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Republicans scramble to shore up support in Ga. as Democrats gain

Republicans are scrambling to shore up their conservative base in Georgia amid rising fears within the party that the state’s status as a GOP stronghold is at risk of slipping away.

The concerns are not limited to President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE’s own electoral prospects in Georgia, where polls show Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE with a slight lead. The state also has two Republican-held Senate seats on the line this year, and recent polling shows the Democratic candidates in those races gaining ground.

In a nod to the sense of urgency in the Peach State, Trump traveled to Macon, Ga., on Friday evening to rally his most ardent supporters ahead of Election Day.

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While that event was touted by the president’s supporters as a show of enthusiasm for his campaign, it also raised questions about Trump’s standing in a state that hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that Georgia’s a competitive state, but this isn’t where you want to be as a Republican this close to the election,” said one GOP strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the race candidly.

Trump carried Georgia by 5 points in 2016, but some recent polls show Biden taking the lead in the state. The FiveThirtyEight polling average of Georgia currently shows the former vice president leading Trump by less than 1 point.

At the same time, Democratic gains among suburban voters and moderates in recent years have forced Trump and other Republicans to rely more heavily on base support from conservative white voters, who make up a shrinking share of Georgia’s rapidly changing electorate.

A New York Times-Siena College poll released Tuesday showed Trump and Biden knotted at 45 percent. But the survey also showed Trump’s lead among white college graduates shrinking to 12 percentage points. By comparison, he won those voters in 2016 by 41 points, according to exit polls.

Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerHouse Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races Ossoff, Warnock to knock on doors in runoff campaigns Record number of ballots requested in Georgia runoff election MORE (R-Ga.), who was appointed to her seat last year and will face voters for the first time in November, has lurched to the right as she competes with Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsMajority say they want GOP in control of Senate: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Georgia secretary of state says wife has received threatening texts about recount MORE (R-Ga.) for the support of Georgia’s most conservative voters. Because it’s a special election, all candidates regardless of party will be on the ballot, and the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff in January if none of them gets above the 50 percent threshold.

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Loeffler touted the endorsement last week of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the GOP candidate to represent Georgia’s 14th Congressional District who has drawn criticism from Democrats and some Republicans for her embrace of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The race for the title of conservative standard-bearer was also on display at a Senate debate Monday night, in which Loeffler and Collins argued over their records in Washington and sought to cast themselves as more conservative than the other. Asked at one point to name something that she disagreed with Trump on, Loeffler flatly refused.

“No,” she said. “I am proud to be the only U.S. senator with a 100 percent voting record with President Trump.”

Georgia’s other senator, David Perdue (R), is facing a tough challenge of his own from Democrat Jon Ossoff, an investigative journalist who narrowly lost a special election for a suburban Atlanta House seat in 2017.

Recent polling shows a tight race between Perdue and Ossoff. A survey from Emerson College out this week found Perdue ahead by only 2 points, while a Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Ossoff up by 6 points.

Perdue has also hitched himself closely to Trump throughout his reelection bid. He appeared alongside the president at the Macon rally Friday, where he repeatedly mispronounced the name of Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Biden: 'Difficult decision' to staff administration with House, Senate members Ossoff, Warnock to knock on doors in runoff campaigns MORE and set off a storm of criticism from Democrats in the process. Perdue’s campaign has said that the mispronunciation was not intentional.

Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the top Democrat challenging Loeffler for her seat, are both coming off strong fundraising quarters. Ossoff’s campaign pulled in about $21.3 million from July 1 to Sept. 30, while Warnock raised $12.9 million in the same period.

By comparison, Perdue raised just shy of $5.6 million, while Collins raised about $2.3 million. Loeffler, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, pulled in about $2 million in contributions in the third quarter of the year but injected $5 million of her own money into her campaign.

The New York Times-Siena College poll released Tuesday showed Warnock leading Loeffler 32 to 23 percent, with Collins trailing in third place at 17 percent. Ossoff and Perdue, meanwhile, are now tied at 43 percent support.

Georgia has emerged as the epicenter of Democrats’ efforts to contest the GOP’s decades-long dominance in the South. The state has seen an influx of new residents flock to the Atlanta area in recent years, and white voters’ share of the electorate has dropped by 10 points over the past two decades.

Democrats nearly won a statewide victory in 2018, when Stacey Abrams came within 1.4 percentage points of winning the governor’s mansion. Since then, the party has ramped up its organizing efforts in Georgia, believing that the state is on the cusp of a political sea change.

Voters in Georgia are already casting ballots in record numbers. As of noon Tuesday, more than 1.7 million ballots had been cast, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office.

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Chuck Clay, a former minority leader in the Georgia state Senate and state GOP chair, said he isn’t surprised that Georgia’s statewide races have tightened as much as they have, given its shifting political landscape. He predicted that Trump will still win the state in November but said that Republicans would not “see a 60-40 split on key races in Georgia again.”

“The first obvious conclusion is the state is in play,” Clay said. “It’s not an aberration. Those who have been watching the numbers for 25 years knew this was coming. I don’t know that the sky is falling just yet, but the fog is rolling in.”

Clay said that the last-minute effort by Trump and the GOP Senate candidates to galvanize Georgia’s most conservative voters made sense, especially for Loeffler, who is juggling the equivalent of a primary challenge from Collins and a general election challenge from Warnock.

“If you look at who the base vote is, it’s conservative, it’s not moderate,” Clay said. “The hard lesson is, in a primary, trying to be the honest broker in the middle gets you nowhere but a ticket home.”

But Democrats have also seized on the Republicans’ race to the right in an effort to win over moderate voters who have drifted away from the GOP under Trump.

While Loeffler and Collins have fought for months for the support of conservative voters, Warnock has aired a steady series of biographical and positive ads, including one on Tuesday featuring former President Obama, still one of the most influential Democrats in the country.

Ossoff, meanwhile, has seized on Perdue’s mispronunciation of Harris’s name to rally the support of Democrats. He announced Sunday that his campaign had raised $1.8 million in the days following Perdue’s appearance at the Trump rally, and on Tuesday, he joined other state Democratic leaders at a press conference to condemn the senator’s remarks.

“David Perdue has resorted to schoolyard insults, bullying, mocking his political opponents for their names and their heritage at a moment when we need unity,” Ossoff told reporters, saying that Perdue had wasted “his office and his platform to divide us.”