The Jolt: Georgia runoffs as a ‘Braveheart’ sequel -- ‘where everyone paints their face blue and just charges’

No. 1: Coach Wallace in "Braveheart" -- Sure, this isn't a sports movie. But we challenge you not to be fired up by pre-crazy Mel Gibson. We almost quit our job once after watching this.
No. 1: Coach Wallace in "Braveheart" -- Sure, this isn't a sports movie. But we challenge you not to be fired up by pre-crazy Mel Gibson. We almost quit our job once after watching this.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Fear of losing two U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia and control of that chamber is what’s driving the effort by Republicans here and in D.C. to resist acknowledging a lost presidential election, according to this Washington Post piece. A local GOP veteran with a history of colorful metaphors explains:

“These runoffs have become the political equivalent of ‘Braveheart’ where everyone paints their face blue and just charges across the field,” said Ralph Reed, a Georgia-based Republican and founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “If we can get the Trump vote back out in the suburbs, we should be able to get this done. But it will be very hard and extremely competitive.”

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Yet the denial campaign has its limits.

Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday he won’t call a special legislative session to tighten residency requirements for the Jan. 5 runoffs, despite pressure from some supporters of President Donald Trump to make it harder for new residents to cast their ballots in the consequential election.

House Speaker David Ralston has been critical of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger -- in particular for mailing out absentee ballot applications in the run-up to June primaries that would be conducted amid the pandemic.

But on Tuesday, Ralston declined to join the demand from U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler that Raffensperger resign. From an interview with Rahul Bali, news anchor for the Oconee Radio Group:

“Until we get a little more proof of fraud or irregularities, I’m not sure that that’s the appropriate remedy. Now, we’re two years away from – he will face the people of Georgia in a primary and an election. And that’s a preferable way to go.”

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GOP backbiting continues: Last night, with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., sharing a split screen with him on Fox News, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., heaped blame on Gov. Brian Kemp for President Donald Trump’s apparent defeat in Georgia. Gaetz campaigned for Collins, who was trying to oust U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, in the weeks before the Nov. 3 vote. Here’s what Gaetz said during the Sean Hannity hour:

“I think that for Brian Kemp, it was more important that Kelly Loeffler beat Doug Collins than that Donald Trump beat Joe Biden. He could’ve set that Collins-Loeffler primary earlier. We would’ve had a more united Republican party if that were the case, but in a close election that stuff really matters. And [Kemp] did not put us in the best position to win.”

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Certainly, everyone’s ready for the counting to be done in Georgia. Especially those doing the tallying.

Around 10:30 a.m. today, state elections official Gabriel Sterling will announce details of how the secretary of state’s office will conduct the audit of Georgia’s November election — and perhaps outline how many ballots are left to sum up.

President-elect Joe Biden has benefited from the slow and steady trickle of provisional, overseas and absentee votes that have been added to the count in recent days. He has a lead of more than 14,000 votes over Donald Trump.

No national network has called the race, nor has The Associated Press. They’re likely waiting for an end to the count, which could come imminently, or a certification of the votes, which will happen sometime next week.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution relies on the national outlets to make such heady decisions. But state elections officials tell us the recount is not likely to change the outcome of the race.

History tells that story. FairVote, the nonpartisan advocacy group, recently updated an analysis of recounts that showed only races with “exceptionally close” margins have a plausible likelihood of being overturned. From the report:

In the 5,778 statewide elections over the last 20 years, there have been 31 completed statewide recounts. Only three of those 31 recounts overturned the outcome of the race. In all three, the original margin of victory was less than 0.05%.

There have only been two statewide recounts in presidential elections over the last 20 years. The most memorable is perhaps the Florida recount in 2000, which lasted weeks and taught us all the term “hanging chad”. The other presidential recount occurred in 2016 in Wisconsin, at the request of Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Both recounts upheld the original victor and resulted in only small vote shifts. The Florida recount shifted the margin by 1,247 votes and the Wisconsin recount shifted the margin by 571 votes.

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The gap in Georgia between the two is about 0.3%. That’s a wider spread than Arizona, a race that several networks and the AP have already called for Biden.

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Already posted: Mitch McConnell may have a good reason to be worried about job security as Senate majority leader. A poll conducted by a Republican-leaning national firm shows neither political party with a clear advantage in the twin January runoffs that are likely to decide control of the U.S. Senate.

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Top Georgia Republicans have steadfastly refused to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden. But a few lower-level politicians have publicly accepted the reality that President Donald Trump has lost.

Mike Boyce, the recently-defeated Republican chairman of Cobb County Commission, called on state and national leaders to respect the outcome of the recent election and “transition in grace” to incoming elected representatives.

And Jason Downey, a Republican appointee to the state Board of Education, sent a letter to Biden with this line: “You will be our president, and I will be rooting for you. I hope others will join me.”

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Mark your calendars: Vice President Mike Pence told Senate Republicans Tuesday that he will campaign in Georgia on Nov. 20 on behalf of U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. That happens to be the same day that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, by law, must certify the Nov. 3 election. Here’s betting that Raffensperger doesn’t wait for that confluence.

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Meanwhile, Politico.com reports that Georgia Democrats are urging President-elect Joe Biden to stay focused on his transition. They would rather see former President Barack Obama here, campaigning for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate.

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Both U.S. senators from Georgia continue to dodge questions about their Monday letter vaguely accusing Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of mismanaging the general election and demanding that he resign.

Neither David Perdue nor Kelly Loeffler has responded to our requests for interviews. Both have also been dodging media scrums at the U.S. Capitol this week. Some Hill reporters caught up to Loeffler on Tuesday, but she moved quickly and didn’t stick around for questions.

Meanwhile, all eight GOP members of Georgia’s congressional delegation are echoing the concerns about Raffensperger while also failing to provide any specific evidence of malfeasance or fraud.

That gang of eight includes U.S. Reps.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde. We should note that all eight lawmakers are questioning the management of an election process in which they were victorious over Democratic opponents.

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We’re surprised this didn’t come up in the first round of the Senate special election: The Atlanta-based financial behemoth run by U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s husband Jeff Sprecher has another link to China.

We reported earlier that Intercontinental Exchange bought a 25% stake in a climate exchange firm based in China in 2010 before cutting ties a year later.

In 2019, ICE launched a futures exchange with The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which partnered with several major energy firms, including Chinese-owned PetroChina Co. Sprecher called it a way to get “deeper into Asia.”

Loeffler’s camp says the Abu Dhabi-based firm, not ICE, controlled who it chose as partners.

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A campaign tidbit: Stephen Lawson, communications director for U.S. Kelly Loeffler, has been promoted to deputy campaign manager.

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Georgia has made it back into the COVID-19 red zone. From our AJC colleague J. Scott Trubey:

Citing an increase in cases, President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force moved the state back into the most severe category for spread of the virus for the first time since mid-September. The report warned of asymptomatic spread, particularly in social gatherings, as cool weather pushes people indoors and friends and families plan holiday events.

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Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, repeatedly allowed politics to overrule science — and then denied it, USA Today reports. The report makes it hard to imagine that Redfield will keep his job in a Biden administration.

The article opens with an anecdote about a September congressional hearing in which Redfield tried to explain why the CDC had relaxed its list of coronavirus precautions for workers at meatpacking factories. The White House had nothing to do with the changes, he said. But that wasn’t true, according to USA Today’s findings:

Redfield was sitting in the White House when he instructed his staff to change a series of safety recommendations to suggestions, adding dozens of qualifiers such as “if feasible” and “not required.” He turned to a West Wing aide and told her the edits came directly from Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff.

Smithfield Foods, the South Dakota meatpacking plant under scrutiny, had seen the tougher recommendations, one of the first documents outlining COVID-19 protections for the industry. The CDC emailed it the day before the edits were made. Federal agriculture and labor officials also weighed in.

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Another measure of long-range coronavirus concerns: The Georgia Chamber announced Tuesday that it will host its annual marquee event, the Eggs and Issues Breakfast, as an all-virtual program on Jan. 13. The breakfast is usually attended by more than 3,000 attendees statewide. This time, they’ll be able to wear pajamas.

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Already posted: Our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu reports that Democrats in the state House on Tuesday selected Rep. James Beverly of Macon to lead their party for the next two years, succeeding Minority Leader Bob Trammell of Luthersville. Trammell lost his reelection bid last week after being targeted by national Republicans.

House Republicans on Monday renominated Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge and Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones of Milton for another term. Those positions are subject to a full House vote in January.

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The Washington Post has an excellent take on Robin Kemp, the independent Georgia journalist who was at the center of the political universe for several hours last week:

Kemp, an indefatigable 56-year-old reporter who started her news site after the local paper laid her off in April, was the only journalist to watch all 21 hours of Clayton County’s marathon tabulation of absentee votes, from about 9 a.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Friday. During that span, a record number of absentee ballots helped Biden close the statewide gap with Trump. And it was votes from Clayton County — the heart of the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis’s old district — that pushed Biden into the lead.

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A quick update on QAnon, the network of outlandish conspiracy theories that helped boost the profile of U.S. Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia: The anonymous posts from “Q” have apparently stopped since the election. That leaves adherents, who were used to being led on social media scavenger hunts fueled by weird and twisted falsehoods, questioning what to believe.

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have articles explaining the void “Q”s absence has left for followers.

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