ATLANTA – Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wants his state to become an early presidential primary host — just not in 2024, as President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party are pushing.
The Republican election chief, who garnered attention for rebuffing then-President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 loss in Georgia, told The Associated Press he’d back an early primary in 2028.
It’s the first time Raffensperger, who sets Georgia's primary election dates, has endorsed the idea of Georgia as an early nominating state, though not as soon as the Democratic National Committee and the White House want.
“Georgia would be a great early primary state in 2028,” Raffensperger told the AP.
“It has a good cross-section of engaged voters from both parties, and, as everyone seems to now recognize, we run great elections,” the secretary added in a dig at Democrats’ assertions that he and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp have worked to limit ballot access.
Raffensperger’s position highlights the Democrats' challenge in reordering their nominating calendar to elevate racially diverse electorates and de-emphasize Iowa and New Hampshire. Those overwhelmingly white states have opened the nominating process for both major parties for decades and still lead Republicans’ 2024 calendar as it's currently set — with national GOP officials showing little interest in reconsidering their slate.
The secretary's announcement nonetheless shows Democrats aren’t alone in wanting Georgia, now a premier general election battleground, to expand its burgeoning influence into presidential nominating politics.
The question is whether Democrats can find momentum among the Republicans who control the Georgia statehouse and with the national GOP forces necessary to make such a change. That's decidedly harder than Atlanta's push to win the 2024 Democratic convention, a decision that will be made entirely within the party.
Top Georgia Democrats including Sen. Raphael Warnock and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams of Atlanta support a presidential primary move, and the state party’s former executive director, Scott Hogan, has taken on the role of the top unofficial lobbyist for the idea, reaching out to Republicans and the business community.
“This isn’t just a political conversation. This is very much an economic conversation,” Williams, who is also the state Democratic chairwoman, said in an interview before Raffensperger's latest statements about the matter. “It’s a benefit across the board, whether Republicans or Democrats.”
Audrey Haynes, a University of Georgia professor tracking the debate, cited studies showing how much more influential an average American voter becomes when they live in an early nominating state. The economic boon, she added, ranges from candidates' television advertising to a year's worth of tourism and consumer spending by traveling national media and the top campaigns' permanent field staffers.
“There's just all this spending to go along with the attention on voters and on local elected officials,” Haynes said.
Under the Democratic National Committee plan approved Saturday, the party’s 2024 presidential primaries would begin Feb. 3 in South Carolina, the state that propelled Biden’s campaign in 2020. That primary would be followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27.
The national party has given Georgia Democrats until June to show they can comply with that calendar, though deadline could be extended.
Raffensperger noted the Republican National Committee has locked in its 2024 calendar, with the usual opening slate of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The GOP also plans to limit convention delegates from states that move up to disrupt that traditional quartet.
“This type of move would need to be equitable, take place on the same day, and ensure that no one loses delegates,” Raffensperger said, offering no indications that he’d try to persuade the RNC to reconsider.
Jordan Fuchs, Raffensperger’s deputy, said calendar reshuffles must “at the start” be a “bipartisan decision,” a tacit acknowledgement that Biden being the genesis of Democrats’ plan does it no favors in Georgia.
“Just because one party is pushing it doesn’t mean it has bipartisan support,” she said.
Williams, the Democratic chairwoman, nonetheless suggested in response to Raffensperger’s latest position that the secretary has created an opening on the issue. Stakeholders from both parties and the business lobby, she said, “agree that Georgia is the perfect state to host an early presidential primary.” She said Democrats “look forward to continuing to work alongside all those with a vested interest in Georgia to secure this long-term source of investment in our state.”
Kemp, meanwhile, has given no public sign that he wants a change ahead of 2024. Additionally, Kemp’s advisers have noted he has no official role in setting the primary dates.
That said, Kemp is at the apex of his influence as a second-term, battleground governor who won reelection by nearly 8 percentage points; he defeated Democratic power player Stacey Abrams for a second time after dominating a Republican primary challenger who had Trump's backing. So he would be key in any eventual shift.
A top Kemp adviser, who wasn't authorized to speak on the record about an issue the governor isn't actively pursuing and requested anonymity, said Kemp and his inner circle do not dispute the long-term benefits Georgia would accrue as an early state.
Yet the considerations for the GOP aren’t as straightforward as for Democrats.
Multiple recent presidential cycles — Barack Obama’s nomination in 2008, Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 and Biden’s in 2020 — have highlighted the power Black voters in the South already have in Democratic politics. Biden’s path was especially emphatic, as he stormed to the nomination in a matter of weeks after finishing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, effectively highlighting their shortcomings as Democratic bellwethers. Those two states, though, still reflect the Republican Party’s overwhelmingly white base, giving the GOP little incentive to depose them.
National Democrats, meanwhile, have made clear they want their early nominating window to be stacked with November battlegrounds; that would give their eventual nominee early exposure in key Electoral College states. Georgia Republicans, conversely, are still adjusting to their state's tossup status after dominating at all levels of government for decades before 2020, when Georgia opted narrowly for Biden and two Democratic senators.
“I certainly believe it’s a two-party state,” said Chip Lake, a veteran GOP campaign operative. “But the conversations among Democrats on what all this means at the presidential level is just more advanced than it is for Republicans right now,” Lake said.
And, he added, Kemp’s previous statements have effectively cut off any bipartisan movement on primaries.
“No one,” Lake said, “wants to get out in front of the governor.”