By Paul Steinhauser, Morgan Phillips
With the Republican majority on the line in Georgia’s Senate runoffs, President Trump returned to the campaign trail Saturday for the first time since last month’s presidential election.
Along with first lady Melania Trump, he gave a night rally in Valdosta, Ga., for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
Trump described to the crowd how he saw the stakes in the twin Senate runoffs.
“Very simply, you will decide whether your children will grow up in a socialist country or free country. Socialism is just the beginning for these people. They want to go into a communistic form of government,” the president continued.
Trump said that Perdue’s opponent, Jon Ossoff, and Loeffler’s opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, are the “two most extreme, far-left, liberal candidates in history.”
Trump implored Georgians to vote, while still sowing distrust in the state’s handling of elections.
“You must go vote, vote early. They cheated, they rigged our presidential election, but we will still win it. They’re going to try and rig this election too.”
Trump then hit the state’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. “Your governor could stop it very easily, if he knew what the hell he was doing.”
He said that Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger were “afraid of Stacey Abrams,” the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist.
“If I lost, I’d be a very gracious loser. If I lost, I’d go to Florida…but you can’t ever accept what they steal and rig and rob. You can’t accept it,” Trump continued.
Of the 2024 presidential election, Trump said, “Hopefully, I won’t have to be a candidate.”
Just after the rally, the president took to Twitter to urge Georgians to register to vote before Monday, Dec. 12, and to request an absentee ballot before 12/31.
“The answer to the Democrat voter fraud is not to stay at home – that’s what Pelosi and Schumer want you to do. If you want revenge on the Democrats for their efforts to steal the Presidential election, where we are fighting hard, you have to show up and vote in RECORD numbers!” he added.
Crowds of supporters lined up for hours to attend the rally. Some even camped overnight, despite temperatures dropping to the mid-30s.
As the mostly maskless supporters stood in line waiting for temperature checks, a chant broke out: “Stop the steal.”
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 showdowns — emphasized: “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 Democrats control both the House and Senate, as well as the White House.
Republicans desperately need Trump supporters to return to the polls a month from now, despite unfounded claims of 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 carried live nationally on Fox News.
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 cerrtified.
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 Kemp and 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.
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.