The Most Important Attorney General And Secretary Of State Races To Watch
Want to influence state laws and elections? Attorney general or secretary of state is the job for you!
In the U.S., the attorney general is a state’s top law-enforcement official, and the secretary of state is the head election official in most states. Secretaries of state became part of the mainstream consciousness when former President Donald Trump falsely claimed that the 2020 election was rigged against him. The office is typically responsible for implementing a state’s voting procedures and certifying elections. Meanwhile, attorneys general are the ones who decide whether to enforce an abortion ban or file a lawsuit against President Biden’s administration to block policies on immigration reform, gun control and student-loan forgiveness.
The majority of attorney-general and secretary-of-state offices are on the ballot in 2022, 30 of the former and 27 of the latter. But we think only 20 of these races are worth keeping an eye on. That’s because the others are mostly either safely Republican or safely Democratic.1 Many of these races could also determine the future of voting rights and abortion access in many parts of the U.S. And while we don’t forecast attorney general and secretary of state races like we do for House, Senate and governor, we’ll have updates on some of these races between now and Election Day. But first, here’s a lay of the land.
The closest races
The Nevada secretary of state’s race is one of the closest in the country. The most recent poll, from CNN, found that 46 percent of likely voters favored former state Assemblyman Jim Marchant, the Republican candidate, and 43 percent supported attorney Cisco Aguilar, the Democrat — within the survey’s margin of error. Aguilar has also raised more than twice as much as Marchant ($1.1 million to $437,000) to help close that gap. Marchant, meanwhile, is one of seven election deniers running for secretary of state nationwide2 and arguably one of the most extreme. He opposes electronic voting machines and has said he wants to “wipe out the voter rolls completely and then have everybody re-register,” which would be illegal. He also believes that elections have been rigged for decades despite all evidence to the contrary.
Arizona is another swing state where an election denier could soon be running elections. The Republican hopeful for secretary of state, state Rep. Mark Finchem, urged Congress not to accept Arizona’s 2020 election results, attended the Jan. 6 riot and was once a member of the Oath Keepers (a far-right anti-government militia). If elected, Finchem wants to eliminate most mail voting and has suggested he would not certify a Democratic win in Arizona in the 2024 election. By contrast, Democratic candidate Adrian Fontes, the former top election official of Arizona’s largest county, aggressively tried to expand voting access in 2020. The polls look tight: Five surveys over the past month averaged a 2-point Finchem lead. And Finchem has handily outraised Fontes $1.2 million to $700,000. Still, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State is planning to spend millions on the race.
Several races for attorney general are also too close to identify a leader. In Arizona, an average of two partisan surveys (one Democratic, one Republican) from mid-September gave Republican attorney Abraham Hamadeh a 4.5-point lead. Hamadeh, 31, is a political novice who has also made anti-Semitic remarks. His Democratic opponent Kris Mayes, a former Republican member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, has both experience and potential crossover appeal. But both Hamadeh and Mayes have raised the same amount of money, $1.0 million.
Kansas has an R+21 FiveThirtyEight partisan lean,3 but the state’s attorney general race is nonetheless competitive. Republicans have nominated a weak candidate in former Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach’s failed crusade against voter fraud got him in legal hot water in 2018. As a result, he is an unpopular figure statewide. A recent poll put Kobach and former police officer Chris Mann, the Democratic candidate, in a virtual tie, with 41 percent of likely Kansas voters supporting Kobach and 39 percent supporting Mann.
Finally, the Iowa attorney general’s race is a direct clash between tradition and change. Democratic incumbent Tom Miller has served for 38 years and is the longest-serving attorney general in U.S. history. But Iowa has evolved into a Republican-leaning state over the past decade. Guthrie County Attorney Brenna Bird, the Republican candidate, hopes that 2022 will be the year that the power of partisanship is finally greater than Miller’s personal brand. The most recent poll put Bird at 46 percent and Miller at 43 percent. The poll, however, was sponsored by a pro-Republican group, so it may have been too generous to the GOP.
Where Republicans are favored
Swing-state Georgia will not have an election denier running its 2024 election. In May, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger defeated his Trump-endorsed challenger in the Republican primary. Raffensperger’s famous refusal to “find 11,780 votes” to flip Georgia to Trump in 2020 earned him bipartisan respect. That should help him defeat Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen in November. An average of two recent polls gave Raffensperger an 11-point lead.
In the Georgia attorney general’s race, Republican incumbent Chris Carr rejected Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, but that campaign has focused more on abortion. Carr has defended Georgia’s six-week abortion ban in court. His Democratic opponent, state Sen. Jen Jordan, meanwhile, first rose to prominence with an emotional speech opposing the law in the legislature. According to those same two polls, Carr has an average lead of 7 points for now, but Georgia is a competitive state.
It’s a similar story in Florida, another perennially competitive state. We can’t write it off completely, but it’s hard to imagine Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, losing to former state Attorney Aramis Ayala, the Democratic candidate. Moody led a recent Mason-Dixon poll by 13 points and has raised $3.0 million compared to Ayala’s $162,000.
Finally, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, has made a lot of bad headlines over the years. In 2015, he was indicted for alleged security fraud (charges that have still not gone to trial). In 2020, the FBI reportedly started investigating him on unrelated bribery allegations and using his office to benefit a wealthy donor. He was also a leading figure in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 election in four swing states. That all has made him one of the most endangered Texas Republicans in the 2022 election. But Texas is still Texas. No Democrat has won any statewide office in the Lone Star State since 1994. According to a Siena College and Spectrum News poll, Paxton led Democratic attorney Rochelle Garza 47 percent to 42 percent among likely Texas voters.
Where Democrats are favored
The first two races in this category could be considered toss-ups. But, as things stand today, we think Democrats have an identifiable advantage. While we couldn’t find a single poll of the Wisconsin attorney general’s race, which could determine the fate of abortion rights in the Badger State, Democratic incumbent Josh Kaul has raised $1.8 million, compared to the $249,000 raised by Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, a Republican. Similarly, the only polls of the Nevada attorney general’s election have an unhelpfully large number of undecided voters. But Democratic incumbent Aaron Ford has raised $2.9 million compared to the $666,000 raised by attorney Sigal Chattah, the Republican candidate.
On the other hand, the two races in Michigan are arguably solidly Democratic. However, we’re still watching them since Michigan has a purple hue. Incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, has raised $4.2 million compared to Republican Kristina Karamo’s $907,000. Benson also led by an average of 12 points in three recent polls. Karamo, a former community college professor, is another full-blown election denier seeking to be her state’s top election official. She could use the office to make it harder to vote or to investigate voter-fraud claims, which would be referred to the attorney general for prosecution.
The GOP candidate in the race for Michigan attorney general is also an election denier: Attorney Matthew DePerno legally challenged the 2020 results in Michigan’s Antrim County and is under investigation (at the request of his opponent, Democratic incumbent Dana Nessel) for allegedly tampering with voting machines. But he’ll have a hard time defeating Nessel. She has raised $4.2 million compared to DePerno’s $763,000 and leads by 10 points in those three polls.
The threat to democracy may be more severe in Minnesota. The North Star State has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in 12 straight elections. But Kim Crockett, the Republican candidate for secretary of state who has called the 2020 election rigged, trails Democratic incumbent Steve Simon just 45 percent to 42 percent in an average of three recent polls. That said, Democrats are throwing money at this race: Simon has raised $1.2 million, and Democratic outside groups have committed $3 million more to TV ads. Crockett, by contrast, has raised a total of $323,000.
The better opportunity for Minnesota Republicans may be the race for attorney general. It was the state’s closest statewide election in 2018, and Democratic incumbent Keith Ellison’s has been targeted for his outspoken progressivism. In an average of the three recent polls of Minnesota voters, Ellison and Republican Jim Schultz, an attorney, are tied at 46 percent each. However, Ellison has raised $1.4 million compared to Schultz’s $885,000. That, along with his incumbency and Minnesota’s light-blue hue, gives Ellison a boost.
Republicans are getting frisky in a few other light-blue states too, though probably not enough to win. In New Mexico, Republican Jeremy Gay, a Marine veteran, recently released a Cygnal poll that showed him statistically tied with Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, a Democrat, in the attorney general’s race. But internal polls tend to be too good to be true, and Torrez has raised $1.6 million compared to Gay’s $344,000. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, has pulled in a less impressive $466,000. But her Republican opponent, small-business owner Audrey Trujillo, has just $73,000 in contributions. Trujillo has also shared a plethora of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, COVID-19 vaccines, mass shootings and Biden.
Meanwhile, the Republican candidates in Colorado are more moderate. District Attorney John Kellner, running for attorney general, says he would protect abortion access in the state, while former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, running for secretary of state, has said that the 2020 election was free and fair. But neither has raised more than $300,000, so they’ll probably need a “red wave” to carry them across the finish line. Democratic incumbents Attorney General Phil Weiser and Secretary of State Jena Griswold have each raised around $4 million.
Finally, no Republican is running for secretary of state in Washington, but Democrats could still lose. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee appointed incumbent Steve Hobbs, the first Democrat to hold the office since 1964, after Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman resigned to join the Biden administration. So this will be the first time voters weigh in on Hobbs, who is running against Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, an independent. Anderson has two key advantages. She has experience as the top election administrator of Washington’s second-largest county, and she’s not a Republican, which could make more people willing to vote for her in this blue state. That said, Hobbs is still the one with the “D” beside his name, and he’s outraised Anderson to boot, $640,000 to $298,000.
Long an afterthought, elections for attorney general and secretary of state have been thrust to the forefront thanks to recent debates over election integrity, abortion and more. As a result, these 20 races may determine the fate of free and fair elections and the rule of law in their states.
CLARIFICATION (Oct. 11, 2022, 5:00 p.m.): This story has been updated to include 2021 fundraising numbers for candidates for secretary of state and attorney general in Nevada.