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Biden rallies Democrats in Georgia Senate runoffs as GOP plays up one-party rule as a danger

With Senate control at stake, Trump and Pence have also visited

As Republican challenges to his presidential victory fell away, Joe Biden traveled to Georgia on Tuesday, where he still had some campaigning to do. 

Speaking at a historic train yard outside Atlanta, Biden urged voters to cast ballots one more time on Jan. 5 for Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who are challenging incumbent Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in two runoff elections.

The elections will decide majority control of the Senate, and the GOP is trying to convince voters who might have backed Biden that one-party rule in Washington would be dangerous. Biden, however, made it clear that he sees the Democrats’ wins as essential to the success of his agenda in Washington, and blamed Loeffler and Perdue for the delay in passing another coronavirus relief package. 

“I need two senators from this state who want to get something done,” Biden said. “Not two senators who are just going to get in the way. Because, look, getting nothing done just hurts Georgia.”

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates both races as Toss-ups, and public polling shows no one had a clear lead.

Biden’s visit is among the first in Georgia from a major Democratic figure since the November election ended with no one in the two Senate races getting more than 50 percent, the threshold to avoid a runoff. 

“As the first Democratic presidential candidate to have carried Georgia in decades, Joe Biden is in a uniquely strong position to make the case to voters about why electing Jon Ossoff and Reverend Warnock to the Senate is critical as our country recovers and rebuilds from this pandemic and economic crisis,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Stewart Boss said in a statement.

Democrats keep social distance

Tuesday’s rally copied the setting the president-elect used through the final months of his campaign, with Biden addressing supporters who watched from parked cars and punctuated his comments with a chorus of honks. 

Other Democrats have, for the most part, limited appearances to virtual events for donors and volunteers, including a Zoom call with former President Barack Obama and a virtual fundraiser with Sen. Elizabeth Warren earlier this month. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who participated in a virtual event with the state’s Democratic Party this week, told CQ Roll Call that he is planning to campaign in Georgia over the weekend. 

Republicans, meanwhile, have fanned out across the state, frequently ignoring recommendations for social distancing in favor of crowded events. 

President Donald Trump held an airport rally in Valdosta on Dec. 5, Vice President Mike Pence has visited and plans to return on Thursday, and a rotating cast of Senate and House members, many of them weighing 2024 presidential bids, have stumped with Perdue and Loeffler throughout the state.

“This is ground zero for control of the Senate,” South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose campaign staff relocated to the state, said at the Capitol last week. 

The discrepancy draws attention to the challenge facing Democrats as they seek to build upon the coalition that made Biden the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state in nearly 30 years. 

The Democrats’ strategy involves drawing out Biden voters who might not have supported Democrats in down-ballot races, along with voters who did not participate in November. 

Republicans hope to energize conservative voters from Trump’s base with a joint campaign that plays upon some of the same culture war messaging that Trump weaponized to win the presidency in 2016. 

They are painting Warnock and Ossoff as radicals aligned with the most progressive members of their party — some of whom also happen to be the Democrats’ biggest national stars — to peel away moderates who might have backed Biden. 

And although neither Perdue nor Loeffler has acknowledged Biden’s victory, they argue that they are the last line of defense against Democratic control in Washington, which only would be true if Harris and not Pence is vice president next year. 

Biden broke GOP streak

Democrats said Biden is well-positioned to make an impact in Georgia.

“It’s not like you have to wonder, ‘Well what do Georgians think about Joe Biden?’ You just got some really good evidence about it,” said Kaine.

Biden’s appearance came the day after the Electoral College confirmed his victory. Hours before his plane landed in Atlanta, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell congratulated him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on the Senate floor. 

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Perdue and Loeffler have yet to acknowledge his victory, but they have nevertheless stuck to the message that they are the last line of defense against Demcocratic majority control in Washington. Biden offered a counterpoint. 

Biden beat Trump by 11,779 votes in Georiga. Perdue beat Ossoff by 88,098 votes. In the 20-candidate special election, six Republicans combined got 47,808 more votes than eight Democrats. Warnock was the top vote-getter in that race, with 1.6 million votes to Loeffler’s 1.3 million.

Biden said that Georgia voters had made it clear that they supported his agenda when they voted for him. Warnock and Ossoff’s elections are key to making sure that he can get his priorities through Congress. 

“There’s nothing beyond our capacity, there’s no limit to America’s future,” he said. “The only thing that could tear America apart is America itself. So let’s choose hope over fear, unity over division, science over fiction. And yes, truth over lies.”

Ossoff made a similar point in remarks before Biden spoke. 

“We need to make sure Joe Biden can pass his agenda because if Mitch McConnell controls the Senate, they’re gonna try to do to Joe and Kamala just like they tried to do to President Obama,” he said. “They will block the COVID relief that we need. They will block the $15 minimum wage. They will block the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act that we need.  They will block affordable health care.“

Republicans, meanwhile, sought to use the Biden visit to double down on their attacks. 

On the morning before Biden’s Georgia appearance, the state Republican Party held a press conference outside the state capitol with three Georgia sheriffs to draw attention to Biden’s comments from a leaked phone conversation with civil rights activists. 

During the call, which was reported by The New York Times, Biden implored the activists to temper their rhetoric surrounding police overhaul until after the January election because it opened Democrats to false attacks that they wanted to “defund the police” when they are actually talking about holding police accountable. 

The Perdue campaign said in a press release that Biden’s comments showed that Democrats, including Ossoff and Warnock, were hiding their true intentions from voters.

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Bridget Bowman and Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.

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