Donald Trump and Joe Biden will stage dueling rallies in Georgia on the eve of two runoffs that will determine control of the Senate as the president continues his increasingly brazen effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Three million Georgia voters cast ballots during the early voting period, which ended Thursday – a record for runoff elections in the state. Tens of millions of dollars have poured into the state, as residents spent the last several weeks bombarded by political ads and outreach encouraging them to vote in Tuesday’s elections.
If Democrats win both seats – no easy feat – the Senate would be evenly divided, with Kamala Harris, the vice-president-elect, serving as the tie-breaking vote. If Republicans win at least one of the races, Mitch McConnell will remain the Senate majority leader, making it far more difficult for the president-elect to deliver on top policy priorities such as healthcare, taxation and climate.
Biden and Trump’s visits to the state on Monday highlight the urgency – and the stakes – of the twin races that will shape the political landscape for the first years of the incoming administration.
Biden was the first Democratic presidential nominee in nearly three decades to win Georgia, where changing demographics and a political realignment across the Atlanta suburbs have turned this once reliably Republican southern state into a presidential battleground. Multiple recounts affirmed Biden’s 11,779-vote victory in Georgia, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from continuing to amplify false claims about the state’s election process and its results.
In an hour-long phone call to the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, on Saturday, Trump implored him to “find 11,780 votes” – just enough to reverse his defeat in the state’s presidential election.
The conversation, a recording of which was first published by the Washington Post, may further damage Republicans, who were already nervous that Trump’s fixation on his electoral loss – based on meritless claims and debunked conspiracy theories about voter fraud – could depress turnout among his supporters.
The races have drawn firepower from some of the biggest names in American politics. In addition to Trump and Biden, Barack Obama narrated an ad for Jon Ossoff while Michelle Obama recorded a message for the Rev Raphael Warnock, the two Democratic contenders.
Mike Pence was in Milner, Georgia on Monday to campaign on behalf of the Republican candidates, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. The vice-president exhorted voters at Rock Springs church to turn up at the polls on Tuesday to protect the conservative victories Trump had achieved over the last four years.
“We need Georgia to defend the majority,” he told said. “In one more day, we need people of faith to stand with two leaders who will support life and liberty and the freedom of every American. In one more day, we need to win Georgia and save America.”
Pence’s visit came a day after Harris held a drive-in rally with the Democratic candidates Ossoff and Warnock in Savannah. In her remarks, Harris assailed Trump for his call with Georgia’s secretary of state, calling it a “bald-faced, bold abuse of power” and “most certainly the voice of desperation”.
Loeffler is expected to appear with Trump at his Monday night rally in Dalton, a heavily Republican area in north Georgia that has seen relatively low turnout during the early voting period. Perdue, who is in quarantine after being exposed to a staff member with the coronavirus, told Fox News that he would attend Monday’s rally virtually.
Since the November election, Trump has continued his sustained assault on Georgia’s Republican leaders, who he has accused without evidence of ignoring instances of voter fraud. He has relentlessly attacked Raffensperger, a Republican, who has resisted enormous pressure from the president and Republican leaders to subvert the election results. And last month, Trump called Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, a “fool” and said he should resign.
Trump’s attacks have further cleaved the party at the very moment they would benefit from unity. During a rally in Georgia last month, Trump devoted considerably more time to airing his own political grievances with the state’s Republican leaders than promoting the Republican candidates he was there to campaign for.
During his last visit to the state, Biden warned that Perdue and Loeffler would be “roadblocks” in the Senate, focused more on obstructing a Democratic administration than working to deliver for Georgia. A vote for Ossoff and Warnock, Biden said, was a “vote for two United States senators who know how to say the word ‘yes’ and not just ‘no’”.
Perdue, who has served one term in the Senate, and Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat in December 2019, have largely embraced that characterization, warning voters that they are the last line of defense against a “radical liberal agenda”.
In an appearance on Fox News on Monday, Perdue said he was doubtful the conversation between Trump and Raffensperger would have any impact on the election and appeared more dismayed that participants on the call would leak the recording, a decision he called “disgusting”.
Perdue earlier said he supported an effort led by a group of Republican senators to indulge Trump’s desperate attempts to remain in power by objecting to the results of the elections in several states when Congress votes this week. “I’m encouraging my colleagues to object,” Perdue said during an appearance on Fox News on Sunday. “This is something the American people demand right now.”
Perdue’s term expired on Sunday and therefore will not vote on Wednesday, when Congress meets to certify the results of the Electoral College.
Loeffler, who has made loyalty to Trump a central theme of her campaign, declined to answer the question directly. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Loeffler said she was “seriously looking” at the plot, backed by nearly a quarter of Senate Republicans, but did not commit to supporting it.
“Everything is on the table,” she said.