To many Americans, Brad Raffensperger is one of the heroes of the 2020 elections. Georgia’s Foreign Minister, a Conservative Republican, declined direct requests from then-President Donald Trump to “find” the votes that would undo his defeat in the state. “I have shown that I am ready to step into the void,” Raffensperger told me last week, “and I will make sure that we have honest elections.”

In his application for a second term as the highest election officer in Georgia, Raffensperger is not so much in the gap, but fails. A Trump loyalist in Congress, MP Jody Hice, is challenging him in a primary with the enthusiastic support of the former president, and the state Republican Party voted last month to reprimand him for his handling of the election. GOP strategists in the state give Raffensperger no chance to prevail in the area code next May.

“I would literally bet my house on it. He’s not going to win, ”Jay Williams, a Republican adviser in Georgia who is not affiliated with any of the candidates, told me. Another agent, who spoke anonymously to avoid conflict in the race, made a similar assessment: “His goose was cooked the day Georgia’s presidential lead was 12,000 and Trump turned against him.”

Except for the one at Foggy Bottom, foreign ministers are not supposed to be famous. The job at the state level is not diplomacy at a high level, but mostly mundane administration. Before Raffensperger, Katherine Harris was the last foreign secretary to stand in the national spotlight in Congress.

But after Trump’s by-election attempt to stay in power last year – and his persistent and vicious claims that the election was stolen – the office has grown in importance. “State secretaries are and are the defenders of democracy,” said Jena Griswold, Colorado’s foreign minister. Griswold is chairman of the Democratic Association of Foreign Ministers, a national campaign organization that is expanding significantly this year as the party prepares for a handful of crucial elections in 2022. The secretaries elected next year will oversee the 2024 elections. and Democrats are prioritizing races on presidential battlefields like Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Arizona, where incumbent Democrat Katie Hobbs is waiving re-election to run for governor instead. The club’s budget in 2020 was about $ 2 million; She hopes to spend up to $ 10 million over the next year – a sign of how urgent the Democrats are to hold these races.

The post of foreign minister has become more attractive to ambitious politicians from both parties with its higher profile. Listed candidates in Arizona include a Republican lawmaker photographed near the Capitol after rioters broke police lines on Jan. 6 results.

In Georgia, Hice makes the unusual decision to give up a secure seat in the house he has held for four terms to challenge Raffensperger – in the opposite direction Harris took nearly two decades ago. A former Baptist pastor and talk radio host, Hice joined the House Freedom Caucus in Congress but has little following outside of his district east of Atlanta. He told me he hadn’t considered running for Foreign Minister until last autumn. “That has never been on my radar,” he said. “It only came about because of the terrible debacle of our election.”

Hice denied that Trump asked him to run, but has admitted that he called the former president before declaring his candidacy. Hice blames Raffensperger for his decision to send every registered voter in Georgia a postal vote request prior to last year’s primary – a decision that Democrats took for granted during the pandemic.

Hice, who had voted with a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives against confirming the results of the Arizona and Pennsylvania presidential elections, bragged to me that he was “the tip of the spear” in issuing warnings about the Georgia 2020 elections and against the Efforts by the Democrats sparked greater voter access. I asked if he believed Trump won the state last year. “I certainly have my opinion on that,” he replied. Urged to see what these opinions were, he said, “We have to investigate and find out. I don’t think we had fair elections in Georgia. ”One of Hice’s supporters, Georgia MP Marjorie Taylor Greene, said more directly that Trump won. “I think he did,” she told me. “I’ve lived in Georgia all my life. I know my condition and it has not turned blue. “

Perhaps the most important question in the primary is how Hice would react if he were Secretary of State in 2024, and Trump, who was running to retake the White House, tried to pressure him to overturn another Democratic victory in Georgia. Would he stand firm like Raffensperger? “I don’t think Jody Hice is anyone’s puppet,” said Austin Scott, another Republican from Georgia who has supported Hice. However, the GOP agent I spoke to wasn’t so sure. “There is no evidence that he is his own man,” said the strategist. “There is no evidence that he would think for himself.” When I asked Hice the question, he didn’t answer directly. Trump “wouldn’t have to call me,” he said. “I will comply with the law and the Constitution, and if there are problems with potential election fraud and mismanagement, we will investigate. That is the foreign minister’s job that Raffensperger did not do. “

If elected, Hice may find that after voting, he can no longer legally do anything. Much of the office’s power comes before an election by overseeing the vote. Thereafter, the secretary is only responsible for certifying the ballot papers counted in the local jurisdictions and, if necessary, overseeing the recounts. In addition, under the controversial new electoral law in Georgia, Republicans have already stripped the Secretary of State of some of the office’s remaining powers by replacing him as chairman of the state electoral committee with a legislature-appointed chairman.

The Democrats, who have just won their presidential race and two Senate elections in Georgia in January, hope to win the post of foreign minister and prevent the post-election gimmicks. Bee Nguyen, a state lawmaker who holds the Atlanta seat once occupied by Stacey Abrams, declared her candidacy in May and is considered a formidable candidate. Nguyen, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, would be the first Asian American to be elected to national political office in Georgia; She took the lead in cracking down on Trump’s false allegations about the election late last year. Abrams, who is likely to run for governor for a second time, and newly elected Senator Raphael Warnock could both be on the ballot and help boost Democratic turnout.

Hice undoubtedly offers the Democrats a richer target than Raffensperger, and his general election vulnerability goes beyond the idea of ​​fulfilling Trump’s bidding. The congressman wrote a book in 2012 that contains long, derogatory passages about gays and Muslims; he compares the urge for same-sex marriage to incest and sodomy, claiming that Islam “deserves no protection under the First Amendment.” In 2014, he told a local newspaper that he had no problem with women running for office “as long as the woman is under the authority of her husband.” More recently, he was one of 21 House Republicans who voted against the award of Congressional gold medals to the Capitol Police, which protected lawmakers during the January 6 attack.

Raffensperger is trying to win his party’s favor by defending the new law that Republican lawmakers passed in response to an election he believes is “fair and honest”. The law forbids the foreign minister from filing mass motions for absentee voting, as he did last year, and even Raffensperger says the disempowerment provisions are “retaliation” for his handling of the election consequences. Still, he says he supports the law as a whole, particularly the requirement for photo identification for ballot papers. “If there is a 100-page invoice, there are some points that you do not support,” Raffensperger told me. He has criticized the Biden administration for challenging the law in court and joining other Republicans accusing Abrams and her allies of “spreading misinformation and lies.”

“I am the most conservative foreign minister ever elected in Georgia,” he told me, as if to remind the voters who elected him in 2018 why they did it. Raffensperger supported Trump early in his bid for the presidency; During his tenure in the state parliament, Raffensperger was a real irritant of the established party leaders.

Right now, though, it doesn’t matter, and he’s making a lonely figure in Georgia. Targeted by Trump and abandoned by the state party, Raffensperger has no prominent Republicans publicly in his corner, not even a large electoral machine. When I emailed the address given on his campaign website for an interview, my request went not to a volunteer or a spokesperson, but to Raffensperger himself, who responded directly. The most revealing part of our half-hour conversation came to an end when I asked who else could speak for him – proxies, allies, etc. Raffensperger paused a few seconds and then giggled nervously. His followers, he explained, “are very private people” who probably don’t want to speak in public. He didn’t say any names.