biden won in 2020 and where Trump allies tried to cast doubt on the results. Here, the secretary of state position is coming open in 2022. Cegavske, who is term-limited, is the only statewide elected Republican in Nevada today, but the state party censured her after she pushed back against Trump-aligned allegations of voting irregularities in the state.
Trump hasn’t endorsed a GOP primary candidate yet, but the one who seems best placed to secure it is former state assemblyman and unsuccessful 2020 congressional candidate Jim Marchant. Marchant has been an announced guest at events with voter fraud conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell and figures linked to QAnon, according to the Nevada Independent. Marchant has advocated getting rid of Dominion voting machines, a brand that Trump allies have baselessly accused of being faulty; limiting voting to a single day in a state where early, in-person voting is common and widely used; and ending mail balloting, Vice reported.
Marchant doesn’t have a clear path to the nomination, however. Other GOP candidates include Kristopher Dahir, a Sparks City council member; Gerard Ramalho, a retired news anchor; and Richard Scotti, a former judge.
The Democrats have at least two candidates: Cisco Aguilar, a former state athletic commissioner and former congressional aide, and Ellen Spiegel, a former state assemblywoman. Expect a competitive race, regardless of the nominees.
Democratic-held seat with a competitive Republican primary that will likely be competitive in the general election (3 seats)
Arizona: Open seat (Katie Hobbs, D, is running for governor)
Arizona, another Biden-to-Trump state and the home of a months-long “audit” initiated by Trump allies, is another state with a secretary of state office coming open in 2022. Hobbs is running for the gubernatorial seat being vacated by Gov. Doug Ducey (R); the role that both Hobbs and Ducey played in certifying the Arizona results has made them a target of pro-Trump forces.
Each of the 4 main GOP primary candidates for secretary of state is aligned with Trump to one degree or another.
One, state Rep. Mark Finchem, has received Trump’s endorsement. A second, state Rep. Shawnna Bolick, chairs the House Ways and Means Committee and is married to an Arizona supreme court justice. A third is state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, while a fourth is Beau Lane, an advertising executive with no previous experience running for elected office.
On the Democratic side, the primary will be between state Rep. Reginald Bolding, the current House Minority Leader, and Adrian Fontes, the former county recorder for Maricopa County (Phoenix) who lost his reelection bid in 2020.
As is expected with Georgia and Nevada, observers are predicting a competitive general election, regardless of the nominees.
Michigan: Jocelyn Benson (D)
Benson, who was elected in 2018, has been attacked by Republicans for being overly partisan in election administration, although her extensive experience in the field — she was dean of Wayne State University Law School — and her unflappable style have won her some popularity. One issue that Republicans hope to exploit is her handling of something fully separate from elections: the state’s motor vehicle branch offices, which have been spotlighted by GOP-led legislative hearings.
The GOP frontrunner is Kristina Karamo, a Trump-endorsed activist who has not served in elected office. She has called Benson “evil” and alleged widespread voting fraud in the state, according to Vice. Also running is term-limited state Rep. Beau LaFave, who represents part of the state’s Upper Peninsula. Another possible candidate, and the one with the most traditional background in elections, is Cindy Berry, the elected clerk for Chesterfield Township in Macomb County. Notably, the nomination is to be decided in a GOP convention rather than a primary.
Michigan’s close elections in recent cycles suggest a competitive contest in the general. Historically, a sitting Michigan secretary of state has been ousted only once in the past 55 years: 6-term Democrat Richard Austin, who lost to Candice Miller in the Republican wave year of 1994.
Wisconsin: Doug La Follette (D)
The big difference with Wisconsin’s secretary of state race compared to many others is that the position does not oversee elections. (Instead, the state is embroiled in bitter fights over a board that has that task.) This hasn’t stopped Republicans from gunning for the seat held by 81-year-old La Follette, a distant relative of former Wisconsin governor and senator Bob La Follette.
La Follette has served as Wisconsin’s secretary of state for all but 4 years since 1975. One GOP candidate, former Menasha town supervisor Jay Schroeder, told Reuters that “there is lots of reasonable doubt” about whether Biden won the election. Other GOP candidates include state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck and activist and podcast host Justin Schmidtka.
Wisconsin’s series of razor-thin elections suggests that this contest could be competitive in the general.
Democratic-held seats without a competitive Republican primary that could be competitive in the general election (3 seats)
Colorado: Jena Griswold (D)
Compared to Democratic candidates running for secretary of state in Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada, Griswold, who was first elected in 2018, will at least benefit from running in a bluer state. Still, the race could be competitive, especially if Democrats are running uphill nationally when the election approaches.
On the GOP side, the initial frontrunner for the nomination is former Jefferson County clerk Pam Anderson, who has cast doubt on election-fraud claims by the Trump camp but who has painted Griswold as too partisan in her office. Anderson could get competition in the primary, such as from outgoing Larimer County Clerk Angela Myers. While Anderson would likely start out as the underdog, her distancing from Trump offers a promising profile for a Republican hoping to notch a victory in the state these days.
Minnesota: Steve Simon (D)
Simon, who is in his second term, is the early favorite to win a third, but the race could become competitive in this bluish/purplish state, depending on how the GOP nomination shakes out. Kelly Jahner-Byrne, who ran unsuccessfully for the state House in 2020, is the only GOP candidate in the race for now.
New Mexico: Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D)
Toulouse Oliver, who has been in office since 2016, is expected to be renominated easily. The only other candidate so far is Audrey D. Trujillo, who currently serves as the state Republican Hispanic political director. According to her website, Trujillo touts her work on behalf of “the grassroots efforts to pursue a forensic audit that would help expose the voter fraud in NM elections.”
Given New Mexico’s political lean, Toulouse Oliver would be favored over Trujillo, but a competitive race can’t be ruled out if Democratic fortunes in the midterms slip.
Republican-held seat without a competitive Republican primary that could be competitive in the general election (1 seat)
Iowa: Paul Pate (R)
While Iowa has shifted to the right in recent election cycles, the Democrats see an opportunity in the race to take on Pate, who served a term as secretary of state from 1995 to 1999 and 2 more beginning in 2014.
Two Democrats are running. One is Joel Miller, the auditor in Linn County, which includes Cedar Rapids. The other is Eric Van Lancker, the auditor in Clinton County, a small county along the Mississippi River. Miller is considered the better known of the two, although both candidates can point to experience running elections. At times, Miller has clashed with his fellow Democrats, but more recently, he was among the Iowa county auditors who were successfully sued by the Trump campaign for sending out absentee ballot request forms that included voters’ ID numbers. He also spoke out publicly against a 2021 elections bill in Iowa that Democrats have criticized as unnecessary and suppressive.
Pate begins the race as the favorite, particularly because he’ll be sharing the ballot with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) and Gov. Kim Reynolds (R). But either Democrat might be able to make a race of it.
Republican-held seats that do not appear to be competitive in the general election (11 seats)
Alabama: Open seat (John Merrill, R, is term-limited)
Whoever wins the GOP primary will be the odds-on favorite in Alabama. State Rep. Wes Allen is the early favorite, though he’ll likely face rivals in the primary.
Arkansas: John Thurston (R)
Thurston is seeking his second term, but he’s not getting a free ride to the GOP nomination. Combative state Rep. Mark Lowery is running, as is Eddie Joe Williams, the former state Senate majority leader and a former Trump administration energy official. Both are considered more closely aligned with Trump than Thurston is.
On the Democratic side, Pulaski County (Little Rock) Election Commissioner Josh Price is running; Price has battled Republicans over vote counting in the county and has establishment support. He’ll face Anna Beth Gorman, head of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, in the Democratic primary. She’s considered a dynamic candidate but has ruffled feathers by entering the primary for secretary of state when she could have run for other offices with no announced Democratic candidate.
Idaho: Open seat (Lawerence Denney, R, is retiring)
With Denney’s retirement, 4 announced Republican candidates have emerged, and each could plausibly win the nomination. The primary will play out alongside a gubernatorial primary that includes an establishment-vs.-Trumpist vibe.
The most establishment candidate is probably Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, who has expressed confidence in present levels of election security. Another candidate is Chad Houck, the chief deputy secretary of state who is backed by Denney. A third is state Sen. Mary Souza, who has criticized the current state of election integrity. And the fourth is state Rep. Dorothy Moon, who seems to be taking the most hardline pro-Trump stances.
In a 4-way race, the winner may need less than a third of the vote. Whoever wins the GOP nod should be the odds-on favorite, especially if no Democratic candidate emerges.
Indiana: Holli Sullivan (R)
Sullivan was appointed to the office by GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb in May to succeed the retiring Connie Lawson. Sullivan has extensive experience in the legislature as well as with the state party organization and is considered a credible candidate. However, she’ll face a primary against Diego Morales, a businessman and former aide to then-Gov. Mike Pence.
Whoever wins the nomination should win the general; no Democrat has announced yet.
Kansas: Scott Schwab (R)
Schwab is the heavy favorite and faces no primary challenge yet. No Democrat has announced.
Nebraska: Bob Evnen (R)
Evnen is also the heavy favorite and faces no primary challenge yet. No Democrat has announced.
North Dakota: Open seat (Al Jaeger, R, is retiring)
Despite the prospect of an open seat, neither party in this overwhelmingly Republican state has put up a candidate yet.
Ohio: Frank LaRose (R)
LaRose is facing a primary challenge from his right, from former state legislator John Adams, who has expressed doubts that Biden won the election. The expected Democratic candidate is Chelsea Clark, a city council member in suburban Cincinnati’s Forest Park. However, Ohio has become an increasingly difficult target for Democrats in recent years, so the party will need a series of breaks to make this race competitive.
South Carolina: Mark Hammond (R)
Hammond has no primary opposition yet, and no Democratic candidate has announced, either.
South Dakota: Steve Barnett (R)
Barnett has no primary opposition yet, and observers will be surprised if Democrats even find a candidate to run.
Wyoming: Ed Buchanan (R)
Buchanan has no primary opposition yet, and the Democrats are all but a lost cause in solidly red Wyoming.
Democratic-held seat that does not appear to be competitive in the general election (7 seats)
California: Shirley Weber (D)
Weber, who was appointed to fill the vacancy created when Alex Padilla was appointed to the Senate, is running for election and is the prohibitive favorite in solidly blue California.
There is a Trump-aligned Republican running — Rachel Hamm — but she has ties to QAnon and has claimed that devil-worshippers sacrificed animals and performed other occult rituals in front of her house, according to the Daily Beast. Observers assume that she will pose no threat to Weber.
Connecticut: Open seat (Denise Merrill, D, is retiring)
Several Democrats are expected to compete for the open seat in reliably blue Connecticut, including New Haven City Health Director Maritza Bond; New Haven City Alderman Darryl Brackeen; state Rep. Josh Elliott; former New Haven Alderwoman Jackie James; state Sen. Matt Lesser; and state Rep. Hilda Santiago. Some of these candidates may switch to the state comptroller’s race if that seat becomes open, as some are speculating.
On the GOP side, 2018 Senate candidate Dominic Rapini and GOP activist Brock Weber are the leading names. But whoever wins the Democratic primary would be the heavy favorite in the general.
Illinois: Open seat (Jesse White, D, is retiring)
White is leaving after 6 terms. Prior to White’s election, the office was held by Republicans George Ryan and Jim Edgar, who were subsequently elected governor, and Democrat Alan Dixon, who was elected to the Senate. In those days, the office was prized for its patronage opportunities and as a stepping stone to higher office, but corruption scandals under Ryan led to a paring back of the office’s powers.
Like the secretary of state’s office in Wisconsin, the one in Illinois plays no role in administering elections; that duty was handed to an appointed State Board of Election under the 1970 Illinois Constitution. These days, the primary duties of the office are maintaining official state records and overseeing automobile services. The lack of focus on election administration suggests that it will not be a major target for Trump’s allies.
Two leading figures on the Democratic side are former state treasurer and unsuccessful Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias and Chicago city clerk Anna Valencia. Giannoulias has picked up endorsements from public officials and labor unions, but memories of his weak Senate campaign in 2010 remain. Valencia, for her part, is not well known outside Cook County but has a base of support in the Hispanic community and has nabbed some Chicago endorsements. Two Chicago aldermen, Pat Dowell and David Moore, are also running in the Democratic primary.
On the GOP side, downstate state Rep. Dan Brady is the leading candidate. But in heavily blue — and heavily Chicago-oriented — Illinois, the Republican nominee will be a significant underdog.
Massachusetts: Bill Galvin (D)
Galvin has served 7 terms and will be reelected easily if he decides to run again (and Democrats should hold the seat even if he doesn’t).
Rhode Island: Open seat (Nellie Gorbea, D, is running for governor)
Just one candidate has declared for this open seat: Democrat Gregg Amore, a public school teacher who is serving his fifth term in the General Assembly. He has received key endorsements and put up solid fundraising numbers; he’s also well-liked by the Democratic political establishment. Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation Director Liz Tanner is a possible Democratic candidate, but she hasn’t announced yet.
No Republican candidate has emerged so far. Even if one did, the Democrats would be heavily favored in the general.
Vermont: Jim Condos (D)
Condos is the odds-on favorite to win a seventh 2-year term. Vermont Republicans are expected to have trouble recruiting a competitive candidate, since their focus will be on re-electing GOP Gov. Phil Scott and, if Democratic Lt. Gov. Molly Gray runs for Congress, trying to succeed her as lieutenant governor.
Washington state: Steve Hobbs (D)
Hobbs was sworn in in late November after being tapped by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to succeed Kim Wyman, a Republican who took a position with the Biden administration. Hobbs has said he plans to run in the November 2022 special election, and while he’s actually the first Democrat to hold the office in 56 years, the state’s blue lean makes him the favorite to win election to the unexpired term (this office is usually elected in presidential years).
Bonus: Gubernatorial races that could determine the appointment of the secretary of state
Several states will hold gubernatorial races in which the winner will be able to appoint the secretary of state.
Two big prizes, Florida and Texas, lean towards GOP holds, while one smaller prize, Maryland, is a good prospect for a Democratic flip. In addition, a few states have their legislature choose the secretary of state, and among those are Maine and New Hampshire, which could have a competitive fight for control in one or both chambers (Democrats control both chambers in Maine, while Republicans control both in New Hampshire).
The biggest prize for a secretary of state appointment, however, could be Pennsylvania. The Keystone State is another highly-competitive Trump-to-Biden state where Trump and his allies sought to overturn the election results. Democrats are all but decided on their gubernatorial nominee, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, while the Republican primary field is large and wide open: It includes candidates with varying degrees of fealty to Trump, including former Rep. Lou Barletta and state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has sought an Arizona-style “audit” of Pennsylvania.
|Louis Jacobson is a Senior Columnist for Sabato’s Crystal Ball. He is also the senior correspondent at the fact-checking website PolitiFact and is senior author of the Almanac of American Politics 2022. He was senior author of the Almanac’s 2016, 2018, and 2020 editions and a contributing writer for the 2000 and 2004 editions