Capitol Recap: GOP infighting enters Georgia Senate runoffs

Credit: WSBTV Videos

President to visit Ga. Dec 5th to rally for Senators

Credit: WSBTV Videos

A roundup of news about politics and government in the Peach State.

Trump supporters level accusations at both Loeffler, Perdue

Georgia is the last battlefield of the 2020 election, stretching the fight into January for the U.S. Senate runoffs that could determine control of the chamber.

At this stage of the campaign, much of the action could be categorized as rather hostile friendly fire among Republicans.

Skirmishes rooted in Georgia’s presidential vote count have spread to the Senate contests, with both U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue taking rhetorical fire.

One of those shots was fired in the general direction of Loeffler by Washington-based lawyer Sidney Powell, a temporary member of the “elite strike force” President Donald Trump deployed to search for the widespread fraud he claims thwarted his reelection. (To be clear, election officials say they have seen no evidence of wrongdoing on a scale large enough to make a difference in the outcome.)

Powell raised suspicions about Georgia’s special election for Loeffler’s seat, specifically the fight within the fight, a GOP showdown between Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins. Loeffler beat back Collins’ challenge, gaining the second spot in the Jan. 5 runoff against Democrat Raphael Warnock.

Powell — who had endorsed Collins, now another member of Trump’s legal team contesting the presidential election — took her accusations to Mark Halperin on Newsmax.

“Georgia’s probably going to be the first state I’m going to blow up,” Powell said. “We don’t know who bought their election. I’m sure it crosses party lines. I’m reasonably certain (Michigan Republican U.S. Senate candidate) John James was ripped out of his seat, and he was entitled to have won that election by the real vote, and the same thing is true for Doug Collins in Georgia.”

A day later, Powell was removed from Trump’s legal team, but another conservative lawyer, Lin Wood, then aimed a tweet at Loeffler and Perdue.

Wood, who saw a judge dismiss his attempt to halt Georgia’s certification of its election, questioned whether the two senators had done enough to back the president. He then threatened to skip the runoffs.

“Let’s speak truth about @SenLoeffler & @sendavidperdue,” Wood wrote. “Why are they doing little or nothing to support efforts by GA citizens to address unlawful election & need for @BrianKempGA to order special session of legislature? If not fixed, I will NOT vote in GA runoff. Will you?”

What Wood hoped the Legislature would do is unclear. New legislation wouldn’t change how general election votes were counted.

Of greater importance to Loeffler and Perdue is whether other conservatives are, like Wood, considering whether it’s all that important to go to the polls on Jan. 5.

Republican senators want special session GOP leaders rejected

Lin Wood is not the only one calling for a special session of the Legislature.

Four Republican state senators — Brandon Beach of Alpharetta, Greg Dolezal of Cumming, Burt Jones of Jackson and William Ligon of Brunswick — this past week sought such a session to “address structural issues with our voting system before the January runoff.” They also want a session to explore “any evidence of voter fraud” brought to lawmakers, even though election have said frequently that they have seen no signs of systemic fraud.

Standing in their way are three other Republicans higher up on the flow chart — Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston. They rejected the idea of a special session weeks ago.

“Any changes to Georgia’s election laws made in a special session will not have any impact on an ongoing election and would only result in endless litigation,” they said.

One thing a special session could do is run up a bill: They cost taxpayers $40,000 to $50,000 a day.

Runoffs run up big bills for advertising

The U.S. Senate runoffs are off to an expensive start.

Rick Dent, who tracks that kind of thing, says the two races — which could determine control of the Senate — have generated $268 million in spending, so far. The Ad Age Campaign Ad Scorecard came up with a slightly higher figure: $272 million. But what’s $4 million here or there?

The edge, at this point, goes to Republican U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. They and their outside supporters have finance $163 million in ads. Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, as well as their backers, have chalked up about $105 million in advertising.

The big thumb on the scale belongs to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who stands to lose as much as anybody if Loeffler and Perdue are defeated Jan. 5, handing control of the chamber to Democrats. Groups tied to McConnell account, so far, for about $78 million in expenditures — slightly less than one-third of all ad spending.

Florida cashes in on Georgia races

That big ad spending won’t all stay in Georgia. Florida’s in for a payday.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has set aside $200,000 to finance ads in the Jacksonville and Tallahassee markets to reach South Georgia voters.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has faced heavy criticism from fellow Republicans - the state's two U.S. senators even called for his resignation - but he says he will not leave the party. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has faced heavy criticism from fellow Republicans - the state's two U.S. senators even called for his resignation - but he says he will not leave the party. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

No exit for Raffensperger

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has felt plenty of heat from fellow Republicans, including President Donald Trump, after he debunked claims of widespread voter fraud in this month’s election.

U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue called on Raffensperger to resign, and others have questioned whether he’s thinking about leaving the Grand Old Party.

Raffensperger, who is up for reelection in 2022, told WABE that he’s not going anywhere.

“Perhaps some of the people who are upset over this will consider leaving the Republican Party,” he said, “but I intend to stay.”

While some Democrats have praised Raffensperger’s performance in defending the count and the state’s new voting system, he used an op-ed in The Washington Post to direct criticism at Stacey Abrams, saying she tried to undermine faith in the state’s 2018 election when she lost the race for governor.

“Disinformation about the reliability and security of Georgia’s voting machines had been percolating since 2018 — long before we even selected a system,” Raffensperger wrote. “A failed gubernatorial candidate refused to accept the outcome of an election she lost by 50,000 votes — and is praised for it by media pundits to this day, even as they attack a presidential candidate for running the same playbook.”

The “playbook” is actually quite tattered: Complaints about the state’s voting system have circulated since at least the mid-2000s.

Donors link transition, cash for Senate runoffs

An effort to push forward the formal transition to a Biden White House had a link to Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs.

If the transition had remained in park any longer, the flow of donations to Republican U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue also could have slowed, according to The New York Times.

Some of the more than 160 business executives who signed a letter seeking a formal beginning to the transition had specifically mentioned a freeze on campaign contributions in the Georgia’s races as a way to put some muscle behind their plea. That letter apparently nudged Emily Murphy, head of the General Services Administration, to free up funds for the process to start.

“As a way of gaining leverage over the G.O.P., some of the corporate executives who signed on to the joint letter Monday have also discussed withholding campaign donations from the two Republican Senate candidates in Georgia unless party leaders agree to push for a presidential transition, according to four people who participated in a conference call Friday in which the notion was discussed,” the Times said.

Former President Barack Obama, shown campaigning earlier this month in Atlanta’s Summerhill community, says visits to the state by high-profile politicians are not as important in determining the outcome of an election as the people working daily in the state to help their candidates. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Former President Barack Obama, shown campaigning earlier this month in Atlanta’s Summerhill community, says visits to the state by high-profile politicians are not as important in determining the outcome of an election as the people working daily in the state to help their candidates. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Big shots are coming, but do they make a difference?

Former President Barack Obama questions how much impact big-name politicians from outside the state can have on Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs.

That doesn’t mean he won’t be coming to the state to campaign for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. He’s just awaiting his instructions before packing his bags.

A number of other political luminaries have either already traveled to the state or signed up to help their candidate(s) of choice.

The star power has mostly come from the Republican side, including Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Joe Biden’s new chief of staff said the president-elect is likely to visit Georgia to help Ossoff and Warnock, although nothing is final.

Others will ride a pixel wave to the state, such as Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Democratic Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who are participating in a fundraiser on Zoom.

But are these visits a deciding factor?

Obama says they aren’t as important as the people working in Georgia every day to advance their candidates’ campaigns.

“That’s the reason that Georgia went for Joe Biden, and that’s what I think it’s going to take for us to be able to sustain this down the road,” Obama said during a video chat with The Washington Post to promote his new memoir, “A Promised Land.” “If I’m doing some robocalls or some guest appearances, it gets people excited. But, ultimately, it’s the people in Georgia recognizing their own power that makes all the difference.”

Dems to resume face-to-face politicking, but with masks

Democrats are going old school on the campaign trail.

Organizers for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are returning to the streets, where they will knock on doors and try to persuade voters to head to the polls for the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs, Politico reports.

It’s a practice Democrats largely shelved at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, deciding that in-person contact with voters would be unsafe or at least unwelcome.

Republicans started going door to door back in the summer, and many grassroots Democrats think that gave GOP candidates an advantage, especially in holding their majorities in the state House and Senate.

Now, as they seek to make a personal connection with voters, the Democrats still acknowledge the dangers of the coronavirus. They are required to wear masks, stand 6 feet back from voters and follow other safety protocols.

More than 40,000 Fulton County residents participated in early voting for the Nov. 3 election at the Atlanta Hawks' State Farm Arena. The arena will be used again for early voting for the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs, but it will split time with the Atlanta Falcons' Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
More than 40,000 Fulton County residents participated in early voting for the Nov. 3 election at the Atlanta Hawks' State Farm Arena. The arena will be used again for early voting for the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs, but it will split time with the Atlanta Falcons' Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Arena voting to be a shared experience in Fulton

More than 40,000 Fulton County residents cast ballots on the Atlanta Hawks’ home court during early voting.

County voters will have the chance to do the same this time on the Atlanta Falcons’ turf.

The Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium will split time with the Hawks’ State Farm Arena as an early voting site for the January runoffs.

State Farm Arena will go first, allowing voters to pass through its gates Dec. 14-19. The doors will then open at Mercedes-Benz from Dec. 22 to Dec. 30, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

CDC to get shot in the arm from Biden White House

The Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could see its role growing in the fight against the coronavirus.

“There’s a lot of focus on how much the career people at CDC have been completely undermined and diminished,” a person close to President-elect Joe Biden told Politico. “Our job is not just their empowerment, but their integration in the development of policy and implementation of policy.”

That means you could see a lot more of Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s respiratory disease chief, and Anne Schuchat, the agency’s principal deputy director. Both were involved in messaging about COVID-19 during the early days of the pandemic before the Trump administration sidelined them.

In Other News