Hice expected to launch GOP challenge against Raffensperger

Jody Hice wins reelection to U.S. House in Georgia's 10th Congressional District
Jody Hice wins reelection to U.S. House in Georgia's 10th Congressional District

Republican U.S. Rep. Jody Hice is expected to announce a primary challenge against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger this week, potentially with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, according to several local and national Republicans.

The four-term Republican could launch his campaign to become the state’s top elections official as early as Monday, though some officials say his plans could change. The word of his pending decision has already set off a scramble in Georgia GOP circles, and several candidates have lined up to run for his conservative northeast Georgia district.

Hice’s bid would set up a stark showdown over Georgia’s electoral policies with Raffensperger, who drew the wrath of Trump and some leading state Republicans for rebuffing pressure to illegally reverse the former president’s November election defeat and defying Trump’s demand that he “find” enough votes to overturn the election.

Hice was among Raffensperger’s sharpest critics in Congress and introduced an objection to Georgia’s electoral college votes with several U.S. House colleagues hours after the pro-Trump Jan. 6 insurrection failed to thwart the process. His effort to block Georgia’s votes didn’t proceed when then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler refused to endorse the futile challenge.

And Hice proclaimed in a now-deleted Instagram post hours before the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol that “This is our 1776 moment.” His aides said the post was meant to highlight his objection to the electoral college vote, not as an endorsement of the deadly attack.

The congressman confirmed last week he’s seriously considering running for the statewide post, adding that he has met with Trump and that he’s “supportive” of his potential candidacy. Hice said then he’ll soon announce a decision, which would mean giving up a prominent post if Republicans flip control of the House next year. He declined comment through an aide on Sunday.

In an appearance on Fox News on Sunday, Trump adviser Jason Miller said to expect on Monday a “big endorsement that’s coming that’s going to really shake things up in the political landscape in Georgia.”

Two officials say that announcement is planned to involve an endorsement of Hice, though they stressed that Trump could change his mind or delay the decision.

Georgia Republicans are wasting little time to gear up for the domino effect, which would leave vacant a deeply-conservative northeast Georgia district that’s set to be redrawn by a Republican-controlled Legislature at year’s end.

State Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican, said last week he’s “humbled by the outpouring of support and encouragement” and is weighing a bid if the seat becomes open. And on Sunday, state Sen. Bill Cowsert of Athens said he is also “seriously considering” a campaign for the seat and that he’ll make a decision shortly if Hice runs.

Other potential candidates include Mike Collins, a trucking executive who was runner-up to Hice in the 2014 runoff, and state Rep. Jodi Lott of Evans.

In anticipation of Hice’s announcement, former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle sent word last week that he was also planning to challenge Raffensperger. Belle Isle, who was defeated in the 2018 GOP runoff, on Sunday scheduled a campaign kickoff event for Monday afternoon in his hometown.

Former state Rep. Vernon Jones, a Democrat-turned-Republican who is popular in the pro-Trump crowd, has long been rumored to run for secretary of state and is said to be weighing his options. He visited Trump earlier this month in Florida and said he’d soon detail his political future.

Democratic potential candidates include state Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta legislator who has emerged as a leading Statehouse advocate for expanding voting rights.

Raffensperger, meanwhile, has vowed to “absolutely” run for re-election despite the backlash from his party’s base.

Once a low-profile GOP state legislator, Raffensperger has come under withering attack from Trump and most of the state’s GOP establishment for refusing attempts to reverse the 2020 vote.

In the months after Georgia’s November election, his refusal to buckle to Trump’s demands made him a hero in some circles -- and an enemy in others. The state GOP on Friday adopted a resolution claiming his office “undermined public confidence” in the election. The mix of criticism and support for his stand has put him in rarefied territory.

In an AJC poll published in January, Raffensperger’s 47% statewide approval rating made him the most popular Republican in Georgia, topping both Trump and Gov. Brian Kemp.

But it also showed he was more popular with Democrats, who give him a 60% approval rating, than he is with fellow Republicans. Just 45% of GOP voters said they’re happy with his performance.

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