The Memo: Trump imperils GOP’s chances in Georgia
President Trump’s inflammatory words and actions risk ruining his party’s chances of holding on to control of the Senate on Tuesday.
Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) are in extremely close battles against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively. Polling has been sparse and mostly shows both races within the margin of error.
The key question is whether the kind of anti-Trump vote that saw the president become the first Republican to lose Georgia since 1992 will carry over to the Senate races — or whether the state will return to its GOP-leaning default.
Trump performed notably poorly in suburban areas around Atlanta such as Cobb County and Gwinnett County. The results there will be critical in Tuesday’s races.
“Are they going to be able to come back for the Republicans because they are OK with other Republicans who are not Trump? Or are they now turned off even more because of Trump?” asked Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University, referring to centrist suburban voters. “I can’t believe these latest antics are helping him any.”
Sunday’s revelation of Trump’s phone call a day earlier with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) — in which he harangued Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to make him the winner — has given added motivation to Democrats.
Some Republicans are worried that Trump’s constant accusations that the presidential election in Georgia was rigged could also adversely affect turnout among his supporters.
Republican strategist Ryan Williams said Trump has been a “hindrance” to Perdue’s and Loeffler’s chances.
Williams noted that, despite Trump’s loss at the presidential level, Georgia remains a “slightly reddish” state where, all else being equal, Republicans would be favored.
“Trump lost at the presidential level for the first time since the early ’90s because he alienated suburban, Republican-leaning voters and motivated Democratic voters to turn out in bigger numbers than they usually do,” Williams said. “Trump’s antics over the past several weeks have ensured Democratic voters continue to be engaged and outraged and have a higher likelihood of turning out on Election Day.”
Loeffler in particular has hewed close to Trump, including backing up his attempts to cast aspersions on the conduct of the presidential election.
Some observers in the state suggest Perdue has sought to preserve some degree of distance from the president. Loeffler was expected to attend Trump’s eve-of-election rally in the state on Monday evening. Perdue will likely stay away because he is quarantining after having been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
“The focus of the runoff should be on Warnock and Ossoff’s liberal record,” said Williams. “Instead, it has been on Donald Trump’s effort to disenfranchise voters and overturn the election outcome. That is not a good scenario for incumbent Republican senators to have.”
The national stakes are clear. President-elect Joe Biden visited the state for his own rally earlier Monday. Republicans only need to hold one of the two seats to keep control of the Senate. But if Democrats take both, the upper chamber would be split 50-50. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will hold the potentially tie-breaking vote in the Senate in that scenario once she and Biden are inaugurated on Jan. 20.
Huge sums of money have surged into Georgia. By mid-December, according to Open Secrets, Ossoff and Warnock had each raised more than $120 million, while Loeffler and Perdue had each raised about $90 million.
Democrats, buoyed by Biden’s victory in November and by record early voting numbers in the Senate runoffs, believe they have a real chance — in part because Trump’s behavior continues to fire up their voters, even though he is not on the ballot on Tuesday.
“Every time this president or one of the Republican senators who are running for election says or does anything that indicates to voters, ‘We don’t want to respect your vote,’ that absolutely helps our folks,” said Democratic strategist Abigail Collazo, who is also an adviser to the New Georgia Project. “It makes people think, ‘We need to be even louder with our voices.’ It absolutely is going to help turnout.”
But Collazo said that although she believed the elections looked “very promising” for the party, she stressed that “there is no Democrat in the state who can afford to sit back and relax right now.”
Several sources who spoke to The Hill argued that, even though the races are effectively a toss-up, it seemed likely that the two seats could go to one party, rather than being split 1-1.
They cited the increasingly nationalized nature of the runoffs as well as the long shadow cast by Trump as two factors fueling that prediction.
It is, of course, entirely possible that the GOP will retain both seats. The party’s performance in Senate and House elections in November was better than many polls and pundits had predicted. And Trump remains, as ever, a wild card.
“With the president, we never know exactly how people are going to respond,” said political analyst Atiba Madyun.
Madyun, a onetime registered Republican-turned-independent, has helped raise money for Warnock in this election. Trump, he cautioned, “has a way of riling up people’s emotions.”
Still, even independent experts such as Abramowitz, the Emory professor, argued there is a real chance of Trump hurting his own party.
“If he is attacking the election apparatus in Georgia as corrupt and claiming he was robbed, then the message to Republican voters is pretty ambiguous as far as whether it is worth voting,” he said.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.