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Senate candidates fight in Georgia as GOP voters’ anger persists

MILTON, Georgia – Five Republicans spoke at a rally on Monday in suburban Atlanta, including two state lawmakers, Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior advisor .

No one recognized the defeat of President Trump, nor the reality of the victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his new Democratic administration.

Instead, as Mr. Trump continues to denounce the election results and spread unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud, Republicans in the second round of the Senate in Georgia have deployed an avoidance strategy. As hundreds of attendees chanted “Stop the Steal” and “Fight for Trump,” a reference to their shared belief that the election was badly decided, speakers sought to redirect energy to Senate contests on the 5th. January and the battle for control of the chamber.

Democrats must oust Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue to give their party power over both houses of Congress, in addition to the White House. On Monday, as Republicans rallied their supporters, Democratic candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff hosted Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for a side event.

The two parties agree on the importance of the flows. “Everything that was at stake in November is at stake on January 5,” Ms. Harris told the crowd in Columbus, a city in western Georgia.

In Milton, Ms. Trump presented the competitions as a crossroads of the country’s most fundamental values.

“Georgia will decide whether our children grow up under an oppressive government or whether America remains the land of the free,” she said.

Besides a shared sense of importance, the rallies had little in common. Both Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler were heckled by members of the public, who called on them to more strongly support Mr Trump’s attempts to subvert the election. Some held signs calling for a special session of Congress to overturn the Electoral College vote, while others urged senators to vote against certification of election results.

In his remarks, Mr Perdue nodded at the anger among those in the crowd, whose voices had choked Ms Loeffler at one point.

“I always fight by his side to make sure he finally gets fair bookkeeping in this state,” Perdue said of the president. “But my job right now – Kelly’s job, on top of that – is to make sure that we don’t give up those two seats in Georgia.”

Ms Trump, who is often deployed as a Republican surrogate capable of appealing to suburban women, focused on her father’s economic toll before the coronavirus pandemic, the administration’s advocacy against child trafficking and its investment in a Covid-19 vaccine and prevention measures.

However, one of his biggest applause was about ballot safety, echoing the basis of the unsubstantiated claims his father made.

“Kelly and David are working very hard to make sure this election is safe and secure, and that every legal vote is counted,” Ms. Trump said, dwelling on the word “legal”.

Arguments over the election outcome contrasted sharply with the party mood of Georgia’s Democrats, who were partly taking a victory lap after winning the state at the presidential level for the first time since 1992.

“You did what no one thought they could do,” Ms. Harris said at the event in Columbus. “No good thank you comes without asking for a little more,” she added, urging locals to run for Democrats again.

The drive-in rally took place in the ruins of a former textile factory located along the Chattahoochee River which has been turned into an event space. It was a cool and chilly day, with around 100 vehicles parked in front of the scene, as Democrats continue to limit in-person campaigns during the pandemic. Still, dozens of people got out of their cars and pushed against barricades to get a glimpse of Ms. Harris; many sported the green and pink of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the historically black sorority of which Ms. Harris was a member.

State Representative Carolyn F. Hugley, a Democrat, wore an AKA sweater.

“She could motivate people like this young woman right here,” Ms. Hugley said, pointing to a young African-American woman standing near the barricade. “It’s not just about lifting the sorority. It’s about lifting African American women.

The run-off election for both parties is largely a question of turnout, as candidates and campaigns focus on motivating their bases rather than winning over new voters. In Georgia, where changing demographics and eroding Republican support among moderate college graduates in the suburbs have helped Democrats rise, it has largely led to familiar strategies: Republicans are seeking to increase support among rural white conservatives, while Democrats focus on urban centers.

On Monday, Ms. Trump hosted events in the outlying Atlanta area, which has been traditionally Republican and, without Mr. Trump on the ballot, could vote differently in the second round than in the general election. Ms Harris was in Columbus, one of the state’s largest urban areas, where Democrats improved their performance in November and are looking to capitalize again.

Both campaigns had more events planned for Monday, but Ms Harris and Republican senators had to return to Washington to vote on the coronavirus emergency relief program.

Mr. Warnock and Mr. Ossoff have repeatedly attacked their Republican opponents as being financially corrupt. Citing senators’ stock transactions – including deals made during the pandemic – they tried to label Republicans “Bonnie and Clyde of political corruption,” as Mr. Ossoff once put it.

“Two US senators more concerned with using their desks to line their pockets than us the people who pay their salaries,” Ossoff said at the rally. “We deserve better, Columbus, and retirement is approaching for Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

Mr Warnock accused Ms Loeffler of name calling. “It’s serious business, and she’s busy calling me names,” he said. “I’m trying to have a debate, and she just curses. It’s OK. As they say in the South, ‘Bless his heart.’ “

Republican candidates rarely mentioned Mr. Ossoff at events, spurring their rhetoric on Mr. Warnock and the national Democratic agenda. Mr Warnock, who is said to be the state’s first black senator, has a chair closely linked to the civil rights movement as a pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

During her debate against Mr Warnock earlier this month, Ms Loeffler repeated the phrase “radical liberal Raphael Warnock” more than a dozen times. She used it again in Milton, as she tried to characterize her pastoral history as a sign of extremist foundations.

“The future of the country is at stake here,” Ms. Loeffler said. “We are the firewall.”

But many in the audience weren’t there for her, for the Republicans, or even for Ms. Trump. They were staunchly devoted to the president and his baseless allegations of electoral fraud, which threaten to fracture the party. At one point, Ms. Trump praised Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a frequent target of Mr. Trump, which caused some attendees to bristle.

Nancy Babbitt, who attended the rally, was upset that Ms Loeffler had so far refused to say whether she would vote to certify the results of the Senate election on January 6, the day after the second round. Ms Babbitt said she was not sure Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue were going to win, because by failing to get Trump’s most loyal supporters “they are missing out on the MAGA vote.”

“What are they hiding?” Mrs. Babbitt asked.

Carol Grusin, who wore a sticker supporting Ms Loeffler and considers herself a moderate Republican, said she wanted the ‘Stop the Steal’ heckling to end.

Mr. Trump should concede, she said.

“He took his course,” Ms. Grusin said. “At this point, it’s embarrassing.”

Astead W. Herndon reported from Milton, and Rick rojas from Columbus, Ga.

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