|Dear Readers: Senior Columnist Louis Jacobson covers state-level races for the Crystal Ball, and he is back this week with an updated look at this year’s elections for state attorneys general and secretaries of state. The Crystal Ball does not issue formal race ratings for these races as part of our normal coverage (we reserve those “official” ratings for the Electoral College, Senate, House, and governors), but we are also offering Lou’s periodic updates and ratings on these lower-level but still-important races, which Lou has covered for many years for several different publications.
— The Editors
KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— The once low-profile contests for attorney general and secretary of state continue to be important for driving policy outcomes in the states, particularly in setting the rules for how elections are run.
— In 2024, there will be 10 contests for attorney general, plus another 7 for secretary of state.
— Of these, only three AG races look competitive right now (in Indiana, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania). One secretary of state contest looks competitive (in North Carolina).
The AG and secretary of state contests
The once low-profile contests for attorney general and secretary of state continue to be important for driving policy outcomes in the states, particularly in setting the rules for how elections are run. But for these races, the 2024 election cycle is looking to be relatively drama-free.
In all, 13 out of the 17 races rate as either Safe Republican or Safe Democratic in our rankings, even though a whopping 9 of them involve open seats. (Five of the outgoing officeholders are running for governor, a sign that these offices can be key stepping stones to higher office.)
The four competitive races will be held in three states. North Carolina will host competitive contests for both offices. Pennsylvania will have a competitive attorney general race. So will Indiana, which represents the only shift in a rating since our initial ratings were published in June 2023. Indiana shifts from Safe Republican to Leans Republican.
Here’s a rundown of each race for AG and secretary of state for 2024, based on multiple interviews with political observers, both in the states and nationally.
As in the past, we rate contests in descending order, from most likely to be won by the Republicans to most likely to be won by the Democrats, including within each rating category (Safe Republican, Likely Republican, Leans Republican, Toss-up, Leans Democratic, Likely Democratic, and Safe Democratic). We’ll update these ratings periodically as the contests develop.
Attorney general races
West Virginia: Open seat (Patrick Morrisey, R, is running for governor)
This open-seat contest includes two members of the state’s dominant Republican Party. J.B. McCuskey, a twice-elected state auditor and former state delegate, dropped out of the gubernatorial race to run for AG. He faces state Sen. Mike Stuart, a former state Republican chairman and a former U.S. attorney appointed by then-President Donald Trump. Stuart is considered the Trumpier of the two.
On the Democratic side, attorney Teresa Toriseva has announced a run, as has former South Charleston mayor Richie Robb, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2020 Democratic U.S. Senate primary. But the real action is expected to come in the GOP primary.
Missouri (Republican Andrew Bailey)
When Eric Schmitt left the AG office to become a U.S. senator, GOP Gov. Mike Parson appointed Bailey, his general counsel, to fill the vacancy. Now Bailey is running for a term of his own, and with the power of incumbency, he has been pursuing some red-meat conservative policies from the AG office that could help him in the GOP primary, such as bans on transgender care.
The pragmatic wing of the GOP may prefer Will Scharf, a former federal prosecutor and onetime aide to then-Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican who resigned the office amid a personal scandal. Scharf has a decent war chest, but he remains a slight underdog in the GOP primary.
On the Democratic side, Elad Gross, who lost the 2020 Democratic primary for AG, is running again. While Gross has the Democratic field to himself—a potential primary rival, state Rep. Sarah Unsicker, has become embroiled in controversy over allegedly anti-Semitic conspiracy theories—Missouri has become so solidly red that Democrats face huge hurdles in winning any statewide office.
Utah: Open seat (Sean Reyes, R, is retiring)
After a series of high-profile controversies, incumbent Sean Reyes announced he would not seek a third full term as AG. (Reyes becomes the third consecutive Republican attorney general in Utah to leave office under fire, dating back more than a decade.)
The GOP field is led by Derek Brown, a former state GOP chair, former state representative, and lobbyist. Three less prominent Republicans are also running: Frank Mylar, a Christian marriage counselor and activist; attorney and state risk management director Rachel Terry; and businessman and former U.S. House candidate Trent Christensen.
Michelle Quist, an attorney and former Salt Lake Tribune columnist, is running under the banner of the centrist United Utah Party.
Attorneys Rudy Bautista and David Carlson are running as Democrats, but in a state as red as Utah, it’s hard to imagine any making a strong run in November, despite the history of GOP controversy in the office.
Montana (Republican Austin Knudsen)
While Knudsen is thought to be on the outs with Gov. Greg Gianforte, a fellow Republican, the first-term AG has not yet attracted a primary challenger.
He does have a Democratic challenger, however: Ben Alke, an attorney from Bozeman. While Alke is a political novice, he comes from a political family; his father is a longtime lobbyist in Helena with ties to both Democrats and Republicans. Alke is expected to portray Knudsen as overly political and ideological. Democrats are hoping that a possible abortion rights ballot measure could juice Democratic turnout. Still, Alke faces a decidedly uphill challenge in seeking to oust Knudsen.
Indiana (Republican Todd Rokita) — Shift from Safe Republican
This is the only 2024 AG race to prompt a ratings shift so far, from Safe Republican to Lean Republican.
Rokita has been highly visible, and controversial, particularly for pursuing sanctions against a physician who spoke to the media about the case of a 10-year-old rape victim that attracted national attention. Televised comments Rokita made about the physician later drew him a reprimand from the Indiana Supreme Court, making him the second consecutive Republican AG in the state to be reprimanded by the court. In turn, Rokita has adopted a Trumpian, bare-knuckled response.
Establishment Republicans already weren’t thrilled with Rokita, and it’s possible he could get intra-party opposition in the Republican nominating convention. Rokita himself became the GOP nominee in 2020 by securing the convention nod over Curtis Hill. Hill is currently running for governor but could drop back into the AG race. Alternately, a more pragmatic Republican could seek the convention nod.
However the GOP primary plays out, the Democrats are expecting to have a credible nominee. The early frontrunner has been Destiny Wells, an Afghanistan War veteran and attorney who lost to Republican Diego Morales in the 2022 secretary of state contest. Entering the race more recently is Beth White, the former elected clerk in Marion County.
Either Democrat would receive significant party support, because the AG race is expected to be Indiana’s marquee race in 2024, more than even the gubernatorial and Senate contests.
It would be a heavy lift for any Democrat to beat Rokita—no Democrat has won a statewide contest in Indiana since 2012—but a Democratic win is no longer outside the realm of possibility.
North Carolina: Open seat (Josh Stein, D, is running for governor)
In a hot election cycle in North Carolina with lots of competitive races and open seats, the AG contest could prove unusually compelling. It has been over a century since the state elected a Republican to this office, although this race could be exceedingly close—just as the last few contests have been.
The two frontrunners for the open AG seat are both sitting members of Congress: Republican Dan Bishop and Democrat Jeff Jackson. Bishop is a favorite of the GOP’s conservative wing, having been a member of the House Freedom Caucus and a thorn in the side of former Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Jackson—who joined the AG race after effectively being drawn out of a seat in a Republican re-map last year—has attracted a statewide and even national following for his posts on TikTok. If Bishop and Jackson do end up facing off, the race will likely turn expensive.
While Bishop appears to have a clear shot at the nomination, Jackson must first win a March 5 primary against Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry, a woman of color, and attorney and veteran Tim Dunn. But if the two outgoing members of Congress do meet in November, the race could go either way. This contest remains in the Toss-up category.
Pennsylvania: Open seat (Appointed AG Michelle Henry, D, is not running)
Both party primaries are on track to be competitive.
The Democrats have five credible candidates: former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, former Bucks County Solicitor Joe Khan, former top Philadelphia public defender Keir Bradford-Grey, veteran and state Rep. Jared Solomon, and Jack Stollsteimer, the district attorney in populous Delaware County near Philadelphia.
The Republicans have two: York County District Attorney Dave Sunday, who has been endorsed by the state party, and veteran and state Rep. Craig Williams.
In the Democratic primary, DePasquale, as the only candidate from western Pennsylvania, and Bradford-Grey, as the only Black candidate, may have an edge in a contest where as little as 21% of the vote could be enough to win the nomination. On the GOP side, Sunday should have a modest edge.
The general election should be highly competitive, and it could swing depending on the dynamics on the rest of the ballot, including how the competitive races for president and Senate play out. There has been some ticket-splitting in Pennsylvania in recent presidential cycles, though. In 2016, as Republicans won the presidential and Senate races, Democrats won the contests for Attorney General, Auditor, and Treasurer. In 2020, as Joe Biden flipped the state, Republicans picked up the Auditor and Treasurer posts.
Oregon: Open seat (Ellen Rosenblum, D, is retiring)
Rosenblum is retiring after first winning the post in 2012. Momentum has gathered behind Democratic House Speaker Dan Rayfield. On the GOP side, former Yamhill County and Marion County prosecutor Will Lathrop is running. Lathrop is offering a law-and-order agenda, and he’s gotten a decent head start on fundraising. But an Oregon Republican hasn’t won an AG election since 1988, so until we see this blue-state race develop, we’re keeping the contest at Safe Democratic.
Washington state: Open seat (Bob Ferguson, D, is running for governor)
Ferguson leaves big shoes to fill as he runs for governor, but Washington state Democrats have a deep bench.
The Democratic field includes former U.S. Attorney Nicholas Brown (who has also competed on Survivor, the reality TV show) and state Sen. Manka Dhingra. Other Democrats could announce before the May filing deadline. Both Brown and Dhingra are credible candidates and should be well funded.
Pete Serrano, a central Washington attorney who has challenged gun laws and COVID restrictions, has entered the race as a Republican. If no one else decides to run, Serrano would be able to get to November if he finishes in one of the top two spots in Washington’s all-party primary.
Vermont (Democrat Charity Clark)
Clark was elected AG in 2022 and, with no other candidates in the race as of yet, she should have no trouble winning a second two-year term in solidly blue Vermont.
Secretary of state
West Virginia: Open seat (Mac Warner, R, is running for governor)
The GOP has a huge primary field for this race. One of the candidates, state economic development official and former state party chair Kris Warner, is the brother of the outgoing secretary of state. Also running are state Del. Chris Pritt, former state Del. Ken Reed, former state Sen. Kenny Mann, longtime Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood, and party-switcher Doug Skaff, a newspaper publisher who until recently was the Democrats’ state House minority leader.
Whoever wins the nomination would be heavily favored against whoever the Democrats nominate, if anyone. In 2020, Democrats got a good recruit in Natalie Tennant, who held the job from 2008 to 2016, when she was narrowly ousted by Warner. Though Tennant came much closer than Joe Biden to winning statewide, she still lost by double-digits.
Missouri: Open seat (Jay Ashcroft, R, is running for governor)
The GOP primary is wide open, with four credible candidates: term-limited state Senate President Caleb Rowden; state Sen. Denny Hoskins; state Rep. Adam Schwadron; and Greene County Clerk and former state Rep. Shane Schoeller. None are especially well known, but Rowden may be a modest frontrunner.
Whoever wins the nomination would be the heavy favorite against whichever Democrat wins the nomination. No Democrat has entered the race yet.
Montana (Republican Christi Jacobsen)
Jacobsen is running for a new term. She is expected to face Democrat Jesse Mullen, a publisher who owns several small-town newspapers. Mullen ran for state Senate in 2022 and lost.
North Carolina (Democrat Elaine Marshall)
Despite North Carolina’s slight Republican lean, Marshall has become something of an institution in the state, having first been elected as secretary of state in 1996, in a contest against NASCAR star Richard Petty. Though she typically has been helped by better-than-average support in the rural areas, her coalition has steadily become more like that of a national Democrat. She won her most recent race by only about 2 percentage points in 2020, so the 2024 election should be competitive.
The GOP field includes Gaston County Commissioner and former Stanley Mayor Chad Brown; retired health executive Jesse Thomas, who is Black; and MAGA-aligned former law enforcement officer Christine Villaverde, who lost a race for the U.S. House in 2022.
Incumbency gives Marshall a slight edge, but the contest should be competitive.
Oregon: Open seat (Appointed AG LaVonne Griffin-Valade, D, is not running for a full term)
Democrat Shemia Fagan resigned as secretary of state following a scandal regarding consulting work for a cannabis company. Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek appointed Griffin-Valade, a former elected auditor for both Portland city and Multnomah County, but Griffin-Valade has declined to seek a full term. (In Oregon, the secretary of state is next in line for the governorship, as there is no lieutenant governor.)
Two top-tier Democrats are running: term-limited state Treasurer Tobias Read and state Sen. James Manning Jr. Read is better known, having won twice statewide, though he also lost a lackluster bid for governor in 2022. Read’s base in the Portland metro area may give him a bit of an edge over Manning, a relatively low-profile legislator from Eugene. Manning, who is Black, is an Army veteran and has served as Senate president pro tem, which in Oregon is a largely ceremonial post.
No Republican has filed for the race yet.
Washington (Democrat Steve Hobbs)
Hobbs, who was appointed to the office in 2021 and won the remainder of an unexpired term in 2022, should have no trouble winning again in 2024. No one else has entered the race yet.
Vermont (Democrat Sarah Copeland Hanzas)
Copeland Hanzas, who won her first term as secretary of state in 2022, is heavily favored to win again in 2024. No one else has entered the race.
|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 newly released Almanac of American Politics 2024. He was senior author of the Almanac’s 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022 editions and a contributing writer for the 2000 and 2004 editions.