Trump to return to Georgia on runoff eve for GOP Senate candidates

Greg Bluestein
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta — President Donald Trump will return to Georgia for a runoff eve rally to campaign for the Republican U.S. Senate candidates even as he continues to fume at the state’s GOP leaders for refusing to overturn the election results.

The president said on Twitter late Saturday that he would stage a “big Rally” for U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue on Jan. 4, a day before twin runoffs against Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff for control of the U.S. Senate and the fate of President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally for Senate Republican candidates, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., at Valdosta Regional Airport, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Valdosta, Ga.

It’s not clear where the rally will be held, though Republican operatives previously indicated he was likely to head to north Georgia. Like his event in Valdosta on Dec. 5, Trump’s visit holds both promise and peril for Republicans.

At that earlier event, he praised both Loeffler and Perdue as staunch supporters of his agenda. But he spent most of his remarks airing his own unfounded grievances about the November vote, sending his loyalists conflicting messages by urging them to vote in a “rigged” election.

And he intensified his war with fellow Republicans, particularly Gov. Brian Kemp, who has repeatedly refused his demand to call a special session to illegally undo Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia.

He told the crowd in Valdosta he was “ashamed” to have endorsed Kemp and invited U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who unsuccessfully ran against Loeffler, to mount a 2022 primary challenge. When he introduced Loeffler and Perdue, the crowd erupted into deafening “Fight for Trump” chants.

Even Trump’s tweet Saturday announcing the rally made clear he would not lower the temperature: “As badly as we were treated in Georgia by the ‘Republican’ Governor and ‘Republican’ Secretary of State, we must have a massive victory for two great people, @KLoeffler & @sendavidperdue, on January 5.”

In an interview this week, Kemp blasted the pro-Trump conspiracy theorists who have been spreading “ridiculous” claims and threatening his family members. But he didn’t blame Trump for the wrath he’s facing from fellow Republicans, even though the president has continued to stoke the animosity.

“As far as I know, my relationship with the president is fine. I know he’s frustrated, and I’ve disagreed on things with him before,” said Kemp, who attended Trump’s Christmas party at the White House on Friday.

The governor added that he was duty-bound to certify the votes despite Trump’s objections: “Look, at the end of the day, I’ve got to follow the laws and the Constitution and the Constitution of this state.”

Both parties are bringing out every weapon they can muster in the high-stakes race. More than $450 million has been spent on TV ads, and legions of volunteers and staffers are canvassing to drive out voters. More than 1.3 million people have already cast ballots, nearing a presidential-level pace.

Biden staged a rally for the Democrats this week, tying his plan to contain the coronavirus and push an aggressive economic stimulus package directly to the fate of the runoffs. And Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is set to hold events in Gwinnett County and Columbus on Monday.

Republicans have brought out their biggest guns, too. Vice President Mike Pence has visited four separate times since the November election, and just about every potential 2024 candidate has visited Georgia to tout the two GOP incumbents.