Brad Raffensperger defeats Trump bid to oust him as Georgia’s top election official

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<span>Photograph: Ben Gray/AP</span>
Photograph: Ben Gray/AP

Brad Raffensperger defeated congressman Jody Hice on Tuesday in a closely watched Republican primary for Georgia secretary of state, a significant victory for a politician who has been scorned by his own party for refusing Donald Trump’s request to overturn the 2020 election.

Related: Wins for Kemp and Carr in Georgia show Trump’s grip on GOP slipping

In a surprise, Raffensperger avoided a runoff and won an outright victory over Hice, receiving more than 50% of the vote, according to the election monitoring website Decision Desk HQ. The race was called by the Associated Press and other outlets late on Tuesday night.

Raffensperger’s victory is the biggest rebuke so far to Trump in this election season. There have been few other Republicans who have attracted the former president’s wrath for refusing to overturn the election result. Two other Republicans, Georgia governor Brian Kemp and attorney general Chris Carr easily fended off Trump-backed challengers Tuesday evening.

There was a record turnout going into election day, and the Republican primary for secretary of state – long an overlooked office – was seen as perhaps the most important test of Donald Trump’s efforts to install allies who have questioned the election results in roles in which they would wield considerable power over election rules. Trump’s preferred candidates have already won GOP nominations in Michigan and Pennsylvania, also critical battleground states, elevating concerns that officials could reject valid election results in 2024 and beyond.

Georgia was the only place where Trump was trying to oust a GOP incumbent who explicitly refused his request to overturn the statewide election results. In a January 2021 phone call, Trump infamously asked Raffensperger, a first-term secretary of state, to “find 11,780 votes” to overturn the election results.

Hice’s campaign was built around his denial of the 2020 election results. “The big lie in all of this is that there were no problems in this last election. This last election was filled with problems,” he said during a debate in Atlanta earlier this month. “Election security must be protected and Brad Raffensperger let that ball majorly fall.”

He also told reporters after the debate there was nothing that would convince him the 2020 election results were accurate – though Georgia officials confirmed Biden’s victory in the state three times – and that Trump’s phone call with Raffensperger was appropriate.

Raffensperger’s campaign has tried to strike a careful balance by appealing to Republican voters’ concerns about fraud while defending the results of the 2020 election. He made the main issue in his campaign preventing non-citizen voting, which is virtually non-existent in Georgia. He also staunchly defended a new state law that imposes new identification requirements on mail-in ballots and prevents handing out food or water within 150 feet of a polling place.

“He did not break the law that one time. That does not mean that he does not align with the party’s priorities and with their lies and rhetoric about voting,” Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, which focuses on voter engagement, told the Guardian earlier this month.

Raffensperger also bet that voters would ultimately be able to see past lies and disinformation about the 2020 election and reward him for doing his job in 2020.

“Jody Hice has been running from one rumor to another for the last 18 months. And how can you have confidence when people that should be holding a responsible position as a sitting congressman should be telling the truth?” he said earlier this month.