WARM SPRINGS, Ga .– Joseph R. Biden Jr. made political history Tuesday as he walked to a Red State town with deep democratic resonance and made a direct speech to voters who rallied around President Trump in 2016, urging them to give him a chance to “heal” the country after a year of crippling crises.
With one week before Election Day, Mr Biden chose to devote valuable political time and capital to Georgia, a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992, but where public polls and Privates say he can win if he pulls together a coalition of loyal Democrats, black voters, suburban white women and enough white voters in rural areas like Warm Springs to put him at the top.
Delivering a speech intended to be part of his closing argument to homestretch voters, Mr Biden traveled to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s one-off retreat, making a come together call that spoke of the kind of common goal that supported the country during the Great Depression and World War II and which Mr Biden has declared necessary to defeat the coronavirus.
With language that sometimes sounded more like that of an elected president than that of a candidate, Mr Biden attempted to present himself as a man of destiny. “God and history have called us to this time and to this mission,” he said, quoting Ecclesiastes. “The Bible tells us that there is a time to fall apart and a time to build. A time to heal. This is the moment.
While the Biden campaign focuses primarily on the northern battlefield states, where most polls show it ahead, Georgia holds tantalizing potential for the former vice president. It’s the kind of Republican-leaning state that, if the president loses, would likely be at the forefront of a national rout.
Despising Mr Trump for his cavalier handling of the virus and lamenting the country’s economic woes, racial inequalities and toxic polarization, Mr Biden said he would not accept “the heart of this nation turning to stone” .
Mr. Biden’s speech took place just a few miles from the “Little White House,” where Roosevelt stayed while undergoing polio treatment. The former vice president called the place “a reminder that although broken, each of us can be healed.” That as a people and as a country we can overcome this devastating virus. That we can heal a suffering world. And yes, we can restore our souls and save our country.
His trip to a region filled with Trump signs and flags illustrated both the extraordinary political moment, a Democrat calling for unity in the Republican campaign, and the calculation of an offensive candidate.
Mr Biden did not unveil any new proposals and his rhetoric never exploded. But he argued that he understands the country faces huge challenges that he said Mr. Trump was not fit to solve.
Some Republicans agree. Mr. Biden has received the support of a number of prominent Republicans in recent months who share his view that the stakes of the election transcend traditional partisan battle lines; On Tuesday, 20 former Republican federal prosecutors endorsed the Democrat.
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As Mr Biden sought to expand his electoral map in a state where there are also two Senate ballot races, Mr Trump was spending the day building support in the Midwestern states, with rallies in Michigan, Wisconsin. and Nebraska. “We are putting your husbands back to work,” Mr. Trump said in Lansing, Michigan, where he also criticized Democratic state governor Gretchen Whitmer and his efforts to limit the spread of the virus.
Mr Biden’s appearance represented the culmination of his 18-month campaign to make the election a referendum on Mr Trump and, as the sign on his lectern reads it here, to qualify the race a “battle for the soul of the nation”.
The small, socially distant audience sitting amid the green hills were less audible than the faint soundtrack of chanting protesters, who hoisted Trump flags and played “Sweet Home Alabama” not far from the border.
Mr Biden even nodded at their presence, alluding to the noise “in the distance”, before turning into a lament that “too many of us spend more time screaming than listening.”
“The character is on the ballot,” Mr. Biden said at one location, repeating one of his most used campaign lines. “The character of the country. And this is our opportunity to leave behind the dark and angry politics of the past four years. Choose hope over fear. Unity on division. “
He brought the same message on a balmy fall day in the south, where polls in states like Georgia, Texas and North Carolina give Democrats hope of breaking down the Republican stronghold.
Opposing a norm-breaking incumbent and in the shadow of a worsening pandemic, the former vice president vowed to work with Republicans and represent those who did not support him, and called the “red states” and the “blue states” to help revive the country.
Mr Biden has discussed the booming economy and protests against racial injustice, but, as he has done throughout the fall, he has also criticized Mr Trump’s handling of the virus. “He shrugged his shoulders, he’s boastful and he surrendered,” said the former vice president.
Mr. Biden’s presence in Warm Springs reflected much more than his affection for historical symbolism. His aides recognize that appealing to independents and disgruntled Republicans is central to his goal of capturing this rapidly changing state.
A pair of internal state GOP surveys indicate Mr. Biden established a small advantage, according to Republican strategists familiar with the data, speaking on condition of anonymity. It was largely because of her large lead in the metropolitan counties around Atlanta that Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016. After speaking on Tuesday against a backdrop of rural fall foliage, Mr Biden predicted a drive-through rally in Atlanta.
But to win the state, Mr. Biden would also have to win in increasingly diverse places like Cobb and Gwinnett counties outside of Atlanta, while shrinking his margins of defeat in areas of central Georgia and of the South who have more white voters.
This would mark a reversal of the formula of Bill Clinton, who was beaten in much of suburban Atlanta, then still a heavily white Republican stronghold, but who carried 92 of the state’s counties, many of which around Warm Springs.
“It’s a suburban rebellion over the pandemic and general exhaustion with Trump,” said Keith Mason, a longtime Democratic strategist in Georgia, who came to see Mr. Biden’s speech.
In many ways, Georgia is a microcosm of the coalition Mr. Biden seeks to build: a state with energetic voters of color, especially black voters, as well as white moderates disillusioned with Mr. Trump’s leadership of the party they once called. home.
“The suburb of Atlanta is a pointer to the country,” said Brian Robinson, a Republican strategist in the state who is advising a congressional campaign in that region and hopes his party wins.
Although he has cut spending in other states, Mr. Trump has invested money in advertising in Georgia, acknowledging that losing here would greatly hurt his hopes of winning re-election. He was also puzzled recently in Macon.
But sensing the opportunity, Democrats are spending more than a million dollars on Georgian Airwaves on Republicans in the final week of the campaign, according to Advertising Analytics.
Without citing Mr. Trump by name on Tuesday, Mr. Biden compared the president to men from an earlier era, referring to figures like Father Coughlin and George Wallace without directly citing them.
“Time and time again throughout our history we have seen charlatans, con artists, false populists, who have sought to play on our fears, appeal to our worst appetites and pluck the oldest scabs we have. for their own political gain, “he said.
Mr. Biden, a practicing Catholic who has sought to make gains with other members of the faith, cited a recent encyclical by Pope Francis which, he said, “warns us of this false populism that appeals to, quote, the ‘lowest and most’ selfish instincts’.
“Pope Francis has asked questions that anyone seeking to lead this great nation should be able to answer,” Biden continued. “And my answer is this: I am running to unite this nation. And to heal this nation. I have said this from the start. It is really necessary.
He cited Roosevelt’s example and the relief he sought for his polio in the waters of Warm Springs as a model for America today.
“This place represented a way forward,” he said. “A road to restoration. Resilience. Healing. “