Trump throws grenades into high-stakes Georgia Senate runoffs in final stretch
CUMMING, Ga. — Outgoing President Donald Trump is throwing one rhetorical grenade after another into the high-stakes Georgia Senate runoffs in the final days before the Tuesday election.
And it's not clear whether they'll help or hurt his party.
First it was his refusal to accept defeat in the 2020 election, which muddied his party's message here about the need to keep the Senate in Republican hands. Then he pushed GOP leaders to pass $2,000 stimulus checks, compelling Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler to switch their positions on the issue to align with him.
He also described the "Republican Senate" as "pathetic" for rebuffing his demands to repeal an internet liability law known as Section 230 in a military bill vote that Perdue and Loeffler missed.
On Friday, Trump falsely claimed that the entire 2020 election in Georgia, including the two Senate races, was "illegal and invalid." On Saturday, he again cast doubt on the legitimacy of the state's election system.
His recent series of tweets came moments after Loeffler urged rallygoers in this suburb of Atlanta to vote and urge people they know across the state to vote.
"We've got to hold the line," she said. "We're the firewall to stopping socialism in America."
The impact of Trump's inflammatory style is unpredictable in the highly polarized environment of a competitive state and an off-year election. His claims appear to have energized voters in both parties, and, with polls showing both races neck-and-neck, it's not clear which side will come out on top. Trump is scheduled to appear at a rally for Perdue and Loeffler on Monday night in the city of Dalton.
The runoffs on Tuesday will shape President-elect Joe Biden's administration. If Democrats win both seats, they'll wrest control of the Senate and set the agenda. If at least one of the two Republican incumbents wins, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will have a pocket veto over Biden's legislative agenda, top administration personnel and judicial appointments.
"Tuesday is it. Tuesday is everything," Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate facing Perdue, said at a campaign stop in Stone Mountain, just outside Atlanta. "And the work that you are doing today to mobilize the community to get out and vote will make the difference."
As Ossoff boasts a packed schedule, Perdue has been forced off the campaign trail, saying Thursday he'll quarantine after coming in "close contact" with a member of his team who has Covid-19. He expects to miss Trump's rally on Monday, he told Fox News.
Rich McCormick, the 2020 Republican nominee for this city's congressional district who narrowly lost to a Democrat, said "there is a danger" that Trump's attacks on Republicans who run the Senate could hurt Perdue and Loeffler politically.
But he said there's also an upside for Loeffler and Perdue.
"His ability to excite people is what got him elected," McCormick told reporters after appearing at a rally here with Loeffler and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. "He's trying to get people who would normally show up just for him to show up for them, and I think that's a good thing."
The Georgia races were thrown into more uncertainty on Saturday after 11 Republican senators announced they would reject electors from certain states unless a commission is established to investigate the election results — part of a last-ditch effort by Trump's allies to overturn Biden's win.
The effort on Wednesday is virtually guaranteed to fail, as the senators conceded in a joint statement. Perdue's term will have lapsed by then, regardless of the election outcome, so he won't participate. Loeffler declined to say how she'll vote, telling reporters that "everything's on the table right now" and vowing to "keep fighting for this president."
Her Democratic rival, Raphael Warnock, tore into her.
"We keep reaching new lows. This is outrageous and it's outrageous that the sitting unelected senator of Georgia, Kelly Loeffler, is not standing up for the voices of people in Georgia," Warnock said on CNN. "We have a democratic system. And the most powerful four words are, 'The people have spoken.'"
Numerous Republicans, including Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, have debased the effort to block the counting of some electoral votes Biden won. McConnell has urged GOP senators not to participate in the effort.
Later on Saturday, Trump tagged McConnell in a tweet pressuring Congress to pass $2,000 payments, citing a Republican pollster who said they are popular — again contradicting the GOP message here.
McCormick described Trump as the political equivalent of a character played by Adam Sandler in a popular 1996 movie.
"He's kind of like the Happy Gilmore of golf. He's the guy who's not supposed to be there, who has an amazing unorthodox following," McCormick said. "Here's this guy who can just drive the long ball, but all of a sudden he's for real. And he wins."