The Rundown

Presidents, coming and going, try to fire up party faithful for Senate runoff

By: - January 5, 2021 10:09 am

President-elect Joe Biden and President Donald Trump rallied supporters in their own friendly Georgia territory Monday ahead of the crucial pair of U.S. Senate races set to be decided Jan. 5. (Photo credit Jill Nolin left, Ross Williams right).

GEOGRIA — President Donald Trump continued to fuel doubt in the state’s election results during an election-eve rally held in conservative north Georgia for Republican senators who are locked in close election battles that will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.

Trump took the stage at a Dalton airfield just hours after President-elect Joe Biden – whose election win the outgoing president has not acknowledged two months after the election – campaigned in Atlanta for Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

In Dalton, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler took the stage briefly as the president campaigned on her behalf to share with the Trump faithful that she would challenge the presidential election results and object to the electoral college certifications process this Wednesday in Washington.

“We’re going to get this done,” Loeffler shouted into the microphone as Trump stood behind her. “This president fought for us. We’re fighting for him.”

And all of this happened just one day after a released recording captured Trump pushing Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the election results. In the recording, the president can be heard saying he wants “to find 11,780 votes” and told Raffensperger – who is a fellow Republican – that there was nothing wrong with saying he “recalculated” the results.

Sen. David Perdue, whose term expired Jan. 3, told Fox News Monday that the public release of the call was “disgusting,” but he downplayed its significance.

It’s unclear what impact the late development will have on Tuesday’s outcome, partly because more than 3 million people have already voted early. Perdue and others have also argued that the president’s comments were nothing new.

Clyde Fondren, a retired veteran from Marietta who traveled to Dalton to hear Trump speak, shrugged off the recording Monday night. He compared Trump to a robbery victim who just wants his property back.

“He wanted him to give him what he owed, 11,780 votes,” Fondren said. “You know what’s owed. I won’t ask any questions, I don’t care where it came from.”

Trump, who won Georgia by five percentage points just four years ago, continued to encourage that narrative Monday night, but he framed it as a cautionary tale for Tuesday’s runoffs. He referenced the size and enthusiasm of the crowd when saying there was “no way” he lost Georgia, where nearly 5 million votes were cast.

“That was a rigged election, but we’re still fighting it,” said Trump, who vowed to return to Georgia in two years to campaign against Gov. Brian Kemp and Raffensperger.

Two recounts have confirmed Biden as the winner by about 12,000 votes – and Biden likes to now say that he “won Georgia three times,” including the original tally – and a signature audit of absentee ballots in Cobb County found no cases of fraud. Trump continues to challenge the results, though.

“For all of these people who think it’s too late, does that mean that we’re forced to approve a fraudulent election or an election with massive irregularities?” Trump said to loud boos. “I don’t think so.

“The only way to combat the Democrat fraud is to flood your polling places with a historic tidal wave of Republican voters tomorrow.”

Dueling presidential pitches

Monday was a fitting finale for a chaotic 2020 election cycle that has spilled over into the first week of the new year. Hours before the outgoing president took the stage in conservative north Georgia, Biden rallied supporters to the polls at a drive-in event in downtown Atlanta.

“The debate over $2,000 isn’t some abstract debate in Washington,” Biden said. “It’s about real lives, your lives, the lives of good, hard-working Americans.

“Look, Georgia, there’s no one in America with more power to make that happen than you, the citizens of Atlanta, the citizens of Georgia,” he said. “And that’s not an exaggeration. That’s literally true.”

President-elect Joe Biden campaigned for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in downtown Atlanta Monday. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

If Georgians elect Ossoff and Warnock, the pair of wins would split control of the U.S. Senate and give incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris a tie-breaking vote and empower Biden to pursue a more aggressive agenda.

The national implications of the runoffs are not lost on Georgia voters. More than 3 million people have already voted in the runoffs, which are usually sleepy affairs that benefit Republican candidates.

Republicans have framed themselves as the last line of defense against a potentially all-Democratic federal government, painting the stakes in dire terms with nothing less than the future of America on the line.

The election-eve campaigning offered more of that stark contrast for Georgians. Biden blasted Trump for his handling of the worsening COVID pandemic and argued that sending Ossoff and Warnock to the Senate would help deploy the resources states need to respond.

“The president spends more time whining and complaining than doing something about the problem,” Biden said to applause, honks and cheers from the drive-in rally held outside Georgia State University’s Center Parc Stadium in downtown Atlanta. “I don’t know why he still wants the job. He doesn’t want to do the work.”

Biden said Loeffler and Perdue “think they’ve sworn an oath to Donald Trump, not the United States Constitution.

“Well, let me tell you something, I got elected at 29 years old and six more times to the United States Senate from Delaware, and guess what? Not once did I think that I took an oath to any president, Democrat or Republican. I took an oath to the United States Constitution. As president, I don’t believe your United States senators are going to work for me. They work for the people of Georgia.”

Georgia Recorder Ross Williams contributed to this report. 

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.

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