MACON, Ga. — President Trump has focused his final week of campaigning before the midterm elections on helping the GOP in key Senate races, but on Sunday afternoon he made a detour to Georgia to help prevent what would be a massive upset for Democrats in the state’s contest for governor.
Trump appeared with Republican Brian Kemp, who is locked in a dead heat with Democrat Stacey Abrams — a notable show of strength for the Democrats in a state long known for its conservative politics.
Trump’s only other appearances with gubernatorial candidates before Tuesday’s elections are with Republicans Mike DeWine in Ohio and Ron DeSantis in Florida, both states that are key to Republican success in presidential elections.
But just as Ohio is a key Rust Belt state for Trump that helped him win in 2016, and Florida is a crucial swing state with a huge trove of Electoral College votes, Georgia is in many ways the linchpin of the South.
If Abrams, an African-American woman, were to win, it would be the second major victory for Democrats in the Deep South in a year, following on the heels of Doug Jones’s victory a year ago, when he become the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama in 26 years.
An Abrams win would show the path to a coalition that can win in the South, patching together racial minorities and young voters in cities with college-educated whites and enough suburban women to get them over the top.
“Georgia is the keyhole to the entire South,” said one Republican operative with ties to the Trump White House.
Trump rallied supporters at a regional airport here in this city of 114,000 people, giving a trademark hourlong rambling speech in which he attacked Abrams as a threat to Georgia’s prosperity and safety.
“Stacey Abrams will make your schools and neighborhoods unsafe, and she will make your jobs disappear like magic,” Trump told the crowd of several thousand people, many of whom stood out on the tarmac in the warm weather, outside the hangar where he spoke.
Trump was bullish on Kemp’s chances, saying that a “blue wave is not going to happen” in Georgia on Tuesday.
But Abrams said Sunday morning that Trump and Republicans are “getting scared.”
“I think desperation tends to lead to, you know, comments that aren’t necessarily grounded in reality,” Abrams said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
One of Trump’s most exaggerated attacks on Abrams centered on gun ownership.
“If Stacey Abrams gets in, your Second Amendment is gone. Gone. Gone. Stacey and her friends will get rid of it,” Trump said. “Guns turned over to the government.”
Abrams did co-sponsor a bill in 2016 that would have allowed the state government to take away “assault weapons” from gun owners. “In the state of Georgia, you introduce legislation to start conversations,” Abrams said Sunday morning about that bill. “I am happy to work with the legislature to figure out how we make an assault weapons ban work.”
Trump called Abrams “one of the most far-left extreme politicians in the country,” repeating the core accusation of Kemp’s campaign. Kemp, the secretary of state — whose office suffered data breaches compromising voter information and faced public anger over the disproportionate impact of his policies on people of color — has argued that Abrams is dangerous.
Abram’s candidacy “should scare you to death,” Kemp told voters in the one and only gubernatorial debate. Kemp and Abrams were scheduled to debate a second time Sunday evening, but Kemp chose instead to appear at the rally with Trump, and Abrams did not want to reschedule for Monday night.
Trump made similar vague and dire statements. “A lot of bad things will happen,” he said, if Abrams were to win.
Trump touted the robust economic numbers that were released Friday, and said Abrams and Democrats want to reverse the policies that have created economic prosperity. He also boasted that “America now has the best economy in the history of our country.”
Trump said Abrams wants to raise taxes. Abrams has not made any proposal to do so and reiterated her opposition to a tax hike on Sunday morning. “I do not intend to raise taxes,” she said.
And he hit Abrams repeatedly on immigration, talking again about a caravan of migrants traveling through Mexico in hopes of entering the United States, claiming Democrats want to “totally erase America’s borders.”
The president also attacked Abrams on health care, a sign that Democrats are having success with their criticism of Republicans for seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with alternatives that would weaken protections for people with preexisting conditions.
Abrams wants to expand Medicaid, a government program for the poor and indigent. Georgia is one of only 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid.
Kemp has called this proposal a government takeover of health care. Abrams has pointed out that conservatives like Mike Pence, the vice president, expanded Medicaid in Indiana when he was governor there.
Trump’s Georgia rally was the first of two on Sunday. He departed the airport en route to Chattanooga, Tenn., for a rally with U.S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn, who is running against Democrat Phil Bredesen to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican.
Trump is visiting three states twice during the last week: Florida, Indiana and Missouri, all home to close Senate races.
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