ATLANTA – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday urged Georgian voters to vote for two Democratic Senate candidates in a critical second round early next month which he says will give his party control of the Senate and help Democrats advance the agenda he pledged during his campaign.
“You all did something amazing in November,” Biden said to cheers and honks at a drive-thru campaign rally intended to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. “You voted in record numbers to improve the lives of every Georgian. And you voted as if your life depended on it.
“Guess what?” he added. “Now you’re going to have to start over.”
Mr Biden arrived in Georgia a day after the Electoral College claimed victory and in-person early voting began for the election that will determine whether Republicans lose their majority in the Senate. Hours before the event, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, acknowledged Mr. Biden’s victory for the first time, saying that “the constituency has spoken.”
To gain control, Democrats must defeat the state’s two outgoing Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, in contests that have garnered intense national attention and significant campaign income. Mr. Perdue faces Jon Ossoff, while Ms. Loeffler is questioned by the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
The results of these two January 5 elections will have a disproportionate effect on the contours of Mr. Biden’s presidency. If Republicans retain both seats, the president-elect will face greater challenges to secure cabinet confirmation and will most likely have to reduce his ambitions on climate change, immigration, infrastructure spending and other priorities. .
The rally for Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock took place on the grounds of Pullman Yard, a former railcar depot that has become a popular site for film and film shoots and will be redeveloped into retail space and offices.
The site reflects the physical transformation Atlanta has undergone, where a surge of construction and development has fueled familiar concerns about gentrification. But the transformation also brought about the political change in Georgia which helped propel Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock into the second round.
“It looks totally different from when I got here in 1996,” said Fantara Houston, vice-principal of an elementary school who attended the rally.
Rally attendees – who spanned age and racing and included Atlanta natives as well as transplant recipients who have flocked to the city in recent years – watched from their cars, clinking their horns in lieu of applause. Another crowd of hundreds gathered along the sidewalks outside.
Battling a cold and cough several times during his remarks, Mr Biden sought to link Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue to President Trump’s unsuccessful efforts to annul the election by raising false allegations of electoral fraud in Georgia and in d other states of swing.
Mr Biden mocked the two senators for supporting a lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general seeking to overturn presidential election results in four states, including Georgia.
“Maybe your senators were just confused. Maybe they think they represent Texas, ”Biden said to cheers. “Well, if you want to bid from Texas, you should go to Texas, not Georgia.”
In the five weeks since he was thrown as president-elect, Mr Biden has sought to downplay partisanship and stay focused on the pandemic, which has killed more than 300,000 people in the United States and which rages out of control. In his speeches, he repeatedly called for unity of goals and said he would be the president of all Americans, including the more than 74 million people who voted for Mr. Trump in the race to the presidential election.
But for Mr. Biden, the run-off election will be a first test of his power to shape the future of the Democratic Party.
In an email to his supporters on his way to Atlanta from Washington, Biden made a blunt political appeal for campaign contributions to help the Democratic Party win.
“Both of these races are within a few points, and it could really go both ways,” Biden wrote in the email. “That is why I am organizing a rally for these two candidates today, so that they can spread their message to as many Georgians as possible. And if you give $ 7, you can help them and the DNC reach even more voters, ”he said, referring to the Democratic National Committee.
Mr Biden narrowly won Georgia last month, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1992.
“Our message and his message will continue to reflect what he has always said,” Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Mr Biden’s campaign manager and new deputy chief of staff, said of his visit. “In particular, to really talk about early voting and the importance of voting, to talk about the importance of Georgia in its victory.”
In his remarks, the president-elect highlighted the contributions of Stacey Abrams, who lost her candidacy for governor of Georgia in 2018 but is credited by many Democrats across the state for energizing the electorate by continuing to campaign. for voter rights over the past two years. years.
“Is there anyone in America who has done more to protect the right to vote in this election?” Mr. Biden asked the crowd. “Is there anyone who has done more to ensure that every Georgian’s voice is heard? I do not think so. Stacey Abrams, you are a hero.
And he has repeatedly urged Georgians not to wait until January 5 to vote.
“Tell your friends, your family, like you did in November,” he says. “Get a vote so that it’s not even close.”
Second-round elections typically see a substantial drop in voter interest, particularly compared to a presidential campaign, but the first day of early voting suggested that these high-stakes races run counter to that trend.
Around 168,000 Georgian voters turned out on polling sites on Monday, surpassing the number of votes cast on the first day of in-person early voting for the November general election by tens of thousands, suggesting voter interest fueled by Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden and their fiery supporters.
Mr Trump held a rally in southern Georgia this month, and on Tuesday his campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh sounded the same line of attack used by Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue. Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock, he said, “represent the far left fringe of the Democratic Party.”
A small group of Mr. Trump’s supporters came to Mr. Biden’s event, waving large banners. Two of them walked down the street in front of the crowd, waving an American flag and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
One of Mr. Biden’s supporters, Nicole Gordon, brought her own little speaker and sang as she played The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – a not-so-subtle jab . Later, she held her speaker over her head, chanting Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”.
Rick rojas reported from Atlanta, and Michael D. Shear from Washington. Glenn thrush and Thomas kaplan contributed to the Washington report.