PG A.M.: Biden campaign swarms Georgia ahead of presidential debate

Your daily jolt of news and analysis from the AJC politics team

President Joe Biden’s burst of activity in Georgia this week isn’t just for show. Even as some senior strategists urge Biden to focus more on the “blue wall” states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, his campaign vows Georgia is a priority.

That’s according to Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s 2020 campaign manager and chair of his reelection bid. She told the “Impolitic with John Heilemann” podcast this week that there’s a sound strategic reason for the campaign to compete in Georgia despite tough polls.

President Joe Biden meets with supporters at Mary Mac's Tea Room during a campaign event in Atlanta in May.

Credit: Michael A. McCoy/The New York Times

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Credit: Michael A. McCoy/The New York Times

“The job of the campaign is to keep as many battleground states in play for as long as possible so we can navigate any flexibility in the race,” she said. “If you look at 2020, Georgia and Arizona weren’t even in play at all at this point — and certainly weren’t traditional battleground states.”

The campaign has scheduled more than 200 events across Georgia during the week of the CNN presidential debate. They include news conferences, surrogate speeches and volunteer phone-banks, along with a slate of organizing events after the Thursday showdown.

President Joe Biden speaks at the commencement ceremony at Morehouse College in Atlanta in May.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

It starts today with an event marking the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for anti-abortion laws in Georgia and other Republican-led states to take effect.

Pressed by Heilemann on whether Georgia was truly a top target, O’Malley Dillon acknowledged that the “blue wall” remained Biden’s clearest path to victory.

But she said the campaign needs contingency plans, and noted that Biden’s campaign is stocked with Georgia veterans like Quentin Fulks and Michael Tyler who have battled in the state before and won.

“We are building in enough flexibility in our strategy to ensure that we can make adjustments as we need them,” she said. “But we’re going all-out in Georgia, the same way we’re going all-out in North Carolina.”

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PRE-GAME. Look for plenty of news conferences and commentary from Democrats and Republicans ahead of the Atlanta presidential debate Thursday.

Fair Fight Action is using the debate to continue a spotlight on voting rights issues. The group will hold a press briefing Tuesday featuring newly installed CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo and elections attorney Marc Elias. According to a news release, they’ll discuss voting issues, Black voter turnout, and “the MAGA operation’s Georgia and national election sabotage plan involving voter suppression, election certification obstruction, and voter intimidation.”

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Former president Donald Trump leaves the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington after speaking on Saturday.

Credit: Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

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Credit: Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

CHRISTIAN RIGHT. A crucial bloc in Georgia for former President Donald Trump will be Christian conservatives. Over the weekend, Georgia’s most prominent Christian conservative, Ralph Reed, welcomed Trump to his annual Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington.

“This man — among all the other things he did for this great nation — he appointed not one, not two, but three Supreme Court justices,” Reed said. “He’s a great friend of this organization.”

In his own remarks, Trump spoke about abortion restrictions, getting evangelicals to the polls and a bizarre suggestion he said he made to Dana White, the head of UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you set up a migrant league of fighters and have your regular league of fighters,’” Trump said. “And then you have the champion of your league — these are the greatest fighters in the world — fight the champion of the migrants.”

“It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had,” he added later.

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A sign for Democratic President Joe Biden is seen outside the Fayette County Democratic headquarters in Fayetteville.

Credit: Jeff Amy/AP

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Credit: Jeff Amy/AP

GROUND GAME. The grassroots organizing effort is gearing up.

President Joe Biden’s campaign said Sunday it has more than 75 staffers on the ground in Georgia and has opened 14 offices so far across the state.

Former President Donald Trump’s camp hasn’t said how many Georgia staffers it has hired, but said it now has more than a dozen staffed offices in the state.

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U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-St. Simons Island, speaks at the opening of a campaign office for former President Donald Trump in Savannah.

Credit: Adam Van Brimmer/AJC

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Credit: Adam Van Brimmer/AJC

SPECIAL VISIT? If you are on U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter’s email list, you received a surprise note early Saturday morning that suggested former President Donald Trump would visit Georgia for the opening of a campaign office in Savannah.

“In just a few hours, I’ll be joining President Trump in Savannah to open a new office,” the email read. “The liberals in Georgia are already losing their minds at the prospect of President Trump being so close by …”

A few text messages to Savannah-area Republican insiders revealed they knew nothing about a Trump visit, and initial communications with Carter’s office went unreturned. Trump campaign officials told the AJC’s Greg Bluestein that the former president’s schedule did not include a stop in Savannah.

Then came a text with a time and an address for the field office opening.

Curiosity led insider Adam Van Brimmer to go to the event, which was attended by several dozen local GOP die-hards — and no other media. Carter and other coastal Georgia Republican elected officials delivered remarks, and the gathering ended after about 20 minutes.

Trump was a no-show, and the ranking Trump campaign official on the scene, Wylie Shaw, declined to answer questions. He said he was not authorized to speak on the campaign’s behalf and said the event was meant to be closed to the media.

Another email arrived later in the day and noted Trump made “a personal visit to our community.” On Saturday, Trump was in Washington to speak to the Faith & Freedom Coalition and held an evening rally in Philadelphia.

A Carter staffer referred questions about the misleading emails to the Trump campaign. A Trump communications team member denied the campaign crafted or sent the note and said the former president’s schedule is announced through the campaign website and news releases.

The “Trump Force 47″ campaign office is located at the Chatham County Republican Party’s headquarters at 321 Commercial Drive in Savannah.

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Vice President Kamala Harris remains outspoken about reproductive rights on the campaign trail.

Credit: Adam Bettcher/AP

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Credit: Adam Bettcher/AP

NO MORE ROE. Two years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision and dismantled federal protections for abortion found under its previous Roe v. Wade ruling. As a result, Georgia’s six-week abortion ban went into effect alongside restrictions and other GOP-led states.

But these changes defy polling that shows voters are unhappy with strict abortion limits. Democrats have found reproductive rights to be a winning issue for them at the ballot box.

The Biden campaign is taking great efforts to highlight that contrast today, hosting over 50 events in battleground states. That includes a lunchtime event featuring former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, TV personality Padma Lakshmi and Latorya Beasley, a woman whose IVF treatment was halted by a state Supreme Court ruling in Alabama.

The Biden-Harris ticket is also releasing a new ad featuring a Louisiana woman who was refused treatment for her miscarriage because emergency room doctors were concerned about being prosecuted under that state’s abortion ban.

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Demonstrators rally for abortion rights in front of the Georgia Supreme Court in Atlanta on June 30, 2022.

Credit: Chris Day/AJC

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Credit: Chris Day/AJC

BILLBOARDS. The Biden campaign isn’t the only group looking to mobilize supporters on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.

The Amplify Georgia Collaborative, a coalition of eight pro-abortion groups in the state, is launching a campaign it says “will give Georgians resources to join the reproductive freedom movement while showing support for abortion access is widely shared across differences of race, income, zip code, and political affiliation.”

The campaign includes billboards and sidewalk decals across Athens, Macon and Savannah with a message that reads, “No one should face jail time for getting an abortion.”

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State Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, is a guest today on the "Politically Georgia" show.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

LISTEN UP. Today on “Politically Georgia,” the discussion focused on what has occurred in the two years since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Guests include state Sens. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, and Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, as well as the AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu.

Listen live at 10 a.m. on WABE 90.1 or follow “Politically Georgia” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Friday’s show featured Melita Easters, executive director of the Georgia WIN List, who talked about the impact of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision and her work to train and endorse Democratic women candidates who favor abortion rights.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., talked about campaigning on behalf of fellow Congressman Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, and why he thinks President Joe Biden has a winning message for Black voters in Georgia.

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Supporters of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. protest the decision by CNN to exclude him from the presidential debate this week.

Credit: Damian Dovarganes/AP

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Credit: Damian Dovarganes/AP

WATCH PARTIES. When President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump face off in Atlanta for the first debate of the 2024 presidential general election, there will be no studio audience. There are options to watch and stream at home, but there are also plenty of opportunities to attend events around metro Atlanta with like-minded partisans.

The AJC’s Tia Mitchell and Caleb Groves highlighted a few of the options from free watch parties hosted by local political parties to the Democratic Party of Georgia and Georgia GOP’s big blowouts. If you have $10,000 and know the right folks, there is always the fundraiser hosted by former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler where Trump himself is expected to end the night.

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VERDICT BRINGS WINDFALL. Shortly after a New York jury found former President Donald Trump guilty of 34 felony criminal counts last month, he took to social media to lament the verdict and ask supporters for financial support.

That day and the next — May 30 and 31 — Trump raised so much money that he pulled ahead of President Joe Biden in the fundraising race.

The AJC’s Isaac Sabetai found that $1.5 million of Trump’s itemized donations were attributed to people living in Georgia. And of that, more than $1 million were marked in just those last two days of the month.

Trump has raised about $4.6 million from Georgia this election cycle. The post-verdict cash represents 22% of his Georgia dollars overall.

Atlanta tea party activist Debbie Dooley said the verdict energized existing donors and motivated others to get off the sidelines and send a message about what they believe is a “weaponized judicial system.”

“It frightens a lot of people, and they opened up their checkbooks,” she said. “Because they see what they’re doing to Trump and they said, ‘Look, they do it to an ex-president of the United States. We’re next.’”

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U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., is holding a news conference today to discuss his water infrastructure legislation.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden is at Camp David prepping for Thursday’s debate.
  • The House returns on Tuesday.
  • The Senate is in recess until July 8.
  • U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, an Atlanta Democrat, holds a news conference in East Point to highlight water infrastructure legislation he is introducing.

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LIBRARY LIFT. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff on Friday touted his rescue of an underfunded library location in Savannah. The Democratic senator headlined a celebration held in the parking lot of the Oglethorpe Mall branch of the Live Oak Public Library, one of 16 in the Savannah metro area.

Replacing the nearly half-century-old library branch, which doesn’t comply with Americans with Disabilities Act access requirements, has been a goal for decades. Chatham County taxpayers contributed $5 million toward the project in 2008, and the Georgia General Assembly kicked in $3 million earlier this year, leaving the library system $3 million short on construction costs.

County and library leaders lobbied Ossoff to press federal lawmakers to cover the shortfall, and the money was included in an appropriations bill passed in March. The branch is the only community library to receive funds in the legislation, Ossoff said.

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AS ALWAYS, Politically Georgia readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to greg.bluestein@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com and adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com.