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Elizabeth Bradshaw is convinced the Nov. 3 election was rigged — and the Senate runoff will be too if state officials don’t act. She’s less sure whether she’ll vote again in the same system she thinks is corrupt.
“I want to vote,” she said clutching a Trump flag outside the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta on a near-freezing Thursday morning at a “Stop the Steal” event. “But do we want to vote on the same machines that we’re right here protesting against?”
Top Republicans in Georgia and in Washington have kicked into high gear to ensure voters like Bradshaw answer that question in the affirmative. Most of those in doubt aren’t lifelong Republicans — they’re newer voters first energized by Trump.
That makes Trump’s rally Saturday in Valdosta critical for convincing his most loyal supporters that the balance of the Senate depends on them — an argument that implicitly requires conceding he lost the election, which the president has yet to do.
Whether Trump will motivate his supporters to vote or stoke their frustrations with perceived fraud is unknown, though Trump has sent several tweets asking voters to turn out for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. He hasn’t backed down from unfounded claims of voter fraud, releasing a 46-minute diatribe on how the election was stolen from him while citing evidence courts have already debunked and dismissed.
Still, Republicans are praying Trump’s trip to a red county on the Florida border is what hesitant voters need to commit to Perdue and Loeffler, and keep Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock from winning and flipping Senate control.
“If right now they’re not as enthusiastic about going back to the polls, I think the president can turn that around,” said Eric Tanenblatt, a principal at Dentons who served as chief of staff to former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R). “President Trump is going to want these two races staying in Republican hands as his legacy.”
While it’s Democrats who’ve traditionally had trouble turning out voters in Georgia runoffs — and President Barack Obama is appearing at a virtual rally Friday to combat that — it’s all hands on deck to mobilize GOP voters as a growing chorus of Republicans focus their messaging efforts on voters deterred by alleged fraud.
A super PAC helmed by advisers to Donald Trump Jr. dumped nearly $100,000 in the state for ads featuring Trump’s oldest son urging Georgians to vote in the runoff. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted Thursday that “Every Georgia conservative who cares about America MUST vote in the runoff.” And 18 former Georgia Republican leaders penned a letter warning that “without every vote cast” in the general being cast again in the runoff, “the trajectory of our State and Nation will be irreparably altered on January 5th.”
Vice President Mike Pence is returning to the state Friday for a “Defend the Majority” rally with Loeffler and Perdue in Savannah. It’s his second visit in as many weeks.
Behind the scenes, Republicans are targeting what Brian Barrett, the southeast regional political director for Trump Victory, calls “strong Trump supporters” defined as “those that uniquely came out in 2016 and 2020 for the MAGA agenda.”
“We have data points on those individuals, we’re going to have very specific, catered messaging to those people,” Barrett said. “We’re gonna remind them their vote matters and we need their support, the president wants their support.”
Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, said the group is working to sway voters with a mix of empathy for their anger and a focus on the big picture.
“You can feel apathetic and that your vote doesn’t matter, but imagine if everyone thinks that,” she said. “Look what’s exactly at stake if everyone stays at home.”
Of the several dozen protesting alleged election fraud at the “Stop the Steal” rally outside the state Capitol, most of those willing to speak with a reporter said they planned to vote in the runoff election.
“I will never not take advantage of my citizen’s right to vote,” said Julie Allen, who showed up early wearing a pink “Women for Trump” baseball cap and carrying a Trump flag hanging over her shoulder. “That is sacred.”
Paul Stegenga, who stopped by the protest on his way to work, said he’s worried about fraud in the runoff. But, he said, “you gotta vote. You only lose if you don’t vote.”
‘Not Going to Vote’
At another “Stop the Steal” rally in the outer suburbs of Atlanta on Wednesday, state Rep. Vernon Jones — a rare Trump-supporting Democratic lawmaker — urged a packed crowd of several hundred people to vote in the runoff. But after he spoke, Lin Wood, a lawyer at the head of the movement, took the mic back.
“I’m gonna disagree with you,” Wood said. He called on Loeffler and Perdue to urge Gov. Brian Kemp to bring the Georgia legislature back for a special session to investigate alleged election fraud.
“If they do not do it, they have not earned your vote!” Wood told the cheering crowd, in remarks that shook GOP leaders. “Don’t you give it to them!”
Debbie Dooley, a founder of the Tea Party movement in Atlanta, said Republicans are underestimating the anger among the electorate.
“There is a lot more people than I thought there would be who are saying we’re not going to vote,” said Dooley, who plans to vote in the runoff.
She noted Trump’s influence has its limits, citing his endorsement of former Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) in a special election runoff didn’t stop voters from opting for Roy Moore.
At the “Stop the Steal” event outside the Capitol, Keith — who refused to give his last name — said he wouldn’t vote in the runoff.
“In the back of my head, I go, ‘You know, Trump wants me to do that.’ But my position is, ‘Where’s the Republican Party in this?’” he said. “If the Republican party isn’t going to stand up for the voters, they can go to the waste bin of history.”
Wait and See
While their party scrambles to turn out voters, Georgia Republican consultants Chip Lake and Jay Williams said it’s not yet time to panic.
“There will be a point in time where we have to move on from recount and lawsuits and focus 110% of our energies to make sure David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler get elected to the Senate,” Lake said. “But I don’t think that time is now. I think we can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time.”
Williams said the debate over fraud wouldn’t hurt the party until the election gets closer. But he’s confident Republicans will ultimately show up.
“At the end of the day, our people are going to come home,” Williams said. “They will realize what’s at stake.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Atlanta at firstname.lastname@example.org