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Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia

President TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE and President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenKaty Perry and her 'Firework' close out inauguration TV special Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Tom Hanks: After years of 'troubling rancor,' Inauguration Day 'is about witnessing the permanence of our American ideal' MORE will travel to Georgia on Monday, making one final push in the state’s U.S. Senate runoffs that will decide which party controls the upper chamber for the next two years.

Trump’s trip to Georgia is a high risk, high reward proposition for Republicans in the state.

Republicans fear his repeated complaints about the presidential election, which he’s likely to make again during the trip, threaten to depress GOP turnout, but party strategists acknowledge that his presence is necessary to generate enthusiasm to get his base to the polls.

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Sens. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerDemocrats swear in three senators to gain majority Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader Justice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr without charges MORE (R-Ga.) and David PerdueDavid PerdueDemocrats swear in three senators to gain majority Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader Warnock, Ossoff to be sworn into Senate Wednesday afternoon MORE (R-Ga.) have hitched their fortunes to Trump, but he has put them in a bind at times, briefly throwing into doubt the fate of an economic relief bill the two had touted and consistently questioning the legitimacy of Georgia’s elections.

“There’s not a lot of room for error here, so talking about fraudulent elections won’t encourage Republicans to turn out,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser and a Georgia native. “At worst, we’re sending mixed messages.”

If Democrats win both Senate races, they will control the Senate, giving the incoming Biden administration a much bigger advantage in setting an agenda. It would be a huge disappointment to Republicans if they were to lose the Senate.

“The base has to turn out, and Republicans need moderates to go their way,” added Eberhart, the CEO of Canary, LLC. “It’s a simple message about the benefits of a divided government keeping a check on executive power. That’s what wins Georgia and keeps control of the Senate. I’m not sure that’s the message that is being delivered. At least not consistently.”

“Saying that Georgia elections are filled with fraud is not likely to be a great motivator to get Republican voters to come back out,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “On the other hand, if President Trump can turn out massive numbers of his supporters, then it will obviously help the senators.”

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisKaty Perry and her 'Firework' close out inauguration TV special Biden's first foreign leader call to be with Canada's Trudeau on Friday Harris now 'the most influential woman' in American politics MORE have each made one trip so far to Georgia prior to appearances just before election day, and former President Obama held a virtual rally for Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

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Republicans have tried to frame the runoffs as a referendum on Trump’s legacy and the ability to put a check on a Biden administration. Trump’s last-minute rally will take place in Dalton, a city in northwest Georgia that is a key area for GOP turnout on Election Day.

Trump at the one earlier Georgia rally he has held to back the GOP Senate candidates spent much of his time airing grievances about the presidential election he claims was “stolen” from him.

Perdue beat Ossoff in their Nov. 3 election, but the incumbent fell just short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Warnock beat Loeffler in their Senate race, but the GOP senator was hampered by a primary challenge from Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsDrudge congratulates Warnock, says Ann Coulter should have been GOP candidate Warnock defeats Loeffler in Georgia Senate runoff Warnock says he needs to win 'by comfortable margin' because 'funny things go on' MORE (R-Ga.).

Limited polling has shown a tight race between both Perdue and Ossoff and Loeffler and Warnock, with both sides emphasizing the stakes of the runoffs to drive turnout. If Republicans win one or both seats, they will maintain the Senate majority. If Democrats win both races, each party will hold 50 seats in the upper chamber, with Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.

Nearly 3 million voters cast ballots during the early voting period, which ended on New Year’s Eve. The total broke previous records for early voting, with Republicans in particular expecting another wave of voters to show up at the polls on Tuesday.

Almost 90,000 voters who did not participate in the November election have already cast ballots for the runoffs, according to TargetSmart Consulting, a Democratic data analytics firm. And about 75,000 people have registered to vote in the weeks after Biden narrowly carried Georgia’s electoral votes.

But strategists say little can be gleaned from the data thus far. Georgia does not register voters by party and the data does not show for whom individuals cast their ballots. 

Georgia political strategist Fred Hicks, who has worked with members of both parties, said that the early data showed the electorate to be more diverse, which would favor the Democrats, but also older, which would favor Republicans. 

“It is pretty much neck and neck,” Hicks said. 

Ayres said that the dearth of public polling makes it impossible to predict who will ultimately come out ahead, but he noted that past runoff elections have favored Republican candidates in the state of Georgia. He pointed to the victories of GOP candidates Paul Coverdell in 1992 and Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLive coverage: Georgia Senate runoffs Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia Ex-GOP senator from Georgia suffers mild stroke: report MORE in 2002. 

“In the past, Republicans have been better at getting their voters to return to runoffs than Democrats have,” Ayres said. “But there are a lot of different variables this time than there have been before.”

Perhaps the biggest variable is Trump. He is not on the ballot this time, which could depress turnout both among his supporters and among Democrats who were eager to vote against him in November.

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Trump has been largely out of public sight since his election loss, leaving the White House to golf on the weekends and for a weeklong stay at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. 

The New York Times reported that he had tentatively planned to hold a rally in Georgia last month but decided not to as he raged against Gov. Brian KempBrian KempGeorgia House to consider replacing Confederate statue with statue of John Lewis Republicans eye primaries in impeachment vote Trump's legacy is discord and division MORE and secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, who are both Republicans. Trump last week called on Kemp to resign, something the governor shrugged off as a “distraction.”

The Washington Post on Sunday published audio of an extraordinary phone conversation the day prior in which Trump pressured Raffensperger to find enough votes to overturn Biden's victory in the Peach State, at times using threatening and vague language. 

Vice President Pence has made four separate trips to Georgia to rally alongside Loeffler and Perdue, and Donald Trump Jr. has boosted both candidates. Pence will make a fifth trip to Milner, Ga., also on Monday. 

Harris campaigned for Ossoff and Warnock on Sunday, while Biden will make his second trip to Georgia on Monday to rally for the candidates. While Biden is the leader of the party and narrowly won the state in November, strategists say he does not animate voters in the same way Trump does.

Democrats believe that Trump’s rhetoric, as well as the drama he has spurred as a result of his push for $2,000 stimulus checks and momentarily threatening of the stimulus bill, may ultimately aid Ossoff and Warnock to victory. 

“I, for one, can only hope that Trump supporters continue to call on Republican voters to boycott the special election,” said Jim Manley, Democratic strategist and former top aide to Senate  Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSchumer becomes new Senate majority leader Biden faces tall order in uniting polarized nation Senators vet Mayorkas to take lead at DHS MORE (D-Nev.). “The messaging out of this is absolutely bizarre and who knows what Trump is going to say.” 

“Based on everything we see, he’s not going to change. He’s a man spiraling out of control which leads me to ask, why he is going down there in the first place,” Manley said of Trump’s rhetoric.