Sen. Kelly Loeffler has brought in the biggest GOP names in the country in the closing days of her re-election runoff campaign, including Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and, on Sunday, Gov. Kristi Noem from South Dakota, where the population of the entire state is smaller than Gwinnett County.
And even in quarantine, former Sen. David Perdue had Energy Secretary and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the Georgia trail drumming up support from conservatives with just days left to convince GOP voters to get to the polls.
But absent from the campaign trail in the final week leading up to Election Day has been Gov. Brian Kemp. Although Kemp campaigned frequently for the senators earlier in the fall, he has been missing from the final Republican push ahead of Tuesday’s runoffs, embroiled instead in a contentious standoff with President Donald Trump following Trump’s inaccurate claims that he won the November election in Georgia.
Repeated requests for comment about Kemp’s absence went unanswered Sunday by the governor’s office and Loeffler’s campaign as the senator made her way from campaign events in Henry County north to Bartow and Cherokee counties.
Noem was with Loeffler in McDonough earlier in the day, where the governor wowed the crowd of about 100 that had come to see Noem and the senator at Gritz Family Restaurant on the town square.
“The next president!” one man yelled as Noem climbed onto the bed of a white pickup truck to talk up Loeffler’s conservative bona fides.
“Leadership has consequences,” Noem said of Loeffler. “It matters who wins on Tuesday. It matters that she’s the one there fighting for you each and every day.”
Noem also told the crowd to make up with anyone they’d fallen out with over the election and talk to them about voting for Loeffler and Perdue Tuesday.
And she pointed to vice president-elect Kamala Harris, who was in Georgia Sunday stumping for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock Sunday, as a primary reason Republicans should get back out to the polls.
“If we don’t win the Senate seats, the deciding vote in the Senate is going to be Kamala Harris, the most extreme liberal senator that we have,” she said. “We don’t want that individual breaking ties in the Senate on the most controversial pieces of legislation in this country. We just don’t.”
Moments before Noem spoke, news reports broke about an hour-long phone call between Trump and Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger Saturday in which Trump railed against the election results in Georgia and demanded that Raffensperger overturn his election defeat.
“Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. We have that in spades already,” Trump said to Raffensperger and his assembled staff and lawyers. “Or we can keep it going. But that’s not fair to the voters of Georgia.”
The call was just the latest in Trump’s private and public campaign to discredit and overturn the election in Georgia, which president-elect Joe Biden won by about 12,000 votes.
Along with Raffensperger, Trump has raged against Kemp, tweeting that Kemp is a “joke” and “clueless” and, most recently, that the governor should resign from office.
Trump’s non-stop verbal attacks on Kemp have had an effect on many of the Georgia GOP voters attending events for Loeffler and Perdue, many of whom echo the president’s accusations against Kemp.
“I think Kemp, Raffensperger and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan are bought and paid for by China,” said Meika Wilson, an office manager from Cartersville who went to see Loeffler in Bartow County Sunday.
Wilson said she believes Trump won the election and sees Kemp as part of a coverup against the president. “I think he’s a one-term governor. I don’t think he’ll be reelected. I won’t vote for him.”
Jared Burdett, from White, Ga., said he’s voting for Loeffler and Perdue. But, he added that Kemp’s decision to certify and recertify the results of the November elections have left him willing to vote against Kemp in a potential GOP primary in 2022.
“I really liked Kemp. I voted for him,” Burdett said. “But I was really disappointed in what he did during the election. I might vote for somebody else.”
Loeffler made no mention of Kemp, Raffensperger, or the news of the Saturday call between the president and Secretary of State. She also did not take questions from reporters during her stops, although she has frequently answered reporters’ questions at campaign events in the past.
Instead, Loeffler talked up the president’s rally in Dalton Monday night, which Kemp is not expected to attend. The governor recently said he had not been invited to the Dalton event, but he has repeatedly spoken out on Loeffler and Perdue’s behalf with local and conservative media outlets, including multiple appearances on Fox News leading up to Election Day.
Kemp has also hosted and attended several fundraisers to help the senators win reelection.
Despite the governor’s support, not the least of which was Kemp’s decision to appoint her to the Senate in 2019, Loeffler focused on just one chief executive Sunday on the trail.
“Are you ready to welcome President Trump to Georgia on Monday night?” Loeffler asked the Cartersville crowd to cheers for the outgoing president. “I just spoke with him. He’s excited. He loves Georgia.”
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