Presidential candidates send family to Georgia as early voting starts

Donald Trump Jr., Jill Biden headline events

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden kicked off Georgia’s three-week early voting period Monday by sending their top allies.

Jill Biden visited Columbus and Atlanta, marking the campaign’s first in-person visit to Georgia since the pandemic. Donald Trump Jr. stumped in Savannah and Kennesaw, the latest sign that Republicans are on the defensive.

Georgia last voted for a Democratic presidential contender in 1992, but a series of recent polls have shown the state too close to call in this year’s race. With a razor-thin margin likely to make the difference, leaders of both parties know they have to fight for every last vote.

Trump Jr. pumped up GOP faithful at the Governors Gun Club in Kennesaw. The indoor shooting range bills itself as a “Guntry” club, offering memberships, a restaurant/lounge and a “Full Metal Jacket” experience.

But on Monday it served up a red-meat rally rare enough for the most fervent in the GOP base, with the president’s son painting Biden as a doddering shut-in, calling U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris “the most robotic, unlikable human being in politics, other than Hillary Clinton,” mocking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “the Marie Antoinette of the 21st century” and accusing Democrats on the whole as indifferent to the most heinous crimes imaginable, including pedophilia.

“They’re normalizing pedophilia; this is a problem as old as time,” he said, repeating a discredited QAnon theory. “How come Donald Trump is the first person to do anything about it?”

Of course, Trump wasn’t just in Georgia to rile up his dad’s supporters. He also worked to persuade the people in the room to cast their votes early and make sure their friends and family do the same while portraying Biden as a tool for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

“If you sit on your butts, folks, Kamala Harris will be the president,” he said. “You know that’s right.”

Across town and a world away in downtown Decatur, Jill Biden used an equally urgent but radically different tone for her message to voters in the Democratic stronghold — telling them they need to vote early, even if it meant waiting in long lines to cast their ballots for her husband and all the other Democrats on the Georgia ballot.

“I know you’re stretched so thin. But this election is too important not to do every single thing we can,” Biden said, marking the first in-person visit to the state for either of the Bidens since her husband won the Democratic nomination. “This is it. This is it, Georgia. There are no do-overs.”

Long lines did indeed greet voters Monday morning as early voting kicked off across the state. Despite months of work by county and state officials to get the process off to a smooth start, a technology glitch stopped the lines at Fulton County’s State Farm Arena almost before they began. Heavy turnout also meant hours-long waits at polling places even when everything went according to plan, with some voters lining up as early as 4 a.m. to make sure their votes would be counted.

But other polling stations ran smoothly. At the Northside Library in Buckhead, voters emerged pleased with the process, including a socially distanced line that snaked out of the library into the parking lot. “It was really simple,” said Kiara Flantroy of Atlanta, who said she waited in line for about 20 minutes.

Along with the usual courthouses and churches, buses, a museum, a basketball practice facility and other unusual venues are hosting early voting this year, all part of an effort to give voters and poll workers enough room to be socially distant but democratically engaged.

As of Monday, a record-setting 439,000 Georgia voters had already voted using absentee ballots, just a preview of the 5 million votes officials say they expect by Election Day.

Technical issues didn’t just interrupt voting for some Georgians, they also interrupted Monday’s 5th Congressional District debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club. The event featured just one candidate, Republican Angela Stanton-King. Democratic state Sen. Nikema Williams announced several weeks ago that she would not debate Stanton-King.

Along with the 5th District debate, the press club also featured debates between 9th Congressional District candidates Andrew Clyde, the Republican, and Democrat Devin Pandy, along with the marquee Senate debate between Sen. David Perdue, Democrat Jon Ossoff and Libertarian Shane Hazel, which delivered a raucous preview of the final three-week push until Election Day.

Early voting lasts until Oct. 30, including a Saturday on Oct. 24.