Georgian electoral officer Raffensperger faces the warmth as Trump denies defeat

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© Reuters. President Trump is reflected on boarding Air Force One in West Palm Beach

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By Nathan Layne

CUTHBERT, Ga. (Reuters) – Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger cemented his status as an unlikely hero for U.S. Democrats after another clash in which he rejected President Donald Trump's claims that his election defeat was the result of a far widespread fraud.

Trump put the 65-year-old former businessman back in the limelight when he called Raffensperger on Saturday to get him to “find” enough votes to undo Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the state, published by Washington Post on Sunday.

As Georgia's chief electoral officer, Raffensperger oversaw multiple recounts of November 3 ballot papers, each achieving the same result – that the southern state had narrowly favored a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in a generation. He has vowed to fight future election fraud, despite repeating the findings of his colleagues in the United States that there was no evidence of widespread fraud in November.

He has also repeatedly challenged Trump's unsubstantiated fraud allegations, even after the president labeled him an "enemy of the people". He did so again on Saturday's call, telling Trump the vote showed that Biden was the rightful winner.

"Well, Mr. President, the challenge you have is the data you have is wrong," Raffensperger Trump said on the recording of the call on Saturday.

The White House declined to comment. Raffensperger's office did not respond to a request for comment.

But he and his colleagues have been warning for weeks that Trump's rhetoric is putting them and their colleagues in danger.

"Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is injured, someone is shot, someone is killed," said Gabriel Sterling, manager of the state electoral systems, at an emotional press conference on December 1st.

Upon discovering that Raffensperger's wife had received sexualized threats, he added, "It has all gone too far. It has to stop."

Reputation as a "straight shooter"

After years as a civil engineer and successful businessman, Raffensperger worked for two years on the city council and four years in the Georgian House of Representatives before replacing current Governor Brian Kemp as senior electoral officer in 2018.

Raffensperger acquaintances at the State House referred to him as a "straight shooter," who backed traditional Republican priorities, backed a bill to cut small business regulations, and voted against a gasoline tax -constitution, according to a profile in the Atlanta Journal.

Raffensperger, a lifelong Republican, was an early supporter of Trump in 2016, and the president returned the favor by endorsing him as secretary of state. But whatever the goodwill between the two men has since vanished.

"Brad Raffensperger: He's not a liberal. Like he's not a hero of mine," Hillary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, told CNN. "He's a solid Conservative Republican who opposes the president. That is what makes him so important."

Trump's relentless attacks since the November 3 elections have included charges that Raffensperger hid tens of thousands of illegal votes to secure Biden's victory. The incumbent Republican Senators of Georgia – David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler – have called on Raffensperger to resign.

Perdue and Loeffler themselves are caught in tight campaigns ahead of Tuesday's runoff elections that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

Raffensperger has come under fire from party building across the state for not bowing to Trump's will.

Ronald Ham, head of the Republican Party in rural Brantley County, said Raffensperger should take Trump's allegations of election fraud more seriously. He said there was discussion among some party leaders about calling him back.

"I was a little too critical of Brad, but where there's so much smoke I want to check," said Ham. "He's a good guy, but he won't survive re-election if he gets this far."

Raffensperger told the Atlanta Journal Constitution in late November that he and his 44-year-old wife had relied on their beliefs to cope with the press.

"We are simple people, simple people," said Raffensperger. "We are calm people in a restless role."

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