Georgia Senate runoffs: Stars try to seal the deal


The biggest names in American politics converged on Georgia on Monday to put their final imprint on the hard-fought runoff races that will determine the balance of power in the Senate and define the waning days of President Trump’s administration.

Mr. Trump focused on driving out the party faithful in northwest Georgia, and Vice President Mike Pence targeted evangelical Christians on behalf of Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden hit the Democratic stronghold of Atlanta, telling voters that they have a chance to “change America” by casting their votes for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

“When you vote for Jon and Raphael, you will be sending two senators who will fight for you, who will put Georgia first, who will put you first,” Mr. Biden said. “You don’t have that now.

“You have two senators who think their loyalty is to Trump — not to Georgia,” he said. “You have two senators who think they’ve sworn an oath to Donald Trump — not the United States Constitution.”

Mr. Trump, speaking at an evening rally, said the stakes of the election “could not be higher” and warned that the two Democrats on the ballot would be a rubber stamp for far-left activists.

“Your vote tomorrow will decide which party controls the United States Senate,” Mr. Trump told the crowd in Dalton. “The radical Democrats are trying to capture Georgia Senate seats so they can wield unchecked, unrestrained, absolute power over every aspect of your life.”

“The people of Georgia will be at the mercy of the left-wing socialist, communists, marxists,” he said.

Speaking at Rock Springs Church in Milner, Mr. Pence said Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler should be rewarded for the “stalwart” support they have shown Mr. Trump.

“I am here for one reason and one reason only, and that is that Georgia and America need David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler back in the Republican majority in the United States Senate,” Mr. Pence said. “In one more day, we need people of faith to stand with two leaders who will support life, liberty and the freedom of every American.

“In one more day, we need to win Georgia and save America,” he said.

A day before the get-out-the-vote scramble, audio surfaced of Mr. Trump pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the votes necessary to overturn the results of the November election.

The fallout continued Monday.

During an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Mr. Raffensperger said his office had spent the past two months playing “rumor whack-a-mole” because of Mr. Trump.

“It was pretty obvious very early on that we debunked every one of those theories that have been out there, but President Trump continues to believe them,” he said.

Mr. Raffensperger, a Republican, said he understands that the Fulton County district attorney is interested in looking into whether Mr. Trump crossed a legal line.

At a press conference in Atlanta, Gabriel Sterling, a top state election official, methodically slapped down the allegations that Mr. Trump and his supporters have embraced since Mr. Biden became the first Democratic presidential contender to win the state since 1992.

“This is all easily provably false, yet the president persists and by doing so undermines Georgians’ faith in the election system,” Mr. Sterling said.

Ms. Loeffler, meanwhile, declined to weigh in on Mr. Trump’s phone call.

“My entire focus is on tomorrow,” she said when asked about the call.

Ms. Loeffler said the “future of the country is at stake” and that if Republicans “don’t hold the line in Georgia,” it will result in higher taxes, defunding the police, coronavirus lockdowns and military cuts.

“We’ll live in a socialist economy,” said Ms. Loeffler, who is competing against Mr. Warnock.

In an appearance on Fox News, Mr. Perdue, who is quarantining because of exposure to the coronavirus, downplayed the significance of the Trump call and directed his anger at Mr. Raffensperger.

Mr. Perdue said the fact that the conversation was leaked “to the press is disgusting.”

“A lot of people in Georgia and 75 million Americans I think align with him right now that something untoward happened here in Georgia and we have not gotten to the bottom of it,” Mr. Perdue said. “I’ve been calling for weeks to object to the electors because in the state of Georgia I don’t believe we should have certified the election yet.”

Mr. Pence said voters can rest assured that the Georgia elections will be secure and that he shares their concerns about “voting irregularities.”

“I promise you, come this Wednesday we will have our day in Congress,” he said. “We will hear the objections. We will hear the evidence, but tomorrow is Georgia’s day.

“So for our faith and our freedom, we need you to vote, Georgia,” he said. “If you don’t vote, they win.”

Mr. Trump has cast a large shadow over the state with his nonstop allegations of voter fraud and calls for Gov. Brian Kemp and Mr. Raffensperger, both Republicans, to resign.

Despite fizzling out in the courts, the allegations have served as a rallying cry for the president’s supporters.

Some people have questioned whether their vote matters. Others have called on voters to boycott the contest to punish Republican leaders for not standing more firmly with Mr. Trump.

The allegations also have served as a litmus test for lawmakers looking to stay in the good graces of the president, splitting the Republican Party.

“He has been the air that the Republican candidates have breathed for years, and without his nourishment, they might not be there,” said Charles S. Bullock III, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. “They have wedded themselves to him, and now it is: How do they remain true to him so they don’t alienate his supporters without taking some very difficult to defend positions?”

Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler have supported Mr. Trump’s right to challenge the election results and demanded that Mr. Raffensperger step down.

The recently leaked audio has added to the chaotic nature of the races.

“It doesn’t help the matter, and it is just more noise that prevents us from talking about how bad Democrats are and what a risk we are taking with Democrats in power,” said Jay Williams, a Georgia-based Republican Party strategist.

More than 3 million people have already voted, according to the nonpartisan blog Georgia Votes.

The running rally shows that close to 120,000 people who sat out the Nov. 3 elections have voted in the runoffs and that Black voters have comprised 30% of the early voting electorate.

Mr. Williams said the early vote totals are worrisome.

“We are basically down two touchdowns right now, and I don’t know if there is enough time on the clock to make up for it,” he said.

David Sherfinksi contributed to this report.

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