A month ago, the conventional wisdom was the Georgia’s Republicans would easily keep control of the two Senate seats up for grabs on Tuesday’s runoff, given the party’s historic record in such races. But on the eve of the election, top state GOP officials are now worried about their party’s chances for winning the vote that could shape national and local politics in Coastal Georgia for years to come.
Statistics gathered by the Secretary of State’s office show that more than 3 million Georgians voted early either in person or by mailing in their ballots to choose between incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock. The data shows robust turnout among people of color from Atlanta and through Black Belt counties such as Liberty, as Democrats have capitalized on what they believe is a Blue wave in Georgia after Joe Biden won the state last month.
Those turnout numbers reflect the extraordinary situation in which state Republicans find themselves: deeply divided about voting integrity and at each other’s throats, after a continuous barrage of accusations by outgoing President Donald Trump, who insists – without evidence — that the Nov. 3 vote was fraudulent.
Gov. Brian Kemp and Congressman Earl “Buddy” Carter, R-Pooler, have joined a statewide drive to unite their base in an effort to retain control of the Senate seats that Georgia Republicans have held for the last two decades. In interviews over the weekend, however, both admitted that Republicans have to play catchup if they have a chance in winning.
Kemp, speaking to WGAU in Atlanta Monday morning, and Carter, speaking to Fox News Sunday, both expressed optimism about Republicans’ potential to pull out a victory. But it’s unclear how the party can steer clear of the maelstrom whipped up by Trump in the state and which he magnified over the weekend during a phone call in which he asked Georgia’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, to change the official vote total of November’s presidential race in Trump’s favor.
The scandal that emerged when Secretary of State Raffensperger’s office leaked the call Sunday has prompted a state election board official to request a formal investigation against Trump for alleged violations of state electoral law. It also reinforced the divisions within the Georgia Republican Party, which has Raffensperger and Kemp on one side and Trump and other elected Republicans such as party chairman David Shafer on the other.
The governor – who has been blamed by Trump as part of the conspiracy responsible for his losing Georgia – declined to answer questions Monday about the so-called Trump Tape scandal. Yet he told Fox News on Sunday night that “the horse has left the barn” in regards to the certified Nov. 3 voting results. State Republicans, he said, have to move on from that loss. “What matters right now, even if you are mad or happy, is to vote for Kelly and David,” Kemp said, adding: “If you don’t have high turnout then we’ll be in trouble” on Tuesday.
Carter’s office did not respond to requests for comment Monday about the Trump phone call to Raffensperger.
The congressman has been on the stump for Loeffler and Perdue during the early voting period that ended Dec. 31 and has urged voters to turn out on Jan. 5. But, at the same time, the Pooler businessman has backed Trump’s claims of voter fraud in Georgia and is reportedly planning to participate in the House of Representatives’ Quixotic attempt to oppose the formal ratification of Biden’s election in Congress later this week.
Loeffler, who flew into Savannah on a Gulfstream G450 on Monday for a brief media event, also refused to answer questions about the president’s demands, which were made public on Sunday by Raffensperger’s office.
David Perdue, who is in quarantine after exposure to a person who has COVID-19, spoke by phone at the Savannah event at the private airport terminal in Pooler but he did not take questions from the press. Earlier, in an interview on Fox News, Perdue said it was “disgusting” that Raffensperger’s office would have released the information.
Trump, meanwhile, spent a portion of his rally in northwest Georgia on Tuesday night railing against Kemp and Raffensperger. The Republican senators were hoping he could motivate the Republican strongholds with weak turnout ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff to come to the polls.
While the outgoing president implored the rambunctious late-night crowd in Dalton to vote, he offered them a dubious rational.
“The radical Democrats are trying to steal the White House and you can’t let that happen. They are trying to steal the Senate and you can’t let that happen,” Trump said about the Tuesday runoff. “You gotta swamp em because everything is so crooked. You got to show up in record numbers.”
He then went on to threaten Kemp’s tenure as governor, saying he would come back in a year and a half to support a Republican challenger in 2022.
In Savannah earlier in the day, Loeffler also urged the 25 supporters assembled to see her, former Gov. Sonny Perdue and Trump surrogate Kellyanne Conway to get more bodies to the polls Tuesday.
While Republicans battled each other about electoral integrity, Democrats pushed ahead with their statewide game plan to maximize voter turnout.
President-elect Joe Biden spoke in Atlanta Monday afternoon.
“Georgia — the whole nation is looking to you to lead us forward,” Biden told a get-out-the-vote rally. “The power is literally in your hands. One state can chart the course not just for the next four years but for a generation.”
In downtown Savannah, just a few blocks from where Rev. Warnock grew up, Black ministers held a rally with gospel artists urging Savannahians to get out the vote.
Flanked by flamboyantly painted tour buses and gleaming minivans painted with Black Voters Matter slogans, preachers stood on stage telling the socially distant crowd that the city where the first slaves were emancipated after the Civil War could make history again by sending Georgia’s first Black senator to Washington.
“If you believe in a better life, if you believe in a Black Jesus, then get out to vote. You can make history, Savannah,” Jamal Bryant, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, told the crowd.
Georgia’s polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. The New Georgia Project has vans ready to help all voters in Coastal Georgia get to the polls on Tuesday, according to Jimmy Graham, a voting rights organizer in Chatham County. Registered voters can call 1-800-874-1541 to schedule one of the group’s vans for a pick up.