AUGUSTA, Ga. – Back in Georgia to rally electoral support for the state's two Republican senators, Vice President Mike Pence told voters in Augusta on Thursday that returning the incumbents to Washington would secure a GOP Senate and help preserve what he characterized as the successes of the Trump administration.
“We need to send them back because the Republican majority could be the last line of defense to preserve all we’ve done to defend this nation, revive our economy and preserve the God-given liberties we hold dear,” Pence told several hundred at an airport rally ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections.
The runoffs — which became necessary when no candidate received a majority of the votes in November — have put Georgia squarely in the national political spotlight, as they will determine the balance of power in Washington at the outset of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidency. Both major parties and activist groups are plowing tens of millions of dollars into the state ahead of Jan. 5, when David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler bid to hold off Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, respectively.
Republicans need one victory to maintain their Senate majority. Democrats need a Georgia sweep to force a 50-50 Senate and position Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote. Highlighting the importance of the race, Biden plans to visit the state next week to campaign for Ossoff and Warnock.
At the outdoor rally at Augusta's airport, Pence portrayed Ossoff and Warnock as supporters of a “socialist” agenda who are “wrong for Georgia and wrong for America.”
“With the support of people all across this state, and with God's help, we’re going to keep on winning,” Pence said. “We will win Georgia and save America.”
A flurry of top-flight surrogates — including Pence, who has now visited the state several times -- underscores the stakes, and why some Republicans remain concerned that President Donald Trump’s emphasis on his own political prospects threatens the GOP’s Senate majority.
President Barack Obama headlined a recent virtual rally for Democrats. Biden, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992, announced earlier Thursday he would travel to Atlanta on Tuesday to support Ossoff and Warnock.
For Trump, the state has also become a battleground to air his grievances over losing the election as he promotes support of Loeffler and Perdue. On Saturday, the president used a 100-minute rally to spread unfounded allegations of widespread misconduct in last month’s voting in Georgia and beyond.
“Let them steal Georgia again, you’ll never be able to look yourself in the mirror,” Trump told rallygoers. The event came not long after Trump was rebuffed by Georgia’s Republican governor in his astounding call for a special legislative session to give him the state’s electoral votes, even though Biden carried the state by 12,670 votes and won a record 81 million votes nationally.
Pence, who earlier this month in Savannah betrayed concerns that the Republican coalition could crack under the force of Trump’s grievances, impressed upon voters his confidence in the security of the Jan. 5 vote. He has urged both early and absentee voting ahead of Election Day.
“I want you to be confident about your vote," Pence said. "We’re on them this time. We’re watching. We’re going to secure the polls. We’re going to secure the drop boxes, so get an absentee ballot and vote today, get it done.”
The presidential race in Georgia has been certified for Biden and affirmed by the state’s Republican election officials as a fairly conducted and counted vote, with none of the systemic errors Trump alleges.
Some Republicans in the state have expressed worry that Trump is stoking so much suspicion about Georgia elections that voters will think the system is rigged and decide to sit out the two races. On Thursday, state GOP Chair David Shafer said “the fight for election integrity and the fight for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler go hand in hand,” saying the Republican Party would “have eyes on every part of the process” for the Jan. 5 elections
Although she expressed belief that there had been some fraud in the presidential vote, businesswoman Lori Davis was definitely planning to vote in the Senate elections, saying she didn't agree with any argument for skipping the vote over security concerns.
“That’s just not Georgia to me," said Davis, 57, who helped run her late husband's medical business. ““David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are businessmen and women, and I love that.”
This story has been corrected to show the Biden announcement on plans to visit Georgia was made Thursday.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.