By Paul Steinhauser
With the Republican majority on the line in Georgia’s Senate runoffs, President Trump returns to the campaign trail Saturday for the first time since last month’s presidential election.
On the eve of Trump’s trip, Vice President Mike Pence — in the Peach State for the second time since the kickoff of the twin Senate election showdowns — emphasized that “President Trump and I need David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler back in the Republican majority in the United States Senate.”
Loeffler and Perdue are the GOP candidates in the Jan. 5 elections, which will determine if Republicans hold the chamber or if the Democrats control both the House and Senate, as well as the White House.
While Pence is the most well-known so far in a slew of high-profile Republicans to parachute into Georgia in the past month, the biggest name of all returns Saturday. Trump will headline a rally at 7 p.m. ET at the airport in the southern Georgia city of Valdosta. The event will be carried live by Fox News Channel.
Ahead of his trip, the president tweeted that he’ll be holding “a big Trump Rally” for the GOP senators. He emphasized that they are “fantastic people who love their Country and love their State. We must work hard and be sure they win.”
For Republicans, there’s plenty of anticipation of the president’s visit — and trepidation over what he’ll say.
Ahead of the rally, Perdue tweeted that Trump “knows that NO ONE can sit this election out. It’s too important, and we MUST hold the line in the Senate. Looking forward to having him down in Georgia on Saturday!”
And on Thursday night at a televised town hall in Georgia on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle,” Perdue predicted that the president’s message would be that the best way to protect his achievements the past four years would be “to get Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue reelected.”
Republicans desperately need Trump supporters to return to the polls a month from now, despite unfounded claims that there was widespread voter fraud in the Nov. 3 election.
The balance of power for the next Senate coming out of last month’s elections is 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. That means Democrats must win both of Georgia’s runoffs to make it a 50-50 split Senate. If that occurs, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaking vote, giving her party a razor-thin majority in the chamber.
In Georgia, where state law dictates a runoff if no candidate garners 50% of the vote, Perdue narrowly missed avoiding a runoff, winning 49.75% of the vote. Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff trailed by roughly 87,000 votes.
In the other race, Loeffler captured nearly 26% of the vote in a whopping 20-candidate special election to fill the final two years of the term of former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson. Democratic candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock won nearly 33% of the vote.
“It’s critically important that Republicans are united in this fight against Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff,” said Jesse Hunt, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the re-election arm of the Senate GOP. “It may sound cliché, but with two very consequential runoffs, turnout is critical.”
Hunt told Fox News that “the president’s visit is going to be an event that energizes and mobilizes our Republican voters.”
The visit comes on the eve of Sunday’s debate between Loeffler and Warnock, which will be also carried live nationally on Fox News. Saturday’s event will be Trump’s first stop in Georgia since he campaigned there on Nov. 1.
Trump continues to fight the results of the presidential contest in Georgia, a once solidly red state that’s turned into a crucial battleground in recent years. President-elect Joe Biden carried the state by roughly 12,000 votes in last month’s election. The results were backed up by a manual recount mandated by state officials. A second recount requested by the president, completed Friday, didn’t alter the final result – and the election results were certified.
But as Biden prepares to take office, Trump has continued his assault on the election.
The president this week tweeted or retweeted baseless charges of voter fraud in Georgia, and he’s repeatedly attacked Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who are both Trump supporters, for their refusal to reverse the election results.
Conspiratorial claims by pro-Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Lin Wood this week further roiled the waters. They filed lawsuits seeking to overturn Georgia’s results. At a rally Wednesday, they went further, urging GOP voters to not support Perdue and Loeffler, charging that the senators have not been supportive enough of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.
“They have not earned your vote. Don’t you give it to them,” Wood said. “Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election, for God’s sake!”
That’s got plenty of Republicans in Georgia pushing back.
Former House Speaker and 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress for decades, tweeted this week: “Lin Wood and Sidney Powell are totally destructive. Every Georgia conservative who cares about America MUST vote in the runoff.”
Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia election official and a Republican, predicted that voter fraud allegations by Trump and his allies will drive down GOP turnout in the Senate runoffs. “At this point, there’s no way that it can’t,” he told CNN in an interview this week.
A Southern-based Republican strategist told Fox News that “this stuff from Sidney Powell and Lin Wood is crazy.”
“It’s hurting our chances in Georgia. It’s very confusing to voters,” said the strategist, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.
With those concerns flaring, Donald Trump Jr. is urging MAGA supporters in Georgia to vote, in new ads put out this week by a super PAC started by Trump allies.
GOP leaders are hoping the president will forcefully push back against Powell and Wood at his Saturday rally. But some are also worried over what else Trump may say.
“We need the president to come down here to turn out voters. But what’s he going to do or say? Who knows,” the GOP strategist said.
Trump campaign claims ‘massive irregularities’ in Georgia electionVideo
On Friday, as his legal team filed a new lawsuit in Georgia, Trump tied the runoffs to his push to reverse the state’s presidential election results as he once again demanded a signature audit of ballots.
“The best way to insure a @KLoeffler and @sendavidperdue VICTORY is to allow signature checks in the Presidential race, which will insure a Georgia Presidential win,” the president claimed. And he argued that “Spirits will soar and everyone will rush out and VOTE!”
But ahead of the president’s trip, a dozen and a half leading Georgia Republicans issued a statement urging that the focus turn from attacks over the Nov. 3 results to the Senate runoffs.
“We have watched with increasing concern as the debate surrounding the state’s electoral system has made some within our Party consider whether voting in the coming run-off election matters, ” the statement read. “We say today, without equivocation, that without every vote cast for President Trump and all our Republican candidates on November 3 also being cast in the U.S. Senate runoffs, the trajectory of our State and Nation will be irreparably altered on January 5th. Now is the time to unite our Party and win these U.S. Senate seats.”
Among those signing the statement were former Republican Sens. Isakson, Saxby Chambliss and Mack Mattingly, and former GOP Gov. Nathan Deal.
Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire.