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Trump presses grievances at rally for Georgia senators after pushing governor to overturn Biden’s victory

Sen. David Perdue and President Trump onstage at a campaign rally in Valdosta, Ga.
Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) with President Trump at a campaign rally in Valdosta, Ga. on Saturday.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump pressed his grievances over losing the presidential election Saturday, using a rally to spread baseless allegations of misconduct in last month’s voting in Georgia and beyond even as he pushed supporters to turn out for a pair of Republican Senate candidates in a runoff election in January.

“Let them steal Georgia again, you’ll never be able to look yourself in the mirror,” Trump told rallygoers.

Trump’s appearance before thousands of largely maskless supporters came not long after he was rebuffed by Georgia’s Republican governor for pushing for a special legislative session to give him the state’s electoral votes, even though President-elect Joe Biden won the majority of the vote.

The latest futile attempt to subvert the presidential election results continued Trump’s unprecedented campaign to undermine confidence in the democratic process, and overshadowed his stated purpose in traveling to Georgia — to boost Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

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The Jan. 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia will determine the balance of power in Washington after Biden takes office.

Republicans in the state are worried that Trump is stoking so much suspicion about the integrity of Georgia elections that voters will think the system is rigged and decide to sit out the two races.

Republicans need one victory to maintain their Senate majority. Democrats need a Georgia sweep to force a 50-50 Senate with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris as their tiebreaking vote. GOP officials had hoped Trump would dedicate his energy to imploring their supporters to vote in the Jan. 5 election, when Perdue and Loeffler try to hold off Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley will come under a stay-at-home order starting late Sunday, as ICU capacity continues to fall amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

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Trump did echo Republican rhetoric that the races amounted to “the most important congressional runoff, probably in American history.”

But after Air Force One landed, it quickly became apparent that Trump’s chief aim was to air his own complaints and stoke baseless doubts about how last month’s vote was conducted.

“I want to stay on presidential,” Trump said minutes into his speech. “But I got to get to these two.” He praised the GOP lawmakers — Perdue for his support for military spending and Loeffler for pushing for early coronavirus relief spending. But he quickly pivoted back to his own defeat.

Trump pulled out a piece of paper and read a list of his purported electoral achievements, including falsely asserting he had won Georgia and the White House. Biden carried the state by 12,670 votes and won 306 electoral votes overall.

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Trump continued to reiterate his unsubstantiated claims of fraud, despite his own administration’s assessment that the election was conducted without any major issues.

Chants of “Fight for Trump” drowned out the two senators as they briefly spoke to the crowd.

Hours before the event, Trump asked Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in a phone call to order the legislative session; the governor refused, according to a senior government official in Georgia with knowledge of the call, who was not authorized to discuss the private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity. A person close to the White House who was briefed on the matter verified that account of the call.

Kemp, in a tweet, said Trump also asked him to order an audit of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes in his state, a step Kemp is not empowered to take because he has no authority to interfere in the electoral process on Trump’s behalf.

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Trump, though, vented his frustrations with Kemp on Twitter and at the rally.

“Your people are refusing to do what you ask,” he complained in a tweet, as if speaking with Kemp. “What are they hiding? At least immediately ask for a Special Session of the Legislature. That you can easily, and immediately, do.”

At the rally, he took aim once again at Kemp, saying he could assure him victory “if he knew what the hell he was doing.”

Trump’s personal contact with the governor demonstrated he is intent on amplifying his conspiratorial and debunked theories of electoral fraud even as Georgia Republicans want him to turn his focus to the Jan. 5 runoff election and encourage their supporters to get out and vote.

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They’re worried that Trump is stoking so much suspicion about Georgia elections that voters will think the system is rigged and decide to sit out the runoff vote.

In his tweet, Kemp said: “As I told the President this morning, I’ve publicly called for a signature audit three times (11/20, 11/24, 12/3) to restore confidence in our election process and to ensure that only legal votes are counted in Georgia.”

Though the governor does not have the authority to order a signature audit, an audit was initiated earlier by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, triggering a full hand recount that confirmed Biden’s victory there.

The race has been certified for Biden, and the state’s Republican election officials have affirmed that the vote was conducted and counted fairly, with none of the systemic errors Trump alleges.

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But after two pro-Trump lawyers questioned over last week whether voting again is even worth it — echoing the president’s baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud — even Vice President Mike Pence betrayed concerns that the Republican coalition could crack under the force of Trump’s grievances.

“I know we’ve all got our doubts about the last election, and I hear some of you saying, ‘Just don’t vote,’” Pence said Friday while campaigning with Perdue in Savannah. “If you don’t vote, [the Democrats] win.”

Few Republicans in Washington or Georgia believe wide swaths of the electorate in this battleground would opt out of voting because of Trump’s false claims or his denigration of the Georgia governor and secretary of state for certifying Biden’s victory there.

First Lady Melania Trump made a rare political appearance at the rally to introduce the president, and encouraged Georgians to get out to vote.

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“We must keep our seats in the Senate,” she said. “It’s more important than ever that you exercise your rights as a citizen and vote.”

The risk for the GOP is that it wouldn’t take much of a drop-off to matter if the runoffs are as close as the presidential contest: Biden’s 12,670-vote margin was out of 5 million votes cast. There’s enough noise to explain why Pence felt the need to confront the matter head-on after two Trump loyalists floated the idea of the president’s supporters bailing on Perdue and Loeffler.

Trump’s false claims have resonated with voters such as Barry Mann, a 61-year-old business owner who came to hear Pence in Savannah. Mann hasn’t decided whether he’ll vote for his senators a second time.

“I think there’s some issues with our election and more investigation needs to be done,” Mann said, adding that he doesn’t think Perdue and Loeffler have done enough to support Trump’s efforts to overturn the results.

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“I want to see what happens between now and January,” he said.


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