President Donald Trump is set to hold his rally on Saturday in Valdosta, the heart of deeply conservative South Georgia territory where Republicans hope a surge of turnout can lift U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue to runoff victories.
Trump’s 7 p.m. event at the Valdosta Regional Airport will be his first campaign rally since his November election defeat, and Republicans want him to make the case to his loyal supporters that a vote for the two Senate incumbents on Jan. 5 runoffs is the same as a vote for him.
Trump’s runoff rally forces question: How much will he help Loeffler and Perdue?
But state GOP leaders are also concerned that his persistent false claims of a “rigged” election will dampen Republican turnout by the sending the signal that the results are already predetermined, and that his most ardent enthusiasts in Georgia will stay home without him on the ballot.
A group of 18 former Republican officials penned a letter Wednesday calling on Trump voters to return to the polls or risk a scenario where “the trajectory of our state and nation will be irreparably altered.” Others have warned his unsubstantiated allegations risk long-term damage to the GOP.
As Georgia Republicans aim to unite, Trump’s ‘rigged’ claims drive a wedge
Still, there’s no indication that Trump is trying to lower the temperature – or shift the focus toward runoffs that will decide control of the Senate – even as state elections officials warn that his claims of voter fraud are inciting violence.
In the runup to the visit, Trump has intensified his attacks on Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after they refused his demands to overturn the election results. He’s called Raffensperger an “enemy of the people” and said he was “ashamed” to have endorsed Kemp.
The president drew thousands of supporters to Valdosta in 2016 when he last held a rally there, a strategic move that also earned news coverage in the battleground state of Florida.
Though he’s visited Atlanta several times this year, Trump’s campaign rallies have veered away from the metro area, which has tilted increasingly Democratic since his 2016 victory.
The president held events in Middle Georgia and the outskirts of the northwest Georgia city of Rome in the weeks before the election – Republican-friendly areas where the GOP candidates need to run up the score to defeat Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in January.