ATLANTA – The secretary of next year’s state elections in Georgia was already turning into a tense and dramatic fight: incumbent Brad Raffensperger, who enraged former President Donald J. Trump for refusing to discard the state’s election results, faces a major challenge from a Trump-endorsed Republican, Representative Jody Hice.
On Tuesday morning, the race got even more interesting with the entry of the first major Democratic candidate, State Representative Bee Nguyen, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who has led the fight against Republican-backed bills that restrict voting rights in the state.
“The Republicans have done everything in their power to silence the votes of voters who chose an America that works for all of us, not just some of us,” she said in her announcement video. “But we will not allow anyone to stand in the way of our right to a free and fair democracy.”
In an interview this week, Ms Nguyen, 39, said Mr Raffensperger deserved to stand up against Mr Trump and reject his false claims of election fraud after the November election. But she also noted that Mr. Raffensperger has since broadly supported the March voting bill and continued to see himself as a Trump supporter after the former president announced his falsehoods about the Georgia elections.
“I was at the forefront of the fight against voter suppression laws in Georgia,” said Ms. Nguyen. “When I saw how everything played out with the erosion of our democracy in 2020, I realized how important it was to defend our right to vote.”
She added, “I think Georgians deserve better and can do better.”
Mr Trump lost Georgia by around 12,000 votes. After the election, he personally asked both Mr. Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp, asking the two Republicans to step in and help reverse the results. When they refused, Mr. Trump swore revenge.
In late March, the former president approved of Mr. Hice, a pastor and former radio talk show host from the 10th Congress District of Georgia. “Unlike the current Georgian Foreign Minister, Jody is leading the way with integrity,” Trump said in a statement.
It’s not the only race in Georgia that Mr. Trump seeks to influence to retaliate against those he believes are disloyal. In January, Mr Trump vowed to fight Mr Kemp as he stood for re-election. Since then, ex-US Secretary of State Vernon Jones, a former Democrat and vocal Trump supporter, has entered the race but Mr. Trump has not endorsed him.
However, the Georgia political world took notice on Monday when Republican Senator Burt Jones tweeted a photo of himself and Mr. Trump meeting at Mr. Trump’s Florida home. Mr. Jones, who didn’t return comments on Monday, comes from a wealthy family and has been able to put his own money into a nationwide race. However, if he’s interested in higher office, he has a number of options beyond governor, including competing for the US Senate seat of Democrat Raphael Warnock next year.
Ms. Nguyen, an advocate of abortion rights and a critic of what she calls “lax” Georgian gun laws, may have difficulty connecting with more conservative voters outside of her liberal metropolitan Atlanta district. She first won the seat in December 2017 in a special election to replace another Democrat, Stacey Abrams, the former State House minority leader, who left her position to ultimately unsuccessfully challenge Mr Kemp in 2018.
Ms. Abrams, who is African American, could prepare to face Mr. Kemp again next year. If Ms. Nguyen can get a spot in the general election, it will reflect the changing demographics that has helped Democrats like President Biden score a victory in Georgia over the past few months.
In March, Ms. Nguyen was part of a group of Asian-American lawmakers in Georgia who strongly denounced the mass shootings at massage parlors in the Atlanta area, which killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.
Georgia’s Secretary of State, usually a low profile affair, will be watched particularly closely over the next year as the state’s recent elections are gossamer and its reputation as a major battleground in the presidential election grows.
Mr. Raffensperger is in a frustrating position. A statewide poll in January found that he had the highest approval rating of any Republican officer in the state, likely due to the bipartisan respect he earned for opposing Mr. Trump. But Mr. Hice has a good chance of overpowering Mr. Raffensperger in a GOP primary, as ordinary Republicans are loyal to the former president.
Two other Republicans, David Belle Isle, a former mayor of the city of Alpharetta, a suburb of Atlanta, and TJ Hudson, a former probate judge, are also running.
Daniel Victor contributed to the coverage.