The race for control of Congress saw the country’s two most powerful leaders swoop into Georgia for competing last-push rallies on Monday, one day before the intensely watched U.S. Senate runoff elections.
President Donald Trump drew supporters by the thousands for a nighttime rally in Dalton, the heart of conservative Northwest Georgia, where voting has lagged so far in the runoffs amid doubts over the integrity of the state’s election system.
His visit came hours after President-elect Joe Biden, who defeated Trump in Georgia by 11,779 votes in the Nov. 3 general election, stopped in Atlanta to help keep Democratic momentum rolling after his campaign flipped the state blue for the first time in a presidential contest since 1992.
It was the second Georgia visit for both Trump and Biden since the election – which Trump will has refused to concede – and since Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock forced runoffs against incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
The past two months have brought scores of national politicians and celebrities to Georgia for the runoffs, plus hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign donations. Wins by both Ossoff and Warnock would give Democrats control of both chambers of Congress and the White House for at least the next two years.
Trump, Biden and the campaigns they’re backing have all stressed the need to secure runoff wins on Tuesday.
Republicans fear the federal government would steer too close to socialism if both senators lose, while Democrats say split control of Congress would hamstring the Biden administration’s priorities on health care, climate change and the COVID-19 response.
“Georgia … the power is literally in your hands,” Biden said at his rally. “One state can chart the course, not just for the next four years, but for a generation.”
While Biden spent the bulk of his speech touting the Democratic candidates, Trump devoted huge portions of his remarks to trashing Georgia’s election system as riddled with fraud – though state election officials and federal courts have rejected his claims.
State Republican leaders have worried the president’s assault on Georgia’s elections could scare off conservative voters and swing the runoffs for Ossoff and Warnock.
Trump had no such worries on Monday night. He urged his supporters to swarm the polls on Tuesday, despite his claims of widespread fraud in the November election.
“There’s no way we lost Georgia. There’s no way,” Trump said. “That was a rigged election.”
The president’s visit came amid a barrage of criticism for a phone call he had over the weekend during which he pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the Nov. 3 election results.
A recording of the call was made public by several news outlets on Sunday. In the call, Trump pressured Raffensperger to “find” enough voters to reverse the election results in his favor. He chided Georgia’s election chief over unproven fraud claims, such as voting by dead people, nonresidents and felons, as well as vote-padding with illegal absentee ballots.
Raffensperger and his general counsel batted back the claims during the call.
While Biden avoided mention of the phone call during his rally, his preferred Senate candidates used it to slam the Republican senators for continuing to stand behind Trump and refusing to acknowledge Biden’s victory.
Ossoff, who runs an investigative journalism company, called Perdue “not fit” to keep his seat after the call. Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, said Loeffler “does not care about Georgia voters.”
Perdue, a former corporate executive from Sea Island, shrugged off Trump’s call, telling FOX News he “didn’t hear anything that the president hasn’t already said for weeks now.”
Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman, skirted the call Monday morning by insisting her “sole focus” was on the runoff.
The Republican senators’ decision to support Trump has highlighted fractures among Georgia GOP leaders as the president wages war against Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp – both Republicans – for not overturning the election results.
Loeffler, in particular, has clung to Trump at the expense of her biggest ally in the state, Kemp, who appointed her to fill retired Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat late last year. Kemp has not appeared on the campaign trail since Trump’s attacks started, even as Loeffler campaigned recently with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Neom.
Trump, who endorsed Kemp’s gubernatorial campaign in 2018, scorched the governor at Monday night’s rally after calling for him to resign last week.
“I’ll be here in a year and a half campaigning against your governor … and your crazy secretary of state,” Trump said.
Georgia Democratic leaders have seized on the Republican infighting to make the case for Ossoff and Warnock, casting the two challengers as more level-headed options to represent Georgians in Washington than the Trump-allied incumbents.
“We are going to be determining whether this country moves forward and makes progress in solving its problems and issues, or whether we are going to continue with the political infighting that has dominated our politics in the last few years,” said Debby Peppers, chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Whitfield County, where Trump held his rally.
Polls open Tuesday at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. for the runoff elections. Absentee ballots must be received at county elections offices before the polls close to be counted.