Leaked tape shapes final Senate push as Biden, Trump head to Georgia

It was already destined to be a climactic finish to Georgia’s Senate runoffs with dueling visits Monday from President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden. The bombshell tape featuring Trump pressuring the state’s top elections official to overturn the election adds a stunning twist to the race’s final hours.

The recording of Trump demanding that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” him enough votes to reverse Biden’s victory reverberated on the campaign trail, where Republicans dodged questions about the fallout and Democrats tied it to their closing argument.

“That is a direct attack on our democracy,” Jon Ossoff said Sunday at a drive-in rally. “And if David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler had one piece of steel in their spine, one shred of integrity, they would be out here defending Georgia voters from that kind of assault.”

The release of the recording came a day ahead of a final burst of visits ahead of Tuesday’s runoff for control of the Senate. Vice President Mike Pence will appeal to evangelicals at a mega-church in Milner at noon, while Trump will hold a 9 p.m. rally in Dalton. Biden’s event will be held at 4 p.m. in Atlanta.

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally to support Republican Senate candidates at Valdosta Regional Airport in Valdosta, Georgia, on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

There’s strategic reason behind each of the trips. Pence’s visit is cast as a “call to action” for evangelicals, who vote overwhelmingly Republican in Georgia. Trump is taking direct aim for a solidly-conservative northwest Georgia area where turnout is lagging other parts of the state.

And Biden’s visit targets metro Atlanta, where soaring turnout has already helped Democrats Ossoff and Raphael Warnock build what’s believed to be a formidable early-voting edge. The two want to press the gas to undercut the expected election day advantage for U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

“You cannot let up,” said Jamie Harrison, the South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate who was defeated in November, on MSNBC. “I went into election day with a 150,000 vote lead over Lindsey Graham … but on Election Day we just got swamped.”

Republicans face their own guessing game with Trump’s visit, likely his last campaign rally as president.

At his earlier rally in Georgia, a December trip to Valdosta, Trump promoted the two GOP incumbents but spent much of his time airing his own grievances about his election defeat. By urging Republicans to vote in a “rigged” election, he sent conflicting messages to the conservative base.

This time, his visit comes on the heels of a fiery conversation with Raffensperger in which he warned that “you’re going to have people just not voting” on Tuesday if he doesn’t reverse the outcome. Raffensperger rejected the appeal, telling Trump, “the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.”

Even before the recording aired, he previewed his visit with a barrage of attacks aimed at Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, who defied Trump’s calls to illegally overturn the election results.

In one tweet, he mocked Kemp’s struggles in a poll against potentially primary challenger U.S. Rep. Doug Collins. In another, he falsely claimed that Tuesday’s runoffs are “illegal and invalid” – undercutting the very reason for his trip to Dalton.

As for Democrats, Biden’s visit reflects the all-out effort the party is putting behind the push to sweep the two seats and gain control of the U.S. Senate.

Ads and robo-calls featuring Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who stumped Sunday in Savannah, are airing around the state. And Biden is likely to echo the message he made during his last visit to Atlanta, when he tied the fate of his legislative agenda to Tuesday’s votes.

“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 during that Dec. 15 trip. “We need senators who are willing to do it, for God’s sake.”