ATLANTA – Next year's secretary of state in Georgia has already begun to turn into a tense and dramatic battle: incumbent President Brad Raffensperger – who angered former President Donald J. Trump for refusing to reverse the state's election results – faces a primary challenge from a Trump-endorsed fellow 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 helped fight Republican-backed bills limiting the right to vote in the state.
"Republicans have done everything they can to silence the votes of voters who have chosen an America that works for all of us, and not just some of us," she said in her announcement video. "But we will not allow anyone to interfere with our right to a free and fair democracy."
In an interview this week, Ms. Nguyen, 39, said that Mr. Raffensperger deserved credit for standing up to Trump and rejecting his false allegations of voter fraud after the November election. But she also noted that Mr. Raffensperger had since largely endorsed the suffrage bill by the legislature in March and continued to consider himself a Trump supporter after the former president declared his lies about the Georgia election.
"I have been at the forefront of the fight against voter oppression laws in Georgia," said Ms. Nguyen. "As I watched everything unfold in 2020 with the erosion of our democracy, I realized how crucial it was to defend our right to vote."
She added, "I believe Georgians deserve better and can do better."
Trump lost Georgia by about 12,000 votes. After the election, he made personal pleas to both Mr. Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp, asking the two Republicans to step in and help reverse the results. When they refused, Mr. Trump vowed revenge.
In late March, the former president supported Mr. Hice, a pastor and former radio host from Georgia's 10th congressional district. "Unlike the current Georgia secretary of state, Jody is leading with integrity," Trump said in a statement.
It's not the only race in Georgia that Trump hopes to influence in an attempt to demand retaliation against those he deems unfaithful. In January, Mr. Trump swore to campaign against Mr. Kemp while running for re-election. Since then, former state representative Vernon Jones, a former Democrat and outspoken Trump supporter, has competed in the race, but Mr. Trump has not supported him.
On Monday, however, the political world in Georgia noted when state senator Burt Jones, a Republican, tweeted a photo his own and the meeting with Mr. Trump at Mr. Trump's Florida home. Mr Jones, who did not return for comment on Monday, comes from a wealthy family and could put his own money into a statewide race. But if he's interested in a senior position, he has a number of choices beyond the governor, including possibly participating in next year's contest for the United States Senate seat, held by Democrat Raphael Warnock.
Mrs. Nguyen, a supporter of abortion rights and criticism of some she called Georgia's "lax" gun laws may struggle to engage with more conservative voters outside of its liberal district in metropolitan Atlanta. 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 make her a failed challenge for Mr. Kemp in 2018.
Ms. Abrams, who is African-American, may be gearing up to play Mr. Kemp again next year, and if Ms. Nguyen can get a spot in the general election, it will reflect the changing demographics that helped Democrats like the president. Biden has been scoring upset victories in Georgia in recent months.
In March, Mrs. Nguyen is part of a group of Asian-American lawmakers in Georgia who forcibly denounced mass shootings in massage parlors in the Atlanta area, killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent.
The Georgian Secretary of State, normally a low-key affair, will be watched particularly closely next year, given the wafer-thin margins of the state's recent elections and its growing reputation as a major battleground in the presidential election.
Mr. Raffensperger is in a frustrating position. A statewide poll in January found it that he had the highest approval rating of any Republican office-holder in the state, the likely result of the dual respect he earned for standing up for Mr. Trump. But Mr. Hice has a good chance of overwhelming Mr. Raffensperger in a G.O.P. primarily, given the loyalty of ordinary Republicans to the former president.
Two other Republicans, David Belle Isle, a former mayor of the city of Alpharetta, suburban Atlanta, and T.J. Hudson, a former probate judge, is also running.
Daniel Victor contributed reporting.