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Carl P. Leubsdorf: 2024 election could be shaped by these races

From the commentary: On the night of Nov. 8, the focus will be on whether Republicans overturn Democratic control of the House and Senate — and the resulting impact on the Biden administration and Biden’s political future. ... But those secretary of state and gubernatorial races in the six states that decided the 2020 presidential contest may ultimately have a greater impact.

Former President Donald Trump (left) embraces Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake at a "Save America" rally in support of Arizona GOP candidates on July 22, 2022, in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Former President Donald Trump (left) embraces Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake at a "Save America" rally in support of Arizona GOP candidates on July 22, 2022, in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Mario Tama/Getty Images/TNS
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The primary season is over, the battle lines are drawn, and the political spotlight is again on the six states that were decisive two years ago.

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President Joe Biden carried all six. And in five, the 2022 general election pits Republican slates of pro-Trump candidates, most of whom reject the 2020 results, against Democrats who defend them.

Those results will help decide which party controls Congress and key governorships. But their biggest impact Nov. 8 might be in the less publicized races for secretary of state that could determine how the 2024 presidential election is conducted — and how the votes are counted.

In Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada, Republicans have nominated candidates for the jobs controlling the election machinery who share Donald Trump’s unproven contention that the 2020 election was rigged and Biden didn’t really win.

If the Trump-backed candidates win any or all of them, the stage could be set for a very different outcome in the event of another close presidential election two years from now.

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Here is what is happening in those states:

ARIZONA — Four statewide races all offer clear contrasts between the rival viewpoints.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, a former TV news anchor, is an all-out Trump supporter who contends Biden “lost the election”; her opponent is Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who resisted Republican pressure to overturn the 2020 results.

In the race to succeed Hobbs, Democrat Adrian Fontes, the former Maricopa County (Phoenix) clerk, is opposed by Republican state Rep. Mark Finchem, who sponsored legislation to reverse the 2020 result.

Trump’s endorsement helped Abe Hamadeh, a former Army intelligence officer and political newcomer, win the GOP primary for attorney general. His Democratic opponent, Kris Mayes, is a former Republican.

And in the Senate race, the former president’s support helped newcomer Blake Masters win the GOP nomination against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.

MICHIGAN — Another state with sharp contrasts. Trump played a significant role in selecting the GOP’s candidates for governor, secretary of state and attorney general. He plans an Oct. 1 rally for the “Michigan Trump Ticket.”

In the race for secretary of state, Democratic incumbent Jocelyn Benson is facing Republican Kristina Karamo, who became a star in conservative circles by claiming she witnessed fraud in the 2020 counting in Detroit and later urged a “forensic audit” of Michigan’s results.

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The Republican candidate for attorney general, Matthew DePerno, says he will prosecute his rival, incumbent Dana Nessel, if he wins.

In the race for governor, polls give Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer a substantial lead over Republican Tudor Dixon, a conservative television commentator who won a primary after Trump endorsed her.

NEVADA — Close races are in prospect for all statewide offices — including secretary of state, governor and senator.

In the race for secretary of state, Democrat Cisco Aguilar, a former aide to the late Sen. Harry Reid, is running against Republican Jim Marchant, an election denier who organized the America First Secretary of State Coalition to help pro-Trump candidates for the office throughout the country.

The retiring Republican incumbent, Barbara Cegavske, opposed GOP efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

In the race for governor, Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak is being challenged by Republican Joe Lombardo. And Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is opposed by former Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

PENNSYLVANIA — In Pennsylvania, the crucial race is for governor because he appoints the secretary of state, who supervises the state’s elections.

The GOP nominee is state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Trump backer who rejects the 2020 results and was in the crowd outside the Capitol during the Jan. 6 demonstration against their certification.

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His Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, strongly resisted legal challenges to Biden’s victory. In the Senate race, Trump-endorsed TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz faces Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

WISCONSIN — Election supervision is under a bipartisan commission, not the elected secretary of state. But the outcome of the governor’s race will be crucial, since Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has blocked GOP legislative efforts to overturn or recount the 2020 results.

His defeat by Republican Tim Michels could allow the GOP-dominated legislature to change election rules and procedures for 2024.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, a strong Trump backer, is facing Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

GEORGIA — Of the six key states, Georgia is the only one with little likelihood to see the 2022 statewide results change how the 2024 results are counted and certified — though some GOP-backed changes in local laws could have an effect.

That’s because Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, resisted Trump’s 2020 recount efforts, and both defeated Trump-backed GOP primary rivals last May.

In the Senate race, Trump-backed Herschel Walker, the former University of Georgia and Dallas Cowboys football star, is challenging freshman Democrat Raphael Warnock.

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Election deniers are also challenging Democratic incumbents for secretary of state in Minnesota and New Mexico, which Biden also won. But in a half-dozen other mainly Republican states, GOP primary voters rejected secretary of state candidates who echoed Trump’s fraud claims.

On the night of Nov. 8, the focus will be on whether Republicans overturn Democratic control of the House and Senate — and the resulting impact on the Biden administration and Biden’s political future.

But those secretary of state and gubernatorial races in the six states that decided the 2020 presidential contest may ultimately have a greater impact.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. This commentary is his opinion. Readers may write to him via email at carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com and opinion@wctrib.com.

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