Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoffs will decide whether Perdue and Loeffler return to Washington, and whether the Senate has a slim Republican majority or a 50-50 split. President Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential race has, for now, added some confusion to the GOP’s message.
Democrats tell their audiences that victory would give Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris a tie-breaking Senate vote, unlocking the party’s agenda. Republicans warn that there’d be no stopping the Democrats if the Senate seats are lost. But so long as Trump remains unwilling to concede, they’re unwilling to explain exactly why.
Instead, Loeffler and Perdue appear to be running campaigns that tightly track with Trump’s messaging, while also signaling that a loss of either of these seats could be somehow apocalyptic.
“Make no mistake: We are the firewall not just for the U.S. Senate, but the future of our country,” Loeffler said in Cumming.
Trump’s denial of the results is shared by many of his most passionate supporters, people that Loeffler and Perdue need to energize to win in January. Both have called for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to resign, channeling Republican anger at the state backing Biden, but not citing anything that Raffensperger might have done wrong.
The official has pushed back forcefully against such attacks. “My job is to follow Georgia law and see to it that all legal votes, and no illegal votes, are counted properly and accurately,” Raffensperger said in a statement this week. “As Secretary of State, that is my duty, and I will continue to do my duty. As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate. I recommend that Senators Loeffler and Perdue start focusing on that.”
Raffensperger, who was elected in 2018 with Trump’s endorsement, is now presiding over an audit of the nearly 5 million votes cast in the presidential election, with thousands of election workers counting the ballots by hand. That has kept hope alive among some Republican activists, and the Trump campaign, which is seeking to overturn the result or at least cast doubt on its validity.
“Georgia Secretary of State, a so-called Republican (RINO), won’t let the people checking the ballots see the signatures for fraud,” Trump tweeted on Friday night. In reality, every absentee ballot in the count had been removed from a signed envelope, with signatures validated by election officials. On Saturday morning, Trump repeated the false claim, suggesting that Democrats and Republicans had colluded and made it impossible to “match signatures on ballots and envelopes.”
Trump and other Republicans have cheered the ongoing hand-recount of the presidential race as a chance to erase Biden’s lead, which stood at 14,172 when the new count began. But as of Saturday morning, with 50 of the state’s 159 counties finishing their audits, there’s no evidence that this is happening. So the president’s allies have moved the goal posts, suggesting that there could be a way for the state’s majority-Republican legislature to invalidate Biden’s win.
“Georgia Legislature must step in and order a real canvass. Secretary of State’s continuing failure to protect citizens of Georgia’s right to honest election requires legislature intervening as U S Constitution provides,” tweeted Newt Gingrich, a former Georgia congressman whose district backed Biden.
Democrats, whose representatives are working alongside Republicans, have expressed little or no concern about these efforts. Some have even wondered whether the GOP’s indulgence of Trump is devouring earned media that could be spent on attacks targeting the Senate runoff hopefuls, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
In a recent interview before one of his car rallies, Ossoff was skeptical that Republicans would be de-motivated by a Trump loss, but said he thought the party was wasting precious time on a fantasy that had no bearing on his race or on Warnock’s.
“The American people are hurting,” Ossoff said. “Hundreds of thousands have died. Hundreds of thousands more stand to lose their jobs. No one cares about Donald Trump’s temper tantrum. And if that’s how they want to spend the next few weeks, then they’re really missing the plot.”
“It’s hard for somebody who cheats so much to admit defeat,” said Shante Johnson, 46, an Ossoff and Warnock supporter in Atlanta, referring to Trump. “When you lose, it must be because someone else cheated, because you cheated to get where you are.”
Republicans see their message getting through anyway. While neither Republican has taken questions recently from reporters, both have used short remarks at rallies to lambaste the Democrats, while saying little about their own priorities in the Senate. Ads from the Republicans portray their opponents as “radicals” who would be puppets of the far left and jam that agenda through the Senate.
“Defund police. Voting rights for illegal immigrants. Washington, D.C., as the 51st state,” warns a narrator in Perdue’s latest ad. “Vote Perdue to stop them.”
Still, many Republican voters, in Georgia and elsewhere, seem most focused on stopping the left with a vote-count miracle that keeps Trump in office.
Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who is attending orientation for new members of Congress, spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally of Trump supporters in Washington on Saturday. A brief “Stop the steal!” chant went up at the rally in Cumming before the senators spoke. Outside, some supporters of the president chanted “Four more years!”
“I will not accept a Biden win. That’s unthinkable,” said immigrant Tess Redding, 65, who said that Biden’s party had become “communists” who threatened to destroy the country she’d come to from the Philippines. “Only legal votes should be counted — not illegal votes. Trump won, and Trump will win in the recount.”
The president’s campaign has continued to indulge that thinking, writing in a Saturday morning donor appeal that the election “is not over” and that “more votes are coming in for the President every single day.” Yet as they tiptoe around the president, Republicans are looking at a day, fairly soon, when a Biden-Harris administration will become more real for their voters. In an interview, Scott said that the presidential race would be “decided in the next week,” as states continued to certify their vote counts.
“This [Senate] election is going to be in the first week of January, so I think the presidential election will be decided,” Scott said. “Whichever way the presidential election goes, a Republican-controlled Senate is a big deal.”