ATLANTA – On the eve of Georgia’s Senate runoff elections, a senior election official on Monday harshly condemned President Trump for his false allegations of electoral fraud and emotionally appealed to Georgians to ignore the president’s disinformation and voice their ballot papers Tuesday in a race that will determine control of the Senate.
Official, Gabriel Sterling, has ticked off a point-by-point rebuttal of Mr. Trump’s complaints to Joseph R. Biden Jr. about his loss in Georgia, which the president last aired over the weekend in a phone call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger , a Republican. During the conversation, Mr. Trump put Mr. Raffensperger under pressure to “find” votes in order to reverse his general loss of the election.
“I wanted to scream,” said Mr Sterling at an afternoon press conference, referring to his reaction to the call between Mr Trump and Mr Raffensperger. Mr Sterling, the state’s electoral implementation manager, said the president’s allegations of fraud had been “thoroughly exposed”.
“Personally, I thought it was something that was abnormal and out of place, and no one I know who would become president would do that to a secretary of state.”
His sharp reprimand was the most vivid example of how Mr Trump’s ongoing assault on Georgia’s electoral integrity disrupted state policies ahead of Tuesday’s runoff elections. Even as Mr Trump prepared to campaign for Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in northwest Georgia Monday night, party officials feared his baseless allegations of a rigged election would depress voter turnout in their base.
The President and Mr Biden made a last-ditch effort to sway the outcome of the two runoff elections which will not only determine which party will control the Senate, but also the arc of Mr Biden’s political agenda for the first term. If the two Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock both win, the Democrats will control the White House and both houses of Congress.
At his Monday night rally in Dalton, northwest Georgia, Mr Trump recycled his baseless claims that he was a victim of election fraud and vowed to keep fighting. “It was a rigged election but we are still fighting and you will see what will happen,” he said. Mr Trump also called the vote on Tuesday “one of the most important runoff elections in the history of our country” and praised Mr Perdue and Ms. Loeffler.
The Democrats were trying to steal the White House, he told the crowd, so they couldn’t afford to let them steal the Senate.
He reiterated his false claim that he won “by a landslide” and said he hoped Vice President Mike Pence “comes through for us,” a nod to Mr. Pence’s role as Chairman of Congress when he meets at the Mr. Biden certify victory on Wednesday. “He’s a great guy,” he said of Mr. Pence. “Of course, if he doesn’t get through I won’t like him that much.”
When Mr. Biden arrived in Atlanta late Monday afternoon, he made no direct mention of Mr. Trump’s phone call, but slanted criticism of the president’s tactics.
Addressing a few hundred supporters spread out on the hoods and roofs of their cars in a downtown parking lot, Mr Biden said Mr Trump had absorbed a tough lesson in democracy.
“As our opposition friends find out, all power flows from the people,” said the president-elect, adding that politicians cannot “take power”.
Mr. Biden wore a black mask with the word “VOTE” on it and encouraged the Georgian multiracial audience to do just that.
“It’s not an exaggeration, you can change America,” he said.
That was the heart of Mr. Sterling’s message and he begged voters to vote in the elections on Tuesday. “If you are a Georgia voter and would like your values to be reflected by your elected officials, I urge you and encourage you to vote tomorrow,” he said. “Don’t let anyone discourage you. Don’t suppress your own voice yourself. “
Hours before Mr. Trump’s appearance in Dalton, many of his die-hard supporters defended his call to Mr. Raffensperger.
Neal Fitzgibbons, of Kennesaw, said the president just wanted the secretary of state to “really investigate” any irregularities we saw.
Mr. Fitzgibbons cited many of the same debunked claims the President had made.
“Things were questionable, if not downright theft, and should be looked at,” he said.
The visits from Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump have increased the intensity of what has become some of the most expensive Senate competitions in US history. Including the pre-runoff campaign, more than $ 469 million was spent on the Perdue-Ossoff competition and more than $ 362 million was spent on the Loeffler-Warnock race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
As throughout the race, Republicans continued to warn on Monday of a terrible slide into radical left-wing socialism if the Democrats take control of Congress and the White House.
And the Democrats argue that Mr. Trump wanted nothing less than to undo the will of the electorate and undermine democracy with his appeal to Mr. Raffensperger.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Pence reinforced the Republican embassy on a visit to a mega-church in the town of Milner, central Georgia.
Mr. Pence stood in front of a picture of an American flag and two screens that read, “DEFEND THE MAJORITY”. He said, “We need Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to stand in the way of the radical left agenda in Washington, DC.” as the crowd broke in with chants of “Four More Years” and “Stop the Steal”.
Mr. Pence made no mention of the President’s call to Mr. Raffensperger on Saturday, first reported by the Washington Post. A number of legal scholars said the president may have violated state and local laws, though they also said prosecution was unlikely.
Still, Georgia election officials received at least two formal calls on Monday to investigate whether Mr. Trump had broken the state’s law.
During an appearance on Monday in Conyers, a suburb east of Atlanta, Mr. Ossoff, the head of a video production company challenging Mr. Perdue, attempted to draw parallels between Mr. Trump’s phone call and Georgia’s long history of voter suppression.
“The President of the United States on the phone is trying to intimidate Georgia’s election officials into casting their votes,” Ossoff told a gathering of volunteers preparing for the acquisition. “Let’s send a message: Don’t come to Georgia and try to mess with our voting rights.”
Among ordinary Democrats, the president’s call only added to their anger and desire to oust the senators who have so closely allied with Mr. Trump.
Hillary Drummond Simpson, a retired elementary and middle school teacher, said she was puzzled by the support the president still had. “I don’t get it,” she said. “I don’t understand what you’re looking for in a guide.”
Verdaillia Turner, who was in Conyers to help with the acquisition, said she thinks the president’s tactics with strong arms could help Democrats build momentum. “It’s like a perfect, beautiful storm and all eyes are on us,” said Ms. Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers.
Ms. Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman who opposes Mr. Warnock, turned down questions about Mr. Trump and his phone call as she campaigned for the state across the state before going to see the president Monday night. “My only focus is tomorrow, January 5th,” she said at an airport in the Atlanta area.
At the rally on Monday evening and earlier in one Tweet, Ms. Loeffler said she would join the dozen US Senators on Wednesday to vote against confirming the election results granting Mr Biden’s victory.
Mr Perdue, who has been quarantined for possible exposure to the coronavirus, appeared on a Fox News broadcast on Sunday night saying he did not think the president’s printing campaign on Mr Raffensperger would affect the election.
Mr. Perdue blamed Mr. Raffensperger for the leaked recording of the hour-long conversation.
He also defended Mr Trump’s allegations of election fraud. “What the president said is exactly what he has said for the past few months and that is, over the past two months we had some irregularities in the November elections and he wants some answers.” He has not yet received it from the State Secretary. “
Although Georgia has had a number of issues conducting elections recently, with long lines, delayed results and technical glitches, some election officials expressed confidence that Tuesday’s elections would go smoothly.
Fulton County officials said 370,000 ballots had already been cast there. Fulton County’s polling officer Richard Barron made no explicit mention of Mr. Trump and referred to an “audio recording late yesterday” that mentioned Fulton County more than a dozen times.
In the tape, Mr. Trump made a number of allegations of election fraud by Fulton County, including what he called a “ballot”. Mr. Raffensperger’s office said these allegations had been investigated and dismissed as unfounded.
“There was a lot of misinformation,” said Barron. “We don’t have the resources to respond to each and every one of them. And we have focused on preparing for tomorrow and holding the elections legally and fairly.”
At his press conference, Mr. Sterling went through for some time going over numerous individual false allegations made by the President or his lawyers. They alleged that in Georgia thousands of votes were cast by people under the age of 18 who were not registered to vote, were delayed or registered in a PO Box in lieu of a residential address. The secretary of state investigated the allegations, Sterling said, and found not a single ballot paper cast by anyone in any of those categories.
He added that Mr. Raffensperger does not have a brother named Ron who works for a Chinese tech company, as one of the conspiracies retweeted by the president claims.
In fact, said Mr. Sterling, Mr. Raffensperger has no brother named Ron at all.
Richard Fausset and Rick Rojas reports from Atlanta, and Maggie Astor from New York. The coverage was contributed by Astead W. Herndon by Dalton, Ga. and Stephanie Saul and Shane Goldmacher from New York.