Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R)
CNN  — 

The most important election on Tuesday isn’t the Georgia governor’s race, where incumbent Brian Kemp is expected to romp over former Sen. David Perdue in the Republican primary. It’s further down-ballot, where Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Rep. Jody Hice appear to be in a tight GOP primary race.

Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee for secretary of state will advance to the general election. The winner of that race in the fall will eventually oversee Georgia elections in 2024. And as we learned in 2020, that job could be the difference between upholding the democratic process and destroying it.

A quick refresher: Raffensperger, who was a Donald Trump supporter, was elected in 2018. He was a largely unknown official until the 2020 general election, in which Joe Biden narrowly beat out Trump in the Peach State. Trump was utterly convinced that he had won the state – despite several recounts that showed him behind – and leaned heavily on Raffensperger to alter the results.

In a January 2021 phone call with Raffensperger, Trump was blunt about his goals. “So look. All I want to do is this,” the then-President told Raffensperger. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state,” Trump falsely said. At another point, Trump said: “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”

Raffensperger refused to accede to Trump’s demands, telling him at one point: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”

Trump lost the state but vowed to punish Raffensperger, recruiting Hice to run for the office.

“Unlike the current Georgia Secretary of State, Jody leads out front with integrity,” said Trump in announcing his endorsement in March 2021. “I have 100% confidence in Jody to fight for Free, Fair, and Secure Elections in Georgia, in line with our beloved U.S. Constitution.”

Hice was one of 147 congressional Republicans who opposed the Electoral College certification on January 6, 2021, and has kept up a steady drumbeat of falsehoods about the 2020 election ever since. Hice was also part of a legal effort led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to throw out the results in four battleground states won by Biden in 2020. (The Supreme Court rejected the appeal.)

“The ‘big lie’ in all of this is that there were no problems with this past election,” Hice said during a debate earlier this month. “This past election was an absolute disaster under the leadership of Brad Raffensperger.” (Hice said a whole lot of things that weren’t true about the 2020 election during that debate.)

Unlike Perdue in the governor’s race, Hice’s relentless focus on the 2020 election has paid political dividends. The integrity of the election appears to be the dominant (and, really, only) issue in the secretary of state race.

In Georgia, a primary candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote to advance to the general election. In a four-way contest, it’s possible Raffensperger and Hice could face off in a June 21 primary runoff election.

It’s impossible to overstate the stakes here. Consider:

1. Trump is showing every indication of running for president again in 2024.

2. Georgia is widely expected to be a battleground in that election.

3. If past is prologue, the results – no matter who wins – will be narrow.

4. And Trump would be very likely to exert pressure on the state’s election officials to ensure he wins.

All of that means it makes a HUGE difference whether Georgia’s top election official is someone who has stared Trump down and stood his ground before, or someone who is running expressly on the lie that the 2020 election was somehow stolen.

The choice is very clear. What’s less clear is who Georgia Republicans will choose.