The most important runoff election is one you probably never heard of

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Time for a pop quiz after the 2018 midterm elections. What is the most important upcoming recount that may determine the fate of the nation?

A) The Florida governor and Senate races, where once again, the people who manage elections just cannot seem to manage their elections.

B) The Georgia governor race, which could go to a runoff, despite the best efforts of now former Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp to influence the election for Republican candidate Brian Kemp.

C) The Mississippi Senate race, where incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde Smith spoke of sitting in the “front row of a public hanging” in a state with a shameful history of public lynchings of African Americans.

D) The Georgia secretary of state race, featuring an ad by candidate John Barrow noting, “Yeah I’m a Democrat. But I won’t bite you.”

The answer, political junkies, is D.

{mosads}Just when you thought it was safe to transition from a frenzied midterm campaign to a marathon presidential race, you should pay attention to the December 4 runoff election for secretary of state in Georgia, pitting Barrow against Republican State Representative Brad Raffensperger.

Georgia secretary of state. Now there is a House midterm victory buzzkill. But it matters. First, Democrats need to learn from the period between our 2006 and 2008 victory afterglow to our 2010 crash and burn that state and local elections matter. Democrats lost 63 seats in House, 6 seats in the Senate, but nearly 1,000 local races in 2010. With that, we lost control of redistricting and voter protection. Sure, a race for secretary of state may not have the panache of a presidential race or, say, a primary in the 10th district of Virginia, but we ignore it at our own peril.

Especially in Georgia. This position especially comes in handy when you are overseeing your own election. Kemp won with one hand tied behind the backs of voters. He removed more than a million voters from the rolls, stalled more than 50,000 registration applications by black voters and days before the election, baselessly accused Georgia Democrats of hacking election data and announced that he would investigate. With Kemp just ahead in the vote count after November 6, and many ballots still uncounted, a federal judge has intervened in his certification as governor by yes, that is right, the office of the secretary of state.

I am not saying that Kemp’s voter suppression tactics stole the election. But overseeing an election where you are a candidate is kind of like being the bank and bank robber at the same time. Why, in Georgia, would a secretary of state resort to such tactics? Because Georgia is turning purple. In 2012, President Obama lost the state by just more than 7 points. In the unfavorable 2014 election, gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter and Senate candidate Michelle Nunn both lost by around 8 points.

Now, in the age of President Trump, Georgia has become significantly more competitive. This cycle, Democrats flipped one competitive House district and are still in a tight race for another that wasn’t even on the radar. With the close margin against Stacey Abrams, this is a clear trend that will continue. With 16 electoral votes and competitive trends, the presidential campaign just may be decided by the Georgia secretary of state. That individual will either empower voters or disenfranchise them, protect their right to vote or undermine it. If Georgia is in play in the 2020, its secretary of state can ensure a fair fight or put a thumb on the scale.

Approaching the runoff for this race, Barrow has a strategic advantage in that the extraordinary field operation of the Abrams campaign is still functioning. According to the Washington Examiner, she is running 17 field offices with more than 100 staff working in all 159 counties. That significant operation could make the difference in a close race.

If Barrow can put fuel in that field operation over next few weeks, and engage voters across all 159 counties, he can not only become secretary of state, but he can ensure that Georgia elections are fair rather than fixed. Meanwhile, pundits, donors, and activists in both parties should pay attention here. It may not be glamorous. It is gritty. But grit usually wins.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a novelist whose latest book is “Big Guns.” You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael and Facebook @RepSteveIsrael.

Tags Congress Donald Trump Election Georgia John Barrow President Steve Israel

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