Former President Donald J. Trump on Monday took aim at a Georgia official he considers one of his biggest enemies: Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who refused Mr. Trump’s pressure to overturn the state’s election results last year.
By endorsing Jody Hice, a Republican congressman, in his bid to unseat Mr. Raffensperger, the former president made his most prominent effort yet to try to punish elected officials who he believes have crossed him. Mr. Raffensperger, a Republican, is among the top targets for Mr. Trump, along with the state’s governor, Brian Kemp.
Mr. Raffensperger and other Georgia election officials certified President Biden’s victory after conducting several recounts. They have said the results were fair and accurate, dismissing Mr. Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread fraud.
In a statement issued shortly after Mr. Hice announced his candidacy for the position on Monday, Mr. Trump praised him as “one of our most outstanding congressmen,” and alluded to his own baseless claims of voter fraud, which he has said deprived him of victory in the state. “Unlike the current Georgia Secretary of State, Jody leads out front with integrity,” Mr. Trump said. “Jody will stop the Fraud and get honesty into our Elections!”
The race in Georgia for secretary of state — until the 2020 election a relatively low-profile job across the country — carries outsize implications in the battleground state, with Republicans there working to roll back voting rights and Democrats fighting those efforts.
Should Mr. Hice beat Mr. Raffensperger in the Republican primary, his nomination could energize Democrats who are alarmed by the prospect of elections in the state being run by a Trump loyalist. No date for the primary has been set yet.
Mr. Hice, who represents Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, stretching south and east from Atlanta, in January condemned the second House impeachment of Mr. Trump as “misguided” and aimed at “scoring cheap political points.” In the weeks after the November election, he supported Mr. Trump’s false claims of election fraud, including a challenge before the Supreme Court that sought to overturn the results in states Mr. Trump lost.
Mr. Hice also served in the House Freedom Caucus with former Representative Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s fourth and last chief of staff. Mr. Meadows was integral in Mr. Trump’s efforts to recruit Mr. Hice, two Republicans briefed on the discussions said.
As he seeks to retain control of the Republican Party, Mr. Trump is determined to remain a kingmaker for down-ballot elections, while seeking retribution against those he perceives as having betrayed him.
So far, he has endorsed only one other candidate running against someone he feels personally aggrieved by: Max Miller, a former White House aide, who is challenging Representative Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican representing Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District. Mr. Gonzalez was one of 10 House members who voted for Mr. Trump’s impeachment.
Mr. Hice’s challenge — against a Trump nemesis in a critical swing state — will be a higher-profile test of Mr. Trump’s political clout among Republicans.
The move to back Mr. Hice against the sitting secretary of state is also extraordinary given that Mr. Raffensperger has confirmed his office is investigating Mr. Trump’s attempts to reverse the election results, including a phone call the former president made to him. Mr. Trump is also under investigation by Fulton County prosecutors into whether he and others tried to improperly influence the election.
Mr. Raffensperger was on the receiving end of a now-infamous call in early January, in which Mr. Trump pushed baseless claims of widespread election irregularities and asked the secretary of state to “find” enough votes to reverse the win for Mr. Biden.
“All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state,” Mr. Trump said during the call.
Mr. Raffensperger repeatedly told him his data was wrong. “We have to stand by our numbers,” he said. “We believe our numbers are right.”
Mr. Trump, when he had a Twitter feed, repeatedly attacked Mr. Raffensperger for not acceding to his demands.
In a statement on Monday afternoon, Mr. Raffensperger was scathing about his future opponent. “Few have done more to cynically undermine faith in our election than Jody Hice,” he said, adding, “Georgia Republicans seeking a candidate who’s accomplished nothing now have one.”
Richard Fausset contributed reporting.
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