President Trump, briefly back in campaign-rally mode, urged a crowd of supporters in Georgia on Saturday to vote in the Jan. 5 Senate runoff election while repeating his false claims that the presidential election was rigged against him and warning that the runoff, which will determine which party controls the Senate, might be rigged too.
“If I lost I’d be a very gracious loser,” Trump said. “And I’d go to Florida and I’d take it easy. But you can’t ever accept when they steal and rig and rob.”
Trump held a rally Saturday night in Valdosta, Ga., a city north of the Florida panhandle, for GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are running to keep their seats in a race against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. It was his first trip out of Washington since the election and his longest public appearance since the end of the presidential campaign.
Before a crowd of about 2,000, Trump, who was accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, spent most of his roughly 90-minute speech casting doubt on the credibility of the presidential election, which he lost to President-elect Joe Biden, while occasionally remembering to boost Perdue and Loeffler. At times he lapsed back into his stump speech from the presidential campaign, blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic and taking a few half-hearted swipes at Biden’s son Hunter.
He falsely said he won Georgia and repeated discredited allegations of voter fraud, such as the debunked claim that more ballots were counted than voters, but also cautioned that if conservatives don’t support the Republican senators at the polls, “the radical left wins.”
“The answer to the Democrat fraud is not to stay at home,” he said. “That’s what Nancy Pelosi and [Chuck] Schumer, that’s what they want you to do: ‘Stay at home. Just stay at home.’ If you want to do something to them — I don’t want to use the word ‘revenge,’ but it is a certain revenge — you show up and vote in record numbers. That’s what you have to do.”
But staying home is just what two self-proclaimed Trump loyalists, attorneys Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, urged Georgians to do at a “Stop the Steal” rally on Wednesday. Wood criticized Perdue and Loeffler for their absence and told the crowd to boycott the runoff unless Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, and the secretary of state, both Republicans, intervened in the ballot-counting process to deliver the state’s 16 electoral votes to Donald Trump.
“Do not be fooled twice,” he said. “This is Georgia, we ain’t dumb. We’re not going to go vote on Jan. 5 on another machine made by China. You’re not going to fool Georgians again,” he said, to cheers from the crowd.
Without mentioning Wood and Powell by name, Trump told the crowd “Don’t listen to my friends, just go out” and vote.
Loeffler and Perdue spoke for a total of about three minutes. Perdue was almost drowned out by a chant of “Fight for Trump” from the crowd.
Loeffler told the crowd that if they keep her and Perdue in office, the lawmakers will be their voice in the Senate.
“If we don’t vote we will lose the country,” she said. “If we vote we will win.”
The Georgia runoffs will determine which party takes control of the Senate in January. Republicans currently control 52 seats in the chamber, while Democrats hold 48. If both Warnock and Ossoff win, Democrats will control the Senate with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.
“You have to get out and vote,” Trump said. “You have to make sure every legal vote is counted. You got to make sure they don’t throw out any ballots. You got to make sure your secretary of state knows what he’s doing.”
Trump is the latest top-tier Republican to descend on Georgia in a bid to ensure a victory for the two Republicans on the ticket. Vice President Mike Pence held a rally on Friday in Savannah, during which he did not explicitly acknowledge that Biden won the state, but he assured Republican voters that their votes on Jan. 5 will be secure.
“We’re watching,” Pence said, USA Today reported. “We’re gonna secure our polls. We’re gonna secure our drop boxes. So get an absentee ballot and vote and vote today.”
The competing messages — that voters can’t trust the electoral process and that those same voters should turn out for Perdue and Loeffler — have frustrated some Republicans in the state who believe the energy directed at questioning the presidential election results has been misplaced, Yahoo News’ Marquise Francis reported.
Last week, for example, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel tried to quell concerns about voting from Republicans during a campaign event in Marietta, Ga. Asked about election fraud allegations, McDaniel said she hasn’t seen evidence of that in Georgia, CNN reported, and implored voters to turn out for Perdue and Loeffler.
“It's not decided. This is the key — it’s not decided,” she said.
Some attendees at Trump’s rally seemed undeterred by the rampant allegations of fraud, telling Yahoo News they still plan to vote.
“Florida went red, so I need Georgia to do their part,” Terry Hellard, a 45-year-old Filipino immigrant from the Sunshine State, told Yahoo News. “I am disappointed in the election so far. But the evidence is coming out, ballots are being brought in, Trump will still win this election.”
Michael Gross, 64, from McDonough, Ga., also said the election was rigged but added he plans to vote in January for the two GOP candidates. If Warnock and Ossoff won, “I would probably look for somewhere else to live,” he said.
The results reported by the state on Nov. 20 show that Biden won by about 12,670 votes out of almost 5 million cast. The certification was announced by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who has drawn ire from Trump for moving ahead with the election results, which were made official after an audit that was required by Georgia law.
On Saturday morning, Trump reportedly tried to persuade Kemp to urge the Georgia legislature to intervene in the election by sending pro-Trump electors to the Electoral College, according to the Washington Post, a strategy his campaign has attempted in other battleground states. Kemp did not attend the rally.
Perdue and Loeffler have called on GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the head of the state’s elections, to step down over unspecified “failures” in the election system but haven’t gone as far as Trump and his allies in their unsubstantiated fraud claims.
Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping the momentum from the presidential election will continue in the runoff. “Georgia voters recognize that our capacity to enact legislation ... depends upon winning these two Senate races,” Ossoff told Yahoo News last week.
Yahoo News National Reporter Marquise Francis contributed reporting.
Thumbnail Credit: Evan Vucci/AP
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