Trump, Harris rally to win Georgia in campaign’s final days

Kayden Ammerall, left, rides on Bryce Kaufman’s shoulders as Lauren Kaufman rides on Jeremiah Angel’s shoulders as they make their way toward the airport in Rome on Sunday afternoon for President Donald Trump's campaign rally. (Photo: Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Kayden Ammerall, left, rides on Bryce Kaufman’s shoulders as Lauren Kaufman rides on Jeremiah Angel’s shoulders as they make their way toward the airport in Rome on Sunday afternoon for President Donald Trump's campaign rally. (Photo: Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

‘We finally matter.’

ROME — The race for the White House took a sharp turn back to Georgia on Sunday as President Donald Trump drew thousands to a rally in one of the most conservative parts of the state while vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris appealed to suburban voters crucial to Democratic hopes of victory.

The two rival campaigns focused on mobilizing their core supporters rather than persuading undecided voters in the closing stretch of the race, zeroing in on two key territories that could decide a razor-tight race for Georgia’s 16 electoral votes and U.S. Senate contests that could determine control of the chamber.

Trump’s visit to an airport outside Rome aimed to drive up turnout among mostly white, rural conservatives who form the most reliable bloc of his electoral coalition in Georgia. He’s scrambling to run up the score in this Republican-friendly area, where early-voting turnout has lagged behind other areas, to offset Democratic gains elsewhere.

“You elected an outsider as president who is finally putting America first. And if I don’t sound like a typical Washington politician, it’s because I’m not a politician, thank you,” he told a cheering audience. “We’re there — and we’re going to win.”

ExploreGeorgia voter guide

Harris, meanwhile, made a beeline to Duluth to energize suburban Democrats just eight days after her last visit to the state. Once a Republican stronghold, suburban Gwinnett County flipped in 2016 — and Democrats now aim to maximize their turnout in a county that’s increasingly tilted in their favor.

The late barrage of visits reflect Georgia’s battleground status. Polls show Trump and Joe Biden deadlocked in Georgia, which last voted Democratic for president in 1992.

Though Trump handily captured Georgia in 2016, he’s on the defensive this year, forced by close polls to squeeze in a stop here rather than other competitive states. And Biden, who stumped in Georgia on Tuesday, senses an opportunity to pull the state into the Democratic column.

ExplorePHOTOS: Trump campaigns in Rome

The visits also promoted down-ticket candidates. U.S. Sen. David Perdue is neck and neck in polls with Democrat Jon Ossoff. And Democrat Raphael Warnock is expected to face U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler or U.S. Rep. Doug Collins in a likely Jan. 5 runoff.

Georgia’s moment in the national spotlight won’t be fleeting. Former President Barack Obama is headed to Georgia on Monday for an election eve rally, and both parties are set to scrap through the year’s end over the Senate contests.

A record 3.9 million Georgians have already cast ballots, and Republicans are relying on heavy Election Day turnout to keep the state in the GOP column. In some counties, including Gwinnett, early-voting turnout has already exceeded the overall 2016 total.

“We finally matter,” said state Rep. Calvin Smyre, the longest-serving lawmaker in the Legislature and a top Georgia backer of Biden.

'Not the time to let up’

Harris last stumped in Georgia on Oct. 23, making multiple stops across Atlanta in an appeal to wavering Black voters. Her visit Sunday focused on Gwinnett, where Democrats aim to sweep countywide offices.

She headlined an afternoon outdoor drive-in rally at the Infinite Energy Center, where gusts of winds forced her to step off a makeshift stage and address a crowd of hundreds from the pavement of the parking lot.

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Democratic vice presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., addresses a crowd during a campaign rally at the Infinite Energy Center on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Duluth. (Photo: John Amis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: John Amis

Democratic vice presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., addresses a crowd during a campaign rally at the Infinite Energy Center on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Duluth. (Photo: John Amis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: John Amis

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Democratic vice presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., addresses a crowd during a campaign rally at the Infinite Energy Center on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Duluth. (Photo: John Amis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: John Amis

Credit: John Amis

“I came back to Georgia because I wanted to just remind everybody that you all are going to decide who is going to be the next president of the United States,” she said to a cacophony of honking horns.

“This is not the time to let up,” Harris added. “This is the time to put our feet on the pedal.”

ExplorePHOTOS: Kamala Harris campaigns in Gwinnett County

With just two days until Election Day, Harris left the state with the Democrats' closing message.

“Years from now, our children, our grandchildren and others, they will look in our eyes — each one of us — and they will ask us, ‘Where were you in that moment?’ " she told the crowd — a mix of Black, white, Hispanic and Asian voters in one of Georgia’s most diverse counties. "And what we will tell them is so much more than just how we felt. We will tell them what we did.”

Trump turnout

Trump focused on his core constituency with his visit to Rome, the heart of one of the nation’s most conservative congressional districts. His strategy is to offset Democratic gains in the suburbs by energizing a rural Georgia base that fueled his 2016 victory.

“There are going to be some heads exploding,” Trump said of Tuesday’s vote, predicting that a “great red wave” will wash over the electorate. He said his advisers suggested he not even travel to Georgia because “we have it won."

“Don’t let anything stop you — nothing,” he said.

Thousands showed up hours early for Trump’s rally at an airport on the city’s outskirts. A partylike atmosphere prevailed as supporters chanted “four more years” and waved giant American flags. Few wore masks, fewer practiced social distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Democrats had planned to wave Biden-Harris signs in downtown Rome in advance of the president’s visit, but they canceled the demonstration after learning that a “large militia presence” was expected in the area. Instead, they shifted to a virtual rally where they panned Trump and other Republicans for holding a large-scale rally during the pandemic.

The throngs of Republicans were treated to crowd-pleasing messages from top state officials who implored supporters to make sure their social networks cast their ballots.

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President Donald Trump's supporters packed into an airport in Rome before the president’s arrival for the campaign rally Sunday evening. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

President Donald Trump's supporters packed into an airport in Rome before the president’s arrival for the campaign rally Sunday evening. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

caption arrowCaption
President Donald Trump's supporters packed into an airport in Rome before the president’s arrival for the campaign rally Sunday evening. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who skipped a long-scheduled Channel 2 Action News debate against Ossoff to appear at the rally, said it was “ridiculous” that Biden was even within striking distance.

“What if you had two or three people that work with you and you didn’t ask them to vote and we lose this election?” he asked. “Make sure you don’t leave any vote out there unturned. That’s what we’ve got to do, guys.”