The Jolt: The ‘orchestrated’ push to discredit Georgia’s election sparks more GOP infighting

FILE - Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) wait to greet President Donald Trump as he exits Air Force One in Atlanta, Sept. 25, 2020. Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden remain locked in a tight race in Georgia, and the state’s two Senate seats, which are both up for grabs, are competitive, according to a poll of state voters released Friday. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)
FILE - Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) wait to greet President Donald Trump as he exits Air Force One in Atlanta, Sept. 25, 2020. Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden remain locked in a tight race in Georgia, and the state’s two Senate seats, which are both up for grabs, are competitive, according to a poll of state voters released Friday. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)

Credit: New York Times

Credit: New York Times

Felons, feuds, and fake news: Welcome to the runoff

“Republicans in disarray.” That was the three-word response from Senate Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff late Monday to the extraordinary infighting that’s divided the Georgia GOP over President Donald Trump’s effort to taint Joe Biden’s victory.

This was supposed to be the week that Republicans united behind U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for a pair of Jan. 5 runoffs that could decide control of the Senate.

Instead, the two senators leveled unfounded claims of a disastrous “embarrassment” of an election at fellow Republicans who oversaw last week’s vote - and called for the resignation of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

It was a brazen effort to appease Trump, who has falsely claimed electoral fraud despite no evidence of any wrongdoing as he and his supporters try to discredit Biden.

We’re told the president and his top allies pressured the two Republican senators to take this step, lest he tweet a negative word about them and risk divorcing them from his base ahead of the consequential runoff.

And shortly after, Trump and some of his inner circle started tweeting attacks at Raffensperger, who was already unpopular with many in the Georgia GOP base long before Tuesday’s vote.

WSB radio analyst Jamie Dupree called it “an orchestrated election move the likes of which I’ve never seen before." Perdue’s camp pushed back on Tuesday:

“Neither senator nor anyone on their campaigns discussed with the president, White House or the president’s campaign before issuing their statement," said Perdue spokesman John Burke.

ExploreOpinion: The Georgia secretary of state who insists that two plus two still equals four

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins jumped in. He’s leading Trump’s effort to recount Georgia’s race and he called for several steps, including a hand-count of every ballot cast in each county due to “widespread allegations of voter irregularities” but offered no evidence to back that up.

“We can – and we will – petition for this in court after statewide certification is completed if the Secretary of State fails to act, but we are hopeful he will preemptively take this action today to ensure every Georgian has confidence in our electoral process.”

The intraparty war included Gov. Brian Kemp, who echoed the two senators' criticism of Raffensperger but didn’t go as far as supporting his ouster. Georgia GOP chair David Shafer, who has recently staged “Stop the Steal” rallies as Biden’s lead in Georgia has grown, joined in.

Along with election officials, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan was on the other side of the dividing line. He took to CNN in the morning - before the senators' statement - saying there was no evidence of any systemic wrongdoing. He has been lit up by Trump supporters for speaking the truth.

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The AJC’s Jim Galloway has an exclusive interview with Raffensberger posting today, with plenty to sift through. Here’s an insight to the lack of communication he’s had with Perdue and Loeffler:

“In the business world that I live in, if we have an issue with people, we call them directly and we have our conversation. We don’t just send it out to the world.”

“If that’s how they want to do business, that’s how they do business. I just don’t do business that way.”

- AJC

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Among other remedies Collins and Team Trump are calling for from Rafensberger, Collins said he wants “a check for felons and other ineligible persons who may have cast a ballot.” That detail caught our eye because Collins has been a vocal champion for criminal justice reform in Congress and, in the final days of his own campaign against Loeffler, brought in Roger Stone, a convicted felon whose sentence was commuted by Donald Trump, to join him on the stump.

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North Carolina’s Senate Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham is trailing Republican Tom Tillis in the Tar Heel state and he’s still raising cash. But he’s splitting his proceeds with Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock. It’s one of the many joint fundraising efforts you’ll see popping up around the country now that the Georgia races have become a team effort for the national parties.

Cunningham hasn’t formally suspended his campaign and networks haven’t called the race yet. But Republicans are likely to seize on the poor optics of the move.

Stacey Abrams, speaking generally on The Colbert Report on Tuesday, offered her take on the Democrats financial strategy: “To raise all the money that we can as fast as we can from anywhere we can.”

Abrams also took the interview as a change to call President Trump “an orange menace of putrescence.”

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Speaking of money, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already plowed in more than $5.5 million supporting both Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. That includes $1.8 million for a mailer program and $400,000 on phone calls.

That’s just a preview of what’s to come. The Senate Democratic arm plans to commit to another “multimillion dollar field effort” to register Georgians and turn out voters. The group said it will include field organizers, direct mail, phones and text messages as well as digital efforts.

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Among the issues at stake in the Jan. 5th runoff is the future of healthcare in Georgia and the country, including how a Democratic or Republican Senate would handle any changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the years-long challenge to the ACA brought by a group of Republican states' attorneys general, including Georgia’s AG Chris Carr.

It will be one of the first cases Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett will hear from the bench and could result in a partial or complete end to the law, should the justices strike down all or portions of it as unconstitutional.

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Rich McCormick addresses a crowd of Gwinnett Republicans.
Rich McCormick addresses a crowd of Gwinnett Republicans.

The doctor is out. Dr. Rich McCormick refused last week to concede the 7th district congressional race to Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who was declared the winner.

While McCormick is still not using the “c” word, he did send over a statement Monday saying he has now shifted his focus to helping Perdue and Loeffler win their Senate runoffs, which at least seems like a concession to the idea that he won’t be a member of Congress in January. His spokesman tells us that is as close to a concession we are going to get from the Republican.

His GOP counterpart in the 6th Congressional District, Karen Handel, also never conceded. The Democratic Party’s wins in these two swing districts were among the few bright spots nationally.

More from McCormick: “I remain concerned about irregularities with the vote count in Gwinnett. I believe the planned audit and anticipated recount of the Presidential results will fully investigate these concerns, though it may be unlikely to change the outcome of my race.”

There has been no evidence of widespread “irregularities” in Gwinnett County.

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Already posted: Our running list of the Georgia Democrats who may be tapped for jobs in the Biden administration. You’ll see the obvious folks like Stacey Abrams, Keisha Lance Bottoms and Sally Yates plus some others who may be less familiar but are in the conversation.

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With the runoff election happening a few days after the new Congress is sworn in, one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats will be left vacant for a bit. The AJC’s Tamar Hallerman explains:

The state’s unique runoff system is creating an unprecedented situation as Senate officials scramble to determine what exactly will happen to the office of Republican incumbent David Perdue during the first week of January.

Perdue’s Senate term officially ends at noon on Jan. 3, the first day of the new Congress. But his seat will not be filled until after Jan. 5, when Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff in a runoff.

State officials and legal observers are expecting Perdue’s office to be vacant for a number of days, until the secretary of state certifies the election results and a winner is declared.

- AJC

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Really Fake News. If you’re scrolling in your social media news feeds over the next two months, beware of the “Georgia Star,” a new website to be launched by fervent Trump supporter, John Fredericks.

Media Matters describes it as the newest in “a network of websites that launder right-wing media content and talking points through pages designed to look like local news sites.”

We fully expect outlandish claims, false accusations, and dirty tricks between now and January 5th - and they will most likely show up on social media first and foremost. So before you “like,” “subscribe,” or “forward,” a story you just can’t believe, consider the source.

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