President-elect Joe Biden appealed to Georgians Tuesday to back Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, urging them to “turn out the vote so it’s not even close” to win runoffs that will dictate the success of his legislative agenda.

In his first campaign stop since defeating President Donald Trump, he thanked supporters for voting “as if your life depended on it” to help a Democrat carry the state in a White House race for the first time since 1992.

“Well, guess what?” he told a socially distanced crowd of hundreds at the Pratt-Pullman Yard in northeast Atlanta. “Now you’re going to have to do it again.”

The trip coincides with the start of the three-week early voting period for the Jan. 5 runoffs that will decide control of the Senate, and came a day after a suspense-less Electoral College vote in Georgia and other battleground states confirmed Biden’s victory over Trump.

Democrats want Biden to re-energize the same coalition that fueled his narrow victory — as well as help counter the image that Republican U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have cast upon their two challengers: as “radical liberal socialists” bent on upending the status quo.

“I know what we can do. I know what this country is capable of. I know the future we can build together,” Biden said at the drive-in rally, punctuated by honks and horns from the audience. “And I’m hoping you will send Jon and Raphael to Washington to help me get it done. It’s time for us to leave the angry, bitter politics of division behind us.”

Casting Republicans as “roadblocks” to progress in Congress - and a sweeping new coronavirus aid package that’s stalled - Biden said Democratic defeats would lead to even more of the gridlock that dogged the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

“We can get so much done. So much that can make the lives of the people of Georgia and the whole country so much better,” he said. “We need senators who are willing to do it, for God’s sake.”

With control of the Senate in the balance, the twin Georgia cliffhangers will determine how ambitiously he can pursue a legislative agenda that includes promises to overhaul voting rights laws, expand health care access and pass tax increases on the wealthy and corporations to fund new infrastructure projects.

Republicans hold a 50-48 edge in the Senate, and Democrats must defeat both Republicans to gain control of the chamber with the help of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

President-elect Joe Biden and Georgia Democrat U.S. Senator candidate the Rev. Raphael Warnock have a moment backstage before they both individually speak during a “Get Ready to Vote” rally  at Pratt-Pullman Yard in Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighborhood, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
President-elect Joe Biden and Georgia Democrat U.S. Senator candidate the Rev. Raphael Warnock have a moment backstage before they both individually speak during a “Get Ready to Vote” rally at Pratt-Pullman Yard in Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighborhood, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

His visit comes against the backdrop of an ongoing internal feud in the Georgia GOP. Spreading unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, Trump has assailed Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans for refusing his calls to overturn Biden’s victory.

And though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recognized Biden’s win earlier Tuesday, many of his Georgia backers — including the two Republican incumbents — haven’t yet conceded that Trump lost the race.

Underscoring the divide, Trump supporters tapped a shadow slate of GOP electors on Monday in a closed-door Capitol room, even as Democrats cast their Electoral College ballots in the legitimate vote one floor above in the state Senate.

As Biden prepared to arrive, Republicans emphasized a leaked phone call between Biden and civil rights activists in which he urged the group to tone down talk about police funding and criminal justice issues that the GOP has used to “beat the living hell out of us across the country.”

At a press event in front of the Capitol, three Republican sheriffs warned that Ossoff and Warnock want to take resources away from law enforcement, even though they’ve consistently said they don’t back the “defund the police” movement.

Butch Conway, the outgoing Gwinnett sheriff, said law enforcement needs more funding and not less for training, hiring and retention of the best officers.

‘Bullied’

Ossoff and Warnock are trying to recreate the formula that helped Biden narrowly capture Georgia by roughly 12,000 votes — a victory fueled by overwhelming support from Black voters, higher turnout of Asian and Latino Georgians and newfound Democratic strength in Atlanta’s suburbs.

Notching another statewide Democratic victory will hinge on motivating all branches of the party, from the liberal left wing to moderates and independents that once voted solidly for Republicans.

Biden proved he could generate that sort of support in November, when he tallied nearly 2.5 million votes in Georgia, though his coattails weren’t long. Biden outpolled Ossoff by roughly 100,000 votes and Warnock, the leading contender in a 20-candidate special election, by an even greater margin.

Supporters of President Donald Trump hold a counter-rally outside of a “Get Ready to Vote” rally for Georgia Democrat U.S. Senator candidates the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff at Pratt-Pullman Yard in Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighborhood, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Supporters of President Donald Trump hold a counter-rally outside of a “Get Ready to Vote” rally for Georgia Democrat U.S. Senator candidates the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff at Pratt-Pullman Yard in Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighborhood, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Still, Biden’s centrist political brand and popularity in Georgia have made him a more difficult target for the Republican incumbents and their allies; they prefer to level broadsides at Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other more liberal Democratic figures.

Republicans are drawing from a similar base-energizing playbook. A half-dozen high-profile GOP figures have already campaigned in Georgia, each invoking the threat of a Schumer-controlled Senate, and Vice President Mike Pence is visiting Columbus and Macon on Thursday — his fourth trip to Georgia since the November election.

The attention comes as a staggering amount of money has poured into the races, which both parties see as a toss-up. Though Georgia runoffs typically draw lower turnout, the first day of early voting on Monday suggested a sense of enthusiasm.

Roughly 168,000 Georgia voters cast ballots on the first day of the three-week in-person period, far exceeding the number of votes tallied during the same day of early in-person voting for the November election. Overall, including mail-in votes, about 500,000 ballots have been cast.

Biden was joined at the rally at Pullman, a railyard in northeast Atlanta being remade into a mixed-use development, by the two Senate candidates and other leading Democratic figures — Stacey Abrams, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and U.S. Rep.-elect Nikema Williams.

He singled out Abrams for particular praise, asking rhetorically if there is “anyone in America who has done more to protect the right to vote in this election. Is there anyone who’s done more to make sure the voice of every Georgian is heard? I don’t think so. Stacey Abrams, you’re a hero.”

He thanked the Democrats — and, tacitly, state Republican leaders — for defying Trump’s demands to overturn the election.

“Georgia wasn’t going to be bullied. Georgia wasn’t going to be silenced. Georgia wasn’t going to stand by and let Donald Trump or the state of Texas — or anyone else — come here and toss out your votes.”

President-elect Joe Biden applauds Georgia Democrat leaders and candidates for U.S. Senate during a “Get Ready to Vote” rally at Pratt-Pullman Yard in Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighborhood, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
President-elect Joe Biden applauds Georgia Democrat leaders and candidates for U.S. Senate during a “Get Ready to Vote” rally at Pratt-Pullman Yard in Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighborhood, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

And in one of his most biting lines, he urged Georgians to remember that their two Republican senators backed the ill-fated Texas lawsuit that challenged the state’s election results. That complaint was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court last week at the urging of Georgia’s Republican attorney general.

“Maybe your senators were just confused. Maybe they think they represent Texas,” Biden said. “Well if they want to do the bidding of Texas, they should be running there instead of here in Georgia.”

Staff Writer Patricia Murphy contributed to this report.

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