Obama’s plea to Georgia Democrats: ‘Put this country back on track.’

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

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

‘Georgia could be the state’

A fiery former President Barack Obama campaigned for Joe Biden and down-ticket Democrats in Atlanta on Monday, slamming President Donald Trump and other Republicans for “empty promises” and selfish politics amid a growing coronavirus pandemic.

He arrived in Atlanta with a mission to help Democrats win Georgia in a White House race for the first time since 1992, and he laced his comments with sharp barbs at Trump as he pleaded with left-leaning voters who “lost faith in government” to cast their ballots this year.

But his election eve pit stop was focused as much on Georgia’s two U.S. Senate contests as it was Biden’s push to flip the state. U.S. Sen. David Perdue is in a neck-and-neck race with Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff, while Raphael Warnock is expected to face one of two Republicans, either U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler or U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, in a Jan. 5 runoff.

“Georgia could be the state. Georgia could be the place where we put this country back on track. And not just because Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have a chance to win Georgia. But you’ve got the chance to flip two Senate seats,” Obama said to hundreds of Democrats at an outdoor rally in Atlanta.

He took relish in assailing both Loeffler and Perdue for stock transactions earlier this year as the pandemic worsened. The Republicans say federal investigators cleared them of criminal wrongdoing, but Democrats have seized on the transactions throughout the campaign to portray their opponents as greedy profiteers.

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“They’re like Batman and Robin gone bad,” Obama said. “They’re like the dynamic duo of doing wrong. I don’t know what they were thinking, but, Georgia, I promise you: Georgia was definitely not on their minds.”

Obama also invoked Ossoff’s viral moment in his debate with Perdue last week, when the challenger called the incumbent a “crook” and accused him of putting his loyalty to Trump ahead of Georgia’s interests.

“Perdue was like one of those chickens. I would have felt bad for the guy if he hadn’t voted four times to take away your preexisting condition protections,” Obama said.

“They were supposed to have another debate last night — Perdue chickened out," the former president said. "The scariest Halloween costume he saw this year is Jon Ossoff in a debate.”

In a statement, Perdue spokesman John Burke said Ossoff’s ability to get “Barack Obama to repeat his campaign’s lies doesn’t improve his nonexistent credibility.”

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‘Better off now’

Democrats welcomed Obama to the battleground state with a party in the parking lot of old Turner Field in downtown Atlanta.

Singer-songwriter Monica regaled the crowd with stories of her College Park roots, while the rapper 2 Chainz performed for about 100 people in the shadows of the Olympic Torch tower — and hundreds more in honking, parked cars stretched over acres of pavement.

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

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

Obama’s return to the campaign trail brought a fervent defense of his two terms in the White House, which have come under relentless attack by Trump.

“I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to get done when I was president, but I could say when I look back at the end of eight years later, you know what?” he said. “The country is better off now than it was when I took office. Twenty-some million people have health care that didn’t have it before. That’s a good thing.”

More than 3.9 million Georgia voters have already cast ballots, nearing the state’s overall turnout record. Both parties are now trying to get their core constituencies to turn out on Election Day — and make a last push for Georgians who typically skip elections.

Aiming to win over liberal voters alienated by Biden’s candidacy, Obama warned the crowd of “dark times” if Trump won another term, and he urged Democrats to think in terms of slow and steady progress rather than momentous upheaval.

“That’s what voting is about: not making things perfect, but making things better, laying that path brick by brick to a better future,” he said, adding: “The fact that we don’t get 100% of what we want is not a good reason not to vote.”

The Senate candidates tried to make the most of Obama’s visit.

“This is the moment and this is the place. Are you ready? There is something special happening in this state. I can feel it. There’s energy on the ground — and hope on the horizon. There’s change in the air,” Warnock said.

“We’ve got to fight hard because the future of our nation depends on it,” he added, as heads in the crowd nodded in agreement. “Beware of folks who try to frighten you into re-electing them.”

Ossoff said Georgia deserved to elect “brilliant, decent, compassionate” leaders.

“It’s time to restore the soul of this nation,” he said. “It’s time to send David Perdue into retirement.”

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‘Something has got to go’

Each speaker invoked tight polls that made Obama the latest big-name politician to campaign in Georgia. Biden stumped here last week, and Harris returned for the second time in eight days on Sunday. And Trump drew thousands late Sunday in deeply conservative northwest Georgia.

“We are ready to be the blue state we are meant to be,” said Stacey Abrams, the 2018 gubernatorial runner-up, who called on Democrats to pay heed down the ballot. “We have the opportunity to change this state, change the narrative, change the future.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Biden’s most prominent early supporter in Georgia, said the state was poised for a game-changing moment on Tuesday.

“I have an optimism, Georgia, that says we’ll make this right. And we’ll make history,” she said. “We will do our part for our children’s children and cast our votes tomorrow. The generations are counting on us to get this right.”

Obama, meanwhile, leaned into his namesake Affordable Care Act in his closing pitch. He reminded the crowd of the repeated attempts by Republicans in Washington to bring an end to his health care overhaul.

“Georgia, something has got to go. It’s either your senators or your health care,” he said. “And if I were you, I’d pick your health care. Get rid of the senators who are trying to take it away.”