‘Turnout time’: Trump’s Sunday visit highlights Georgia’s close race

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Aiming to keep Georgia in his column, President Donald Trump is preparing to headline a pre-Election Day rally in Rome, the surest sign yet that the once-reliably Republican state is up for grabs.

The visit comes days after Joe Biden trekked to Georgia in a late attempt to score a blowout victory against Trump, whose path to a second term would narrow considerably if he loses the state’s 16 electoral votes. Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris is set to return to Georgia on Sunday as well.

Trump’s 8:30 p.m. rally in Rome Sunday is one of several planned pit stops in battleground states in the final scramble of the race.

The visit to the deeply conservative part of the state — rather than more competitive and more densely populated territory in metro Atlanta — reflects a push to maximize turnout among the Republican base rather than try to reach undecided voters.

“He does have to win a state like Georgia, and that’s why the team that you see today is out working and not taking anything for granted,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at a pro-Trump rally in Morrow.

“It’s past the conversion or the persuasion time. This is turnout time. We don’t have time enough to persuade people now,” said Perdue, a former two-term Georgia governor. “If they need to be persuaded, I’d suggest they Google the Democratic platform and the Republican platform and read the difference.”

Democrats, eager to flip a state that last voted Democratic for president in 1992, saw Trump’s plans as the clearest signal yet that his campaign is on the ropes.

Polls show a deadlocked race in Georgia, and the tight dynamics have forced Trump to visit the state four times since July. In 2016, by contrast, he carried the state by 5 percentage points without a single stop in Georgia during the closing stretch of the race.

“We are witnessing the changing of the South, and Georgia’s the tip of the spear,” Raphael Warnock, the top Democrat challenging U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a special election, said at a campaign stop in Carrollton.

“The fact that the president will be here the Sunday before the election means that he thinks he’s in trouble,” Warnock said.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

‘Trouble’

In the past week, Harris made several stops in metro Atlanta and Biden gave what his campaign referred to as his closing argument in Warm Springs, the tiny Georgia town where former President Franklin Roosevelt had his private retreat.

Sensing a chance to press the advantage, Democrats are urging Harris to return and calling for visits from other party figures, such as former President Barack Obama, in the closing days of the race.

“We are coming into our own. We’ve finally been able to match our demographic promise with economic investment. We’ve seen a trajectory since 2012 that signaled this would happen,” said Stacey Abrams, the party’s 2018 gubernatorial nominee, who has long made a case that Georgia is more competitive than it seemed.

“We were able to push it forward in 2018," she said, "and we know the Trump campaign is in trouble here now.”

The attention is also aimed at helping down-ticket candidates. Georgia’s the only state with two U.S. Senate seats up for grabs, and the outcome could determine control of the Republican-held chamber. Political prognosticators rate each contest as a toss-up — and both could wind up being resolved in Jan. 5 runoffs.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, the incumbent in one of those races, was set to appear Sunday in a debate on Channel 2 WSB-TV against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, but the Republican canceled so he can attend the planned Trump rally.

Rome is one of the largest cities in the 14th Congressional District, which is among the safest Republican territories in the nation. Still, turnout in the region lags behind other parts of the state, particularly stretches of densely populated metro Atlanta.

Local officials encouraged Trump to visit the area even before he called GOP congressional nominee Marjorie Taylor Greene a “future Republican star.” Greene, who faces no Democratic opponent, has gained national attention for support of the baseless pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy.

Layla Shipman, a former Floyd County GOP chairwoman and well-known local activist, said enthusiasm soared as word of Trump’s plans raced through the community.

“What better way to start winding down a successful campaign season than coming to the heart of Trump country and speaking to his loyal supporters here?” Shipman asked.

“If there’s any indication in the way my phone has been blowing up," she said, "it’s going to be a huge crowd.”