Liberal group spends $4 million to boost secretary of state races

·3 min read
Paul Sancya/AP Photo

A liberal group focused on secretary of state races is making its first major investments of the midterm election cycle, putting down seven-figure buys in a pair of states where the chief election officer is on the ballot in November.

iVote, the organization behind the buys, is launching $2 million TV advertising campaigns in both Minnesota and Michigan. Both states have incumbent Democratic secretaries of state: Steve Simon and Jocelyn Benson, respectively.

POLITICO first reported on the plans for the new buy. The group had previously announced its intentions to spend $15 million on a paid media campaign this cycle — about twice as much as it spent during the 2018 cycle.

“The difference between a functioning Democracy and a constitutional crisis-in-waiting is who wins these seats,” Hari Sevugan, an iVote board member who in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary was deputy campaign manager for Pete Buttigieg, now the Transportation secretary, said in a statement to POLITICO.

The organization’s first ad comes in Michigan and attacks Kristina Karamo, the opponent of Benson who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump. She rose to prominence after serving as a poll challenger during the 2020 election, pushing conspiracy theories about the processing of absentee ballots in the state.

The ad, which is set to start airing on Friday, does not, however, focus on her as the next potential chief election official of the state. Instead, it seeks to cast her as disqualified from serving in public office for calling abortion “child sacrifice” and speaking at a conference organized by prominent proponents of the QAnon conspiracy theory. (She has said she does not support that conspiracy.)

“In politics, there are Democrats, independents, Republicans — and then there’s Kristina Karamo,” the ad’s narrator says. “Regardless of party, Karamo is dangerously unfit for office.”

The Minnesota ad campaign is set to begin next month. There, Simon is facing Republican Kim Crockett, who has also sought to undermine confidence in her state’s elections.

iVote has assembled a who’s who of past Democratic — and even one Republican — presidential campaigns. Its board members include Sevugan, of the Buttigieg campaign and Addisu Demissie, of the 2020 presidential campaign of Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Tim Hogan, who worked on the 2020 presidential campaign of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), is an adviser to the group.

Secretary of state races have been under a microscope since the 2020 election, when Trump tried to pressure election officials at all levels of government to help overturn his loss.

Since then, allies of Trump have targeted the office in several battleground states, running on the false premise that the 2020 election was overrun with fraud. They often campaign promising to both relitigate the past presidential election in their state while making sweeping changes to the rules governing future contests.

The races are expected to attract significantly more outside attention than in past cycles, where they were often sleepier affairs. iVote’s announcement on Friday is one of the largest advertising buys thus far.

The organization also announced on Friday that it was endorsing five Democratic secretary of state nominees, an early preview of where future spending could come in the final weeks before the election. In addition to the two incumbents in the states where it is rolling out an advertising campaign, the group is also supporting Adrian Fontes and Cisco Aguilar in the open-seat races in Arizona and Nevada, respectively. Sevugan said the state is also looking at advertising in other states, including Arizona.

iVote is also backing Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen, who is challenging incumbent Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Raffensperger survived a Trump-backed primary challenge earlier this year after he refused to help the then-president “find votes” in the state for the purpose of reversing the 2020 election.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this report misstated the overall total of iVote's ad buy.