All eyes are on Georgia this weekend ahead of Senate debate
Posted December 5, 2020 9:56 a.m. EST
Updated December 5, 2020 8:30 p.m. EST
CNN — The eyes of the political universe are on Georgia this weekend, as the voter registration deadline for January's Senate runoffs approaches.
Each side is desperately trying to motivate their party before the Monday deadline and early voting begins on December 14. Former President Barack Obama and former state House minority leader Stacey Abrams held a virtual event for Democratic Senate challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock on Friday, while Vice President Mike Pence rallied for the Republicans.
Next in the frenzied rush was President Donald Trump's own rally Saturday evening to elect Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Yet, Trump used the majority of the early portion of his remarks to list baseless and false claims about the presidential election he lost instead of focusing on the GOP candidates who would protect the party's control of the chamber.
Then on Sunday, Loeffler and Warnock will participate in a debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club.
The focus on Georgia comes as the state is ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. It reported its highest number of cases in a single day on Friday -- 5,023 -- and saw the postponement of the Georgia-Vanderbilt football game partially because of Covid-19.
Since Trump's loss in Georgia to President-elect Joe Biden, Trump has attacked top Republican officials in the state, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Kemp certified the results of Biden's victory, while Raffensperger has vociferously defended the state's election integrity.
Trump on Saturday called Kemp and attempted to pressure the governor to convince state legislators to overturn Biden's win in Georgia, according to a source familiar with the conversation. He also asked the Republican governor to order an audit of absentee ballot signatures.
Kemp explained that he did not have this authority and denied the request, the source said.
Republicans on edge
The President's continued refusal to concede has worried Republicans determined to prevent Democratic control of the Senate. A group of prominent Georgia Republicans, including former Gov. Nathan Deal and former Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, released a statement this week urging the party to unify, and shift its attention to electing Loeffler and Perdue.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Saturday dismissed concerns that Trump's messaging on election integrity could dissuade Georgia Republicans from voting on January 5.
"I think the voters very much support the President. I think they're concerned with the state and how they administered the election," she told Fox News, adding, "However, they want to make sure we keep David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in as well, and they can balance both."
There is little evidence that Trump will stop his unceasing attacks on the democratic process and the state officials in charge of the election.
Out of 249 Republican legislators surveyed by the Washington Post in a story released Saturday, only 26 responded that Biden won the election.
Ahead of Trump's rally, a senior Republican aide directly involved in the Senate runoff contests told CNN that there was concern Trump would not focus on the message that his supporters in Georgia must go to the polls and vote for Perdue and Loeffler.
It was more than 30 minutes into Trump's remarks before he began focusing on the importance of the Senate races in Georgia.
In the past few weeks, Trump publicly called Raffensperger an "enemy of the people" and privately called Kemp a "moron" and "nut job," according to two sources. On Saturday -- hours before his visit to the Peach State -- Trump again attacked the two top Georgia officials on Twitter, calling for a signature audit of the absentee ballot envelopes in the state, while making false or misleading claims about the potential process.
And tweeting from Air Force One on his way to Georgia, Trump continued to attack Kemp -- this time slamming Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey as well.
The President also asked in a recent phone call why Loeffler, who ran in a 20-person special election, did not secure a majority of votes on Election Day against Warnock, who received a plurality of the votes.
After no Senate candidate received 50% of the vote in November, the races turned to particularly nasty runoffs. Democrats have charged that Perdue and Loeffler profited off the pandemic, saying their multi-million dollar stock trades drew the attention -- although no charges -- from the Justice Department. Meanwhile, the Republican senators have said they were cleared during the investigations, and have called Ossoff and Warnock socialists who will destroy America. Democrats have rejected those attacks as false fear-mongering.
Pence said on Friday that Republicans need to elect Perdue and Loeffler to defend the Trump administration's accomplishments over the past four years.
"We need to send them back because the Republican Senate majority could be the last line of defense preserving all that we've done to defend this nation, revive our economy, and preserve the God-given liberties we hold dear," said Pence in Savannah.
While Biden narrowly won Georgia -- the first time for a Democratic presidential nominee since Bill Clinton in 1992 -- Republicans have a number of advantages in the two races. The state has not sent a Democrat to the Senate in 20 years. Last month, Perdue received tens of thousands of more votes than Ossoff. And Republicans are spending about $38 million more on ads than the Democrats, according to Kantar Media/CMAG data.
But Democrats are hopeful that the Republican intra-party fight, voter registration drives by Abrams and others and the state's rapidly diversifying suburbs will fuel their victories and flip the Senate.
"The special election in Georgia is going to determine, ultimately, the course of the Biden presidency," said Obama at the virtual event on Friday.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.