IDAHO FALLS – Smoke billowed from a rainy grill behind Republican Secretary of State candidate Phil McGrane as he spoke about Idaho politics and election reform, not missing a beat as he cut and seasoned 100 pounds of tri-tip steak before a May 4 fundraiser at an Idaho Falls Farm.
“That’s the fun part of campaigning,” he said, before joking that some politicians kiss babies, but he’s getting steak. “Do you want a bite?”
McGrane and his father-in-law competed in national barbecue competitions, placing third in the nation for pulled pork on the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour in 2013. He used his barbecue expertise in his bid for secretary of state veryattracting supporters to events with his award-winning meat and selling bottles of “Phil’s Original Secretary of Steak Rub” to raise funds for the campaign.
The competitive barbecue-turned-county clerk’s neighborly campaigning style, combined with his electoral experience, proved to be a winning recipe. Two weeks after the fundraiser, McGrane won the Republican primary for secretary of state.
And while he may have been the only candidate known for his cooking skills, McGrane set himself apart from his rivals in a more radical way.
He dismissed former President Donald Trump’s widespread — and baseless — allegations of a stolen 2020 election.
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His primary opponents, state Rep. Dorothy Moon and state Sen. Mary Souza, both supported Trump’s false claim that the results of the 2020 presidential election were tainted by widespread voter fraud.
McGrane, however, is confident in the integrity of Idaho’s elections because he has spent the past 17 years running them.
He started as an election specialist after the Bush-Gore voter showdown in 2000, training poll workers, finding polling places and counting ballots. As the Ada County Clerk, he enforces Idaho election laws and practices. While his bid for secretary of state failed in 2014, McGrane’s 2022 campaign has garnered the support of all five living Idaho governors.
“Being at the ground level, I’ve seen what opportunities there are to improve this system,” McGrane said.
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The primary results
Before 2020, McGrane’s combined establishment support and background as an election official may have given him a clear lead in this year’s primary. Instead of McGrane arrested the nomination with just over 43% of the vote – winning only because Moon and Souza appeared to split the Trump vote.
More than 40,000 of the 114,000 votes cast for McGrane came from voters in Ada County, his home state. However, Moon got more votes in the rest of the state. Excluding Ada, which is the state’s most populous county and includes the capital Boise, Moon received 54.3 percent of the vote, while McGrane secured just 45.7 percent.
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If he wins in November, which is likely in GOP-heavy Idaho, McGrane said he would strengthen cybersecurity precautions in elections, create a system for voter information guides and continue cooperation between of counties he started as Ada County Clerk .
“I’ve worked for years trying to make sure that elections in Idaho are successful,” he said at the barbecue fundraiser.
For McGrane, that means creating more opportunities for Idahoans to vote, such as through early in-person voting, which he said enhances election security.
“Early voting is the most secure form of voting because of the technology and the tools that we can put in place and to make sure that we can vet someone and vet their information,” McGrane said.
While McGrane was county clerk, Ada became the first county in Idaho to print on-demand ballots. With on-demand ballots, election officials enter a voter’s name into a computer, which then verifies it against the statewide voter registration database, selects the correct ballot, and prints it. It also allows the county to offer early voting from additional polling places.
“I hope someday to see the same technology used on Election Day because I think there are really some tools that give us opportunities to make elections even better,” McGrane added.
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And it’s not just McGrane’s refusal to embrace Trump’s allegations of a stolen election that sets him apart from other Republicans. He also supports expanded voter access compared to GOP candidates in other states that have pledged to end mail-in ballots in an effort to return to a system that revolves around in-person voting on Election Day.
Across the country, many Republican candidates for Secretary of State have spread inaccurate, false claims of election fraud in 2020. Several of these Republican candidates have won primaries.
Idahoans overwhelmingly chose moderates on Election Day
Mainstream Republicans like McGrane have emerged victorious against ultra-right-wing challengers in nearly every statewide Idaho GOP primary race this year.
Gov. Brad Little defeated Lt. Gov. Janice McGitchin, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, by more than 20 percentage points. Supporter of Greek candidates for lieutenant governor, Scott Bedke, won by more than nine percentage points. And on a more local level, incumbent state Rep. Chad Christensen — a member of the anti-government militia Oath Keepers — lost to the more moderate Republican, Josh Wheeler.
There was one prominent winner representing the pro-Trump far right of the party: former U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who defeated five-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Labrador campaigned criticizing Wasden for not joining 17 other Republican attorneys general in asking the Supreme Court to throw out the results of the 2020 presidential election in the four key states of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
McGrane and the rest of the statewide Republican candidates are certain to win in the November general election. Idaho voters have elected Republican governors, secretaries and attorneys general for more than 25 years.
Still, McGrane is still campaigning — and still barbecuing.
He’s hosting an “All-American BBQ” on Wednesday, where he’ll cook again and talk about the election with anyone who will listen.
His message: it is vital to fight against the false allegations of electoral fraud being spread by some in his party.
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“The Secretary of State’s office is just like the county clerk’s office — you shouldn’t really know those offices are there,” McGrane said.
“But in this environment, with everything going on, it’s so important that voters, when they go to the polls, have confidence that their vote counts and that at the end of the night the results reflect the will of the community.” he added.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Idaho GOP candidate Phil McGrane rejects Trump’s fraud claims