NORCROSS, Ga. — The biggest lines of applause in Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s stump speech aren’t about Ms. Loeffler at all.
When the crowd is most engaged, including Thursday morning at a community lodge in suburban Atlanta, Ms. Loeffler invokes President Trump or attacks her Democratic opponents as socialists and Marxists. His own political platforms are rarely mentioned.
“Are you ready to continue to fight for President Trump and show America that Georgia is a red state? Ms. Loeffler said when she took the microphone. “We are the firewall to stop socialism and we have to hold the line.”
These are the themes of the closing arguments of the all-important Georgia Senate second round, which reflected the partisanship and polarization of the national political environment. Mrs Loeffler and her colleague from the Senate, David Perdueseek to incentivize a conservative base that is still loyal to Mr. Trump while picking up some of the defectors who helped deliver Georgia to a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1992.
Democrats are eager to prove that Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory over President Trump in Georgia was more than a fluke, and that the state is ready to embrace their party’s more progressive policy agenda instead. than an anti-Trumpness alone.
But the race is also emblematic of the current political messages of each party. Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Raphael Warnock, the Democratic Senate candidates, have presented a series of policy proposals that mix the common priorities of the moderate center and the progressive left: pass a new voting rights law, expand Medicaid without supporting a single-payer system, investment in clean energy while stopping before the Green New Deal, and criminal justice reform that does not include defunding the police.
Republicans do not seek such calibration. Mr Perdue, who announced on Thursday he would be quarantined after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus, and Ms Loeffler believe their loyalists are driven more by what their candidates oppose than what they defend. .
There are signs that this approach has resonated with many Republican voters. At Ms. Loeffler’s event in Norcross, and later at a New Year’s concert in Gainesville, voters said their top priorities were supporting Mr. Trump and his voter fraud allegations and fending off excesses perceived by the Liberals and their candidates.
“The biggest factor for me is stopping socialism,” said Melinda Weeks, a 62-year-old voter who lives in Gwinnett County. “I don’t want to see our country become the Chinese Communist Party.”
John Wright, 64, said he was voting for Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue but thinks Republicans need to do a better job of reaching out to minority voters. He cited the racial makeup shift that has continued in Georgia and fueled Democrats’ chances of winning seats statewide.
“Republicans need to figure out how to help these people, how to reach them,” Wright said. “These demographics are changing, and you can’t just introduce the American Dream to people who couldn’t achieve the American Dream.”
The statewide jockey comes at a tumultuous time in Georgian politics, as Mr Trump continues to upend the Senate races with his baseless accusations of voter fraud, his persistent attacks on the governor and the secretary state Republicans and his explosive tweets regarding the coronavirus relief package.
In the past month alone, Mr Trump has called on Governor Brian Kemp to resign, accused Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of having a brother in league with the Chinese government (Mr Raffensperger has no brother) , threatened to veto the pandemic relief package, sided with Democrats on the need for bigger stimulus checks and claimed Georgia Republicans were “fools” who were virtually controlled by Stacey Abrams and the Democrats.
Mr. Trump is due to travel to northwest Georgia on Monday, just a day before Election Day. The appearance underscores the complicated relationship Republicans currently have with the incumbent president, according to party operatives and Republican caucus members in the state. They need Mr. Trump to motivate the base, while he remains a source of tension that has put Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler under significant pressure in the playoffs.
Trump “delivers kind of a mixed message,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. “Because if you look at the rally he held in Valdosta, the first time he came he spent more time airing his own grievances about the presidential election and saying he had was cheated out of the win that he didn’t really support Loeffler or Purdue.. He endorsed them, but he didn’t seem as concerned about those races as he was about trying to get the presidential race going again.
Charles. S. Bullock III, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, said the crucial question surrounding Mr. Trump’s rally is: “Will this convince some people who have so far said that weren’t going to vote?
Democrats, he said, seemed to have done a better job of getting people to the polls for early voting, which ended in some places Thursday. “So it would be the last moment – a last-ditch effort to bring people who were sitting on the sidelines,” Mr Bullock said.
Democratic candidates spent New Year’s Eve targeting voters representing their base: young voters, Atlanta-area minority voters and liberal stalwarts. Mr. Ossoff was scheduled to speak at two virtual “Watch Night” services, the New Year’s Eve tradition that dates back to 1862, when freed black Americans living in the states of the Union gathered in anticipation of the proclamation. of emancipation.
Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock have several drive-in rallies planned from Friday through Election Day, including separate events with Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
More than three million people have already voted in the races. So far, the distribution of votes has boosted Democratic hopes: Population centers such as Fulton and DeKalb counties in metro Atlanta are showing extremely high turnout rates, and the percentage of black voters continues to exceed the levels of the presidential election.
Videos of nearly four-hour-long voting lines in Cobb County have angered some liberal and suffrage groups who say it was a failure by state and local leaders. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent two letters to Mr. Raffensperger, the state’s top election official, who warned that an increase in polling places in the county was needed to cope with increased turnout.
Republicans believe many of their supporters are waiting until Jan. 5 to vote in person. Across the country in November, Republicans saw strong in-person voter turnout wipe out Democratic tracks in states like Florida and Texas. Republicans may also be particularly keen to vote in person this time, given widespread fears of voter fraud that Mr. Trump has instilled in his base since his loss.
The announcement that Mr. Perdue would be temporarily off the campaign trail in the final days of the race surprised some Republicans, who had been preparing for Mr. Trump’s visit on Monday. Mr Perdue still hopes he will attend the rally with the President, according to a person familiar with the campaign, considering he has not tested positive for the virus and has several days to test negative before the election. ‘event.
Even before Thursday, when his campaign revealed the exposure to the virus, Mr. Perdue had held fewer public events than Ms. Loeffler or their Democratic opponents. The campaign did not provide an exact timeline for Mr. Perdue’s return to public events.
“The senator and his wife have been tested regularly throughout the campaign, and the team will continue to follow CDC guidelines,” a statement read.
At the New Year’s Eve concert in Gainesville on Thursday, hosted by the campaigns of the two Republican senators, Mr. Perdue’s absence was not acknowledged. Instead, speakers used Mr. Trump’s scheduled appearance on Monday as a hook: Go vote on Tuesday after watching the president the day before.
Ms. Loeffler was joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who stressed that participation in the North was crucial to overcoming Democratic enthusiasm in urban centers.
“It’s the part of the state that goes up the score to neutralize Atlanta, you understand?” he said. “If the Republicans win, I’m the budget chair. If we lose Georgia, Bernie Sanders will be the budget chairman.
He left no room for subtext. A vote for Republicans in Georgia, Graham said, was a vote to ensure the Democrats could push a small part of their agenda through Washington.
“Anything that comes out of Pelosi’s house, he’ll come to the Senate and we’ll kill him,” he said, as the crowd roared in approval.
“If you’re conservative and that doesn’t motivate you to vote, then you’re legally dead.”