Democrats locked in close contests with election deniers for key secretary of state posts

GOP nominees for secretary of state in states including Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada have questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election. And recent polling shows close races in all of those states, raising the prospect that people who undermined trust in the electoral system could be running the next presidential election in key states.

These contests are still suffering from the quintessential curse of down-ballot races: whether it’s possible to get voters to care about them, even after two years of dire messaging about the higher-than-ever stakes for the nation’s political system.

Public polling in Minnesota has been relatively sparse. But a recent survey from KSTP/SurveyUSA had Simon and Republican Kim Crockett deadlocked, with 42 percent for the incumbent and 40 percent for his challenger. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, meanwhile, enjoyed a 10-point lead over his challenger. (Another recent poll from MinnPost had Simon up by a larger 7 point margin, with Walz up 5.)

Meanwhile, recent CNN surveys in Arizona and Nevada showed the GOP secretary of state candidates there with small advantages within the polls’ margin of error against their Democratic opponents.

Simon declined to share specifics of his own internal polling, but said that the few public surveys released have generally matched his own. “When the only information you give to a poll respondent is name, office and party, it’s close,” he said. “When you fill in the blanks with information, the gap widens. And so we’re counting on this last month or so in the campaign to do that job.”

Democrats have launched significant efforts to try to fill in those gaps. Between Simon’s campaign, the outside group iVote and the advertising arm of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, there has been a little under $6 million worth of TV, radio and digital advertising in Minnesota, according to data from the ad tracking firm AdImpact — and other states have seen significant spending as well. Republicans, by comparison, have seen Crockett spend $4,000 on radio, plus a recent $300,000 purchase from a group called the American Principles Project, a group largely funded by GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein’s political operation.

“It’s been a huge leap in just two years in terms of the resources and the attention devoted,” Simon said. “When I first ran for office, DASS was completely flat on its back. I couldn’t get a phone call returned.”

But the races still pale in comparison to House races, let alone more prominent statewide campaigns like a Senate or gubernatorial contest. The state’s 2nd Congressional District, for example, has $25 million in advertising between the two parties, to win one of the country’s 435 House districts.

And some Democrats are concerned that the importance of election administrator contests has not quite sunk in. “You always have that disconnect, when you see the secretary of state’s name,” said Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, who introduced Simon at a predominantly Black church in Minneapolis last week, said when asked how many voters grasped what a chief election official does. “I don’t know what that number is, but I know that a part of what we’re doing is creating more awareness.”

Even so, Simon said he has noticed a change in how voters think about the office. “I used to have to do a lot more explaining about what the job is,” he said. “More and more people have come to value and appreciate this job. … People get it now in a way that they didn’t necessarily even four years ago, let alone eight years ago.”