On Sunday, Trump fumed about a call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top elections official, pressuring him to accept unfounded claims of systemic voting problems. In the hourlong call, reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Trump demanded that he “find 11,780 votes” to overcome his November deficit, and Raffensperger repeatedly insisted that the president was relying on faulty information.
It’s not the “circle the wagons” messaging that Georgia Republicans want just before the Tuesday runoffs against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for control of the U.S. Senate. Trump’s torrent further underscores GOP fears that some of his loyalists could take his falsehoods to heart and skip the vote.
“It feels like I’m in inside a tornado with all kinds of facts and falsehoods swirling around me,” said Cade Parian, a trial lawyer and Republican from Carrollton, where Loeffler campaigned on Saturday.
“I don’t know where the tornado is going to spit me out, but I hope like hell it’s with a majority in the U.S. Senate. To be honest, I’m worried.”
More: No pressure, Georgia: On the cusp of Senate runoffs to shape Biden’s presidency
Seeing the runoff election as a race for the party’s base, Loeffler and Perdue have tried to indulge the president to avoid alienating him or his supporters.
They’ve backed a failed Texas lawsuit to overturn Georgia’s election results, supported his demand for $2,000 stimulus checks and avoided an overwhelming bipartisan vote to override his veto of an annual military defense bill.
Yet they still haven’t gone so far as some of other Republicans in claiming the election was “rigged.” Nor have they yet joined the group of 11 Republican senators and senators-elect who will vote in a futile effort Wednesday to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Through a quirk in the timing of the runoff, Perdue’s term ends Sunday. Even if he wins on Tuesday, he can’t take office until the election is certified in a few weeks.
More: Trump heads to Georgia as GOP doubts over elections persist
Still, the first-term Republican has told some that he will vote to challenge the results even though he cannot do so, and his aides have amplified a Trump tweet thanking him for that non-existent decision.
Loeffler, who will have a chance to vote, still hasn’t said whether she backs the effort to invalidate the results and join the newly-formed coalition led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who campaigned with her on Saturday.
At a weekend campaign stop in Carrollton, Loeffler opened by telling a crowd of about 100 crammed into a popular restaurant that “Trump is fighting for us, we are fighting for him, and we’re not going to stop.”
In an interview after the event, Loeffler repeated her previous stance that she’s not yet decided whether to formally challenge Biden’s victory. She said she is “working on it right now, but my main focus is winning this election on Jan. 5.”
Some veteran Republicans worry that turnout is relatively light in deeply-conservative areas, such as the region around Dalton where Trump will hold his rally, in part because of Trump’s attacks on the “rigged” election. Pressed on Trump’s conflicting message, Loeffler was optimistic he’ll spur more Republicans to the polls.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
“He will stress the importance of voting for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler because we have pointed out the stakes of this race to all Americans,” pointing to his Dec. 5 visit, when he promoted their campaigns but spent most of the time airing grievances about his defeat.
Her events on Saturday offered fresh reminders why she and Perdue, who is in self quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus, can’t risk spurning the president.
In Peachtree City, state Sen. Marty Harbin encouraged supporters to write to Vice President Mike Pence to “please, please, please not recognize Georgia’s election” when he presides over the proceedings on Wednesday.
And in Carrollton, one of the loudest ovations Loeffler received came after she solemnly said: “God bless America and God bless Donald J. Trump.”
Democrats are relishing the internal feud. As Vice President-elect Kamala Harris prepared to visit Georgia to stump for the two challengers, Ossoff egged on the GOP infighting by questioning why Trump would help Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when he’s acknowledged Biden’s victory.
“What I can’t figure out is why President Trump is sticking his neck out to help Mitch McConnell when Mitch McConnell is treating President Trump like an irrelevant lame duck president.”