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Pence campaigns in Georgia as Trump casts shadow on runoffs

Vice President Pence on Friday tried to tiptoe around the reality that President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE will be out of office in two months as he made the case for Sens. David PerdueDavid PerdueTrump: 'I'm ashamed that I endorsed' Kemp in Georgia Ossoff warns McConnell would cause paralysis in federal government if GOP holds Senate Collins urges voters to turn out in Georgia runoffs MORE (R-Ga.) and Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout MORE (R-Ga.) ahead of their pivotal runoff elections in January.

Pence traveled to the Peach State for a pair of campaign stops, the first White House foray into Georgia in support of Perdue and Loeffler. But his pitch was complicated by Trump's refusal to concede, which has prevented Republicans from making the case that control of the Senate is on the line in the Georgia runoffs.

The vice president carefully couched his language attempting to get across the urgency of January's vote without outright acknowledging Trump's defeat in the presidential election. The contrast was emphasized by the fact that the Georgia secretary of state was poised to certify Biden as the winner of the state on the same afternoon Pence was visiting.

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"I can tell you, as our election contests continue here in Georgia and in courts across the country, I’ll make you a promise: We’re going to keep fighting until every legal vote is counted," Pence told the crowd in Canto, Ga. "We're going to keep fighting until every illegal vote is thrown out. And whatever the outcome, we will never stop fighting to make America great again."

The Senate that will convene in January currently sits at 50 Republicans and 46 Democrats, plus two Independents who align with the Democratic caucus. Should Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win next month's runoff elections in Georgia, the chamber would be split 50-50 and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Biden's political position is tougher than Trump's MORE would serve as the tie-breaking vote.

GOP strategists have argued that Perdue and Loeffler could strengthen their case by framing their elections as a way to solidify Republican control of the Senate to act as a check on a Biden administration. But the two senators have thus far avoided explicitly making that case, because doing so would be a tacit admission that Trump lost.

The difficulty of their argument was on full display on Friday. As Perdue warmed up the crowd, supporters broke into a chant of "stop the steal," a nod to the unsubstantiated claims that Trump actually won the election and was a victim of widespread voter fraud.

Pence was greeted with chants of "four more years," even as the clock is ticking down on Trump's time in the White House.

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The closest Pence got to acknowledging the stakes of the Senate elections came when he encouraged Georgians to vote early, something Trump himself discouraged during the general election. 

“We need you to do everything in your power to make sure, to just be sure, that your two senators will be there to be a check on the agenda of the radical left," Pence said.

The vice president otherwise praised Trump's foreign policy and domestic accomplishments and spoke broadly about defending the Republican majority in the Senate as a way to ensure GOP priorities.

"For our security, for our prosperity, for our liberties and for life, we need Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler back in a Republican majority in the United States Senate,” Pence said. “We need Georgia to defend the majority on Jan. 5, 2021."

Trump has spent the last two weeks repeating unsubstantiated claims about widespread voter fraud, even as his legal team has failed to produce evidence in court. The president has refused to concede, instead referring to Biden's victory as a "hoax."

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Pence has been more calculated in his language around the election. He has not gone as far as the president in saying it was "stolen," instead offering assurances that every "legal vote" should be counted.

The vice president, who is widely believed to have presidential aspirations of his own, has also kept a low profile since Election Day. He has led coronavirus task force meetings, and he appeared at a White House briefing on Thursday but left without taking questions.

Trump, meanwhile, has been more walled-off. He hasn't taken questions from reporters since Election Day, and his schedule has mostly been devoid of public events. Republican officials are hopeful he will campaign for Perdue and Loeffler to help drive turnout, but it's unclear whether Trump has any plans to do so.

"I think that Donald Trump is greatly loved down here by a lot of voters, and he has strong support," said Ralph Reed, an Atlanta resident and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. "And I certainly hope that he’ll come down here and campaign for Sen. Loeffler and Sen. Perdue."