The Jolt: Georgia Republican angst over a presidential contest that won’t end

11/05/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — U.S. Congressman Doug Collins is embraced by Donald Trump Jr. during a Republican rally in the parking lot at the Georgia Republican Party Headquarters in Atlanta’s Buckhead community, Thursday, November 5, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
11/05/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — U.S. Congressman Doug Collins is embraced by Donald Trump Jr. during a Republican rally in the parking lot at the Georgia Republican Party Headquarters in Atlanta’s Buckhead community, Thursday, November 5, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Two years ago, when Stacey Abrams demanded a full counting of the ballots before her Democratic race for governor was called against Brian Kemp, Republicans had a resounding response.

“Georgia voters have spoken,” the Kemp campaign said the Monday afterwards. “It’s time for Abrams to listen and concede immediately.”

“An insurmountable lead,” the Republicans called Kemp’s margin at the 10-day mark.

Dozens of rank-and-file Republicans followed that lead, urging Abrams to step aside and make way for the governor-elect even as she waited on legal challenges that she thought might make a difference. Her refusal to accept defeat became something a meme in Georgia GOP circles.

Now, President Donald Trump and his base are the ones insisting that his contest isn’t over, arguing -- without evidence -- that the election has been stolen. Georgia’s GOP leadership is in something of a bind. Last week, at a post-election press conference, Donald Trump Jr. all but threatened to bring Trump supporters down on any Republican official who acknowledges Joe Biden’s victory.

Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene is siding with Trump, of course. And so is U.S. Rep. Doug Collins. The defeated U.S. Senate candidate has been put in charge of the Trump effort to gain a recount in Georgia. From today’s Gainesville Times, Collins is quoted thusly:

“During the coming recount, we are confident we will find evidence of improperly harvested ballots and other irregularities that will prove that President Trump won Georgia fairly again on his way to re-election as President. Georgians deserve a free and open process, and they will get one.” Specific information about harvested ballots or irregularities was not provided Sunday.

-

Attorney Lin Wood, who has injected himself into several Trumpian causes during the campaign, appeared to cast aspersions on Dominion Voting Systems, the maker of Georgia’s new army of voting machines:

“Georgia alone has eight registered lobbyists for Dominion, and they include [Lewis] Abit Massey, a former Democratic Georgia Secretary of State and Jared Thomas, former chief of staff for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, according to The Times.”

-

To clarify: Thomas was Kemp’s chief of staff when he served as secretary of state.

The problem for Republicans is that if you cast doubt on the outcome of the presidential contest, you throw into question election results that in many aspects -- certainly in terms of maintaining control of the Legislature -- turned out very well for the GOP.

And so the three most powerful Republicans are stepping carefully. Governor Kemp, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan issued a joint statement that included this:

“Any allegations of intentional fraud or violations of election law must be taken seriously and investigated. We trust that our Secretary of State will ensure that the law is followed as written and that Georgia’s election result includes all legally-cast ballots — and only legally-cast ballots.”

-

Duncan went a step further this morning. In an appearance on CNN this morning, the lieutenant governor said he hasn’t seen any evidence of fraud.

“We’ve not had any sort of credible instances raised to our level yet,” Duncan said, adding: “At this point we’ve not seen any sort of credible examples.”

Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger -- the Republican in charge of Georgia’s election machine -- has said there are no known verifiable instances of fraud or voting irregularities this election. That truth has made him a target of the far-right.

There’s another reason many Republicans are being cautions: Those two U.S. Senate runoffs that are looming in January. We posited late last week that Georgia Republicans might be keeping Trump’s defeat as an issue to spur GOP voters to the polls.

Commentator Erick Erickson expressed a contrary worry in a Sunday tweet chastising Trump’s selfish burn-it-all-down strategy. “Trump is gonna cost the GOP the Senate,” he wrote. “His supporters are internalizing that the election in Georgia was stolen so why bother even trying.”

More than a few elected Republican officials we’ve heard from feel the same way.

Senate Republican Leader Mike Dugan has asked for what he’s calling an educational meeting of elections officials to openly explain the voting process.

“It’s not an inquisition,” the Carrollton Republican told our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu. “It’s a chance to better educate us on the processes they go through and how they take the steps to ensure everything is counted.”

In a letter sent to the chamber’s Republican caucus on Sunday, Dugan said a “passion filled week” has left many with questions that need “to be answered to preserve our trust in the elections process.”

"As you have heard from numerous sources this election is not over, he wrote. “The counties have until November 13th to certify their votes and Georgia has until November 20th to certify.”

On Monday, Dugan said the meeting will be held by the Senate Government Oversight Committee and allow elections officials to explain to lawmakers and the public why the ballot counting has taken so long.

“We’ve got too many people across the state going why is this taking so long and instead of reading what’s on Twitter and social media, I’d rather get those who are actually doing the hard work to explain it. It’s just clearer.”

***

Sen. Marco Rubio Files Legislation to Make Daylight Saving Time Permanent
Sen. Marco Rubio Files Legislation to Make Daylight Saving Time Permanent

The surrogate visits have already begun: Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is set to stump for Republicans in the Jan. 5 runoffs for control of his chamber on Wednesday in suburban Cobb County. U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler will be on hand, as will Bonnie Perdue, the wife of U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

(You can also consider Wednesday as the start of the 2024 presidential contest in Georgia.)

And we reported yesterday that former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has packed up his bags and is moving to Georgia for the homestretch of the Senate runoffs.

***

Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, has challenged Republican incumbent David Perdue to three “live, in-person debates sponsored by media organizations” before the Jan. 5 runoff.

***

Last week apparently produced a rather strange result in Georgia’s two statewide races for the Public Service Commission. Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, who has been a presence on the utility regulation panel for 22 years, has landed in a Dec. 1 runoff with Democratic challenger Daniel Blackman.

McDonald currently is 3,276 votes below 50%. Libertarian Nathan Wilson won 3% of all ballots.

Jason Shaw, a Republican appointed to a PSC vacancy in 2019, survived his first election on Tuesday. Neither race has been formally called by the Associated Press, but Shaw finished 6,590 votes above 50% -- even though Elizabeth Melton, the Libertarian in the contest, pulled nearly 4% of the vote.

Tim Echols, another member of the PSC, had an explanation for Shaw’s success. Echols pointed to the Georgia AFL-CIO’s endorsement of Shaw – and Blackman, too.

***

Already posted: Take a look at Georgia’s 16 Democratic electoral college members who -- once the vote is certified -- will cast their ballots for Joe Biden. You know many of them, but not all of them.

***

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political committee that spent $140 million nationwide to support Republican candidates for the U.S. House, put out a memo over the weekend celebrating its successes. Politico got its hands on a copy.

The group said of the 22 races it spent $3 million or more in, its record is 17-2, with 3 still uncertain. We know that Georgia delivered one of those two losses; Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux defeated CLF-supported Rich McCormick in the Seventh District congressional contest.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the CLF spent just shy of $5 million targeting Bourdeaux, who won with 51% of the vote.

***

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta. AJC file
U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta. AJC file

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, is seeking to become chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, given that the current leader, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., lost re-election last week. Our AJC colleague Chris Quinn has many details here.

But Scott has pitched his candidacy in a letter to fellow House Democrats, in which he wrote about his upbringing in rural South Carolina during segregation and he highlighted the racial barriers that would be broken if he gets the job.

“If elected, I would approach my role as the first African American to chair the Agriculture Committee, and the first African American from Georgia to chair any Committee, with a principled focus on addressing inequities in Agriculture and advancing racial progress for all,” he wrote.

Scott currently serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit. U.S. Rep. Jim Costa of California is also seeking the committee chairmanship.

***

Early voting is now underway in the special election to determine who will fill the remainder of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis’s term in office. Democrats Robert Franklin and Kwanza Hall are competing to fill the seat for roughly a month; Election Day is Dec. 1. The Fifth District includes south Fulton County and parts of DeKalb and Clayton.

In Other News