ATLANTA, Ga. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden on Monday told Georgia Democrats they had the power to “chart the course” for a generation and Vice President Mike Pence urged Republicans to vote for “the last line of defense” in Washington in a series of final pleas ahead of runoff elections that will determine control of the U.S. Senate.
The men spoke hours before President Donald Trump was due to make his case to voters at a nighttime rally in north Georgia, where Republicans were banking on strong voter turnout on Tuesday to reelect Sen. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and hold control of the chamber.
Biden campaigned with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in Atlanta, hoping he could recreate the coalition that secured him a narrow victory in the presidential race in November.
“Folks, this is it. This is it. It’s a new year, and tomorrow can be a new day for Atlanta, for Georgia and for America,” Biden said at a drive-in rally. “Unlike any time in my career, one state — one state — can chart the course, not just for the four years but for the next generation.”
The stakes have drawn hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign spending to a once solidly Republican state that now finds itself as the nation’s premier battleground. Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by about 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast in November, though Trump continues pushing false assertions of widespread fraud that even his now-former attorney general and Georgia’s Republican secretary of state — along with a litany of state and federal judges — have said did not happen.
The president’s trip Monday comes a day after disclosure of a remarkable telephone call he made to the Georgia secretary of state over the weekend. Trump pressured Republican Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Georgia’s election results ahead of Wednesday’s joint session of Congress that will certify Biden’s Electoral College victory. The call highlighted how Trump has used the Georgia campaign to make clear his continued hold on Republican politics.
Angry after the Raffensperger call, Trump floated the idea of pulling out of the rally but was persuaded to go ahead with it so he will have a chance to reiterate his claims of election fraud. Republicans are wary as to whether Trump will focus only on himself and fail to promote the two GOP candidates.
Biden on Monday took aim at Trump's scheme by declaring that “politicians cannot assert, take or seize power” by undermining legitimate elections.
Biden said he needs a Senate majority to pass legislation to combat the coronavirus, and he blasted Perdue and Loeffler as obstructionist Trump loyalists. Loeffler says she will join other Republican lawmakers in objecting to the Electoral College certification of Biden's victory by Congress on Wednesday.
“You have two senators who think they’ve sworn an oath to Donald Trump, not the United States Constitution,” Biden said.
Earlier Monday, Pence told a crowd of conservative Christian voters to stop a Democratic takeover in Washington. “We’re going to keep Georgia, and we’re going to save America,” Pence said at Rock Springs Church in Milner.
Perdue addressed the church crowd by telephone while quarantining over coronavirus exposure, claiming that “the very future of our republic is on the line” and declaring the duty to vote “a calling from God.”
Republicans need just one victory to maintain Senate control and force Biden to contend with divided government. Democrats need a sweep for a 50-50 split, giving the tiebreaking vote to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will succeed Pence as the Senate’s presiding officer. That would give Democrats a Senate majority to go along with their control of the House and executive branch.
Pence, who will preside over Wednesday's congressional joint session, sidestepped Trump's denials Monday until a man yelled out that he must “do the right thing on Jan. 6.” Pence promised that “we'll have our day in Congress,” though he offered no details about what that might mean. Scores of Republicans in Congress have pledged to protest the Electoral College count, but Pence has no legal authority to override Biden's win.
Pence drew chants of “Four more years!” and “Stop the steal!” from the church gathering.
Facing those passions from the Republican base, Perdue, whose first Senate term expired Sunday, and Loeffler, an appointed senator trying to win her first election, have run as unabashed Trump Republicans and spent the two-month runoff blitz warning of a “radical” and “dangerous” lurch to the left.
Ossoff and Warnock have countered with warnings that a Republican Senate will stymie Biden's administration, especially on pandemic relief.
Warnock pushed back at the deluge of Loeffler television ads casting him as a socialist. “Have you noticed she hasn’t even bothered to make a case, Georgia, for why you should keep her in that seat?" Warnock said, speaking ahead of Biden. “That’s because she has no case to make.”
To be sure, a closely divided Senate — with the rules still requiring 60 votes to advance major bills — lessens the prospects of sweeping legislation regardless. But a Democratic Senate would at least assure Biden an easier path for top appointees, including judges, and legitimate consideration of his legislative agenda. A Senate led by McConnell would almost certainly deny even an up-or-down vote on Biden’s most ambitious plans.
More than 3 million Georgians already have voted. Monday's push is focused on getting voters to the polls Tuesday. Democrats ran up a wide margin among 3.6 million early votes in the fall, but Republicans countered with an Election Day surge, especially in small towns and rural areas.
Even with Biden’s statewide win, Perdue led Ossoff by 88,000 votes in November, giving the GOP confidence in the runoff. The runoffs were required because none of the candidates reached a majority vote, as required by Georgia law. Despite Perdue’s initial advantage, early voting figures suggest Democrats have had a stronger turnout heading into Tuesday, and leading Republicans have expressed concerns about the pressure that puts on their turnout operation.
Amy reported from Milner, Ga. Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report from Washington.