In a sign of how Republicans are on the defense in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign, President Trump is set to make a stop in Georgia, a once reliably Republican state where polling has tightened in a number of key races.
The Peach State hasn’t gone to a Democrat in a presidential race since 1992, and Trump won it by 5 points four years ago, but polling shows it very much up for grabs. The current RealClearPolitics polling average shows Joe Biden with a 0.4 percent lead, after the last three surveys have swung the Democratic nominee’s way. Without Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, Trump’s path to reelection becomes difficult to envision.
Trump is set to visit Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon as he continues a week of campaign events in states he won in 2016 (the previous ones were Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa and North Carolina) that polling shows him in potential danger of losing this time around. In late September he visited Georgia to pitch an economic plan for Black voters, while Vice President Mike Pence spoke at an evangelical political conference. In addition, Trump’s campaign and a pro-Trump super-PAC spent more than $11 million on TV ads in the state last month.
Dissatisfaction with Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is hurting him in the state — which saw a surge in cases over the summer — especially with suburban women, a demographic with whom he is struggling nationally. In a Quinnipiac poll of Georgia released Wednesday, 54 percent of respondents said they disapproved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, 55 percent said the virus was out of control and 59 percent said they did not trust Trump to tell the truth about his health. (The poll showed Biden up 7 points, an outlier from the majority of polls that show a tight race.) Republicans in the state hope to run up margins among white rural voters to help balance what is likely to be a large deficit in and around Atlanta.
Some of the Democratic motivation in the state stems from the 2018 gubernatorial race, which some Democrats believe was stolen by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose office purged hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls before the election and closed polling places in counties with large Black populations. A report released by the ACLU of Georgia claimed that nearly 200,000 voters were wrongly removed. Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams by 55,000 votes.
Since the loss, Abrams’s voting rights group, Fair Fight, has made a push to increase voter registration.
Residents looking to vote early in the state have seen long waits — including over 10 hours on the first day in certain precincts — which officials blamed on the check-in system. Georgians faced similar lengthy delays in June’s primary, spurring calls for reform.
“Georgia voters are excited and setting records every hour — and this is all during a pandemic, lest we forget. … We will have a successful election, keeping all of our voting options accessible in all parts of Georgia, regardless of ZIP code,” Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Wednesday. “Some precincts are more favored than others by voters and they just have longer lines ... [but] everyone will have the opportunity to vote.”
Georgia set a new one-day record for early voting, and when that is combined with returned absentee ballots, over 10 percent of the state’s electorate has already cast a general election vote.
“As angry as we should be about the injustice and the voter suppression that is on display in Georgia, we should be extraordinarily pleased that people are willing to fight back and to make their voices heard, despite the challenges they face,” Abrams said on CNN Tuesday.
Republicans in Georgia are also defending two Senate seats, with Sen. David Perdue up for reelection this cycle and another race to fill out the term of Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired last year. Perdue is defending his seat against Democrat Jon Ossoff, who rose to national prominence at the age of 30 when he narrowly lost a special election for the U.S. House in 2017, which helped him raise $21 million for his Senate race in the third quarter, a record for the state. The polling average gives Perdue a slim lead, although Ossoff has been the leader in a few surveys in a race that’s seen more than $125 million in combined spending. A Libertarian Party candidate in the race could keep both candidates under 50 percent, which would require a runoff between the two top vote getters on Jan. 5, possibly putting control of the Senate in doubt until then.
The other Senate race is far less traditional. Kemp appointed businesswoman Kelly Loeffler to fill the seat late last year, and she has already become embroiled in an insider-trading controversy tied to the coronavirus pandemic. She is a vocal critic of the Black Lives Matter movement in a state that’s one-third Black. She is facing over a dozen challengers to fill the last two years of Isakson’s term. Her most high-profile GOP rival is Rep. Doug Collins, who was one of the president’s most ardent defenders during impeachment and whose race against Loeffler has turned into a contest between who can express the most fervent support for Trump. The president has not made an endorsement in the race.
The top Democratic candidate is the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, who recently earned the endorsement of former President Barack Obama. Democrats — including Abrams, who’s also endorsed Warnock — have urged Matt Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut senator and vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, to drop out of the race to allow support to consolidate behind Warnock, who has topped 40 percent in a pair of recent polls.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report recently shifted Loeffler’s seat from Lean Republican to Toss-Up, which is also the status of the Perdue-Ossoff race. Shortly after the rating change, Loeffler held an event to announce she was being endorsed by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House and an outspoken supporter of the QAnon conspiracy with a history of making extremist remarks. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Collins, who will embark on a “Trump Defender Tour” of the state this weekend, also sought Greene’s endorsement.
Georgia state law requires a candidate to win with at least 50 percent of the vote. If control of the Senate comes down to a runoff for one or both of the seats — a distinct possibility — both parties are certain to mount huge, and hugely expensive, campaigns in the weeks between Nov. 3 and Jan. 5.
There are also two tight House races in the state. In the Sixth District, comprising much of the northern Atlanta suburbs, freshman Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath is looking to hold onto the seat she flipped in the 2018 midterm wave. She’s in a rematch with Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, whom McBath defeated by a single point two years ago. There is also a tight race to fill the open seat of retiring GOP Rep. Rob Woodall, whose Seventh District covers the area northwest of Atlanta, which has come down to Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux (a professor and former state budget director who nearly won the seat in 2018) and Republican Rick McCormick (an emergency room doctor and Marine pilot). Cook currently rates both contests as Lean Democrat.
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