CUMMING — The hotly contested U.S. Senate runoff races in Georgia got off to a bang this week with packed campaign rallies, new attack ads swarming local television airwaves and visits from both of Florida’s senators.
Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida campaigned with Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on Friday, energizing conservatives at a Forsyth County restaurant just days after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio did the same in Cobb County.
Like Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, Perdue and Loeffler have linked their campaigns ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections in a bid to drive up Republican voter turnout in a state set for a flood of outside dollars and big-name politicians.
“If I win, she wins,” Perdue said at Friday’s rally. “If she wins, I win.”
As the Republican senators stumped for votes in metro Atlanta, Perdue opponent Ossoff criss-crossed the state from Savannah to Columbus this week to maintain voter momentum after the Nov. 3 general election saw Georgia flip to the Democratic presidential nominee for the first time since 1992.
Ossoff, who owns an investigative journalism company, and Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, have focused their campaigns on health-care issues and on contrasting their backgrounds with Perdue and Loeffler, who are both wealthy businesspersons.
“This race is about who you think best represents you,” Warnock said in a new ad released this week. “If you’re looking for a billionaire, I’m not your guy.”
Warnock and Ossoff are both fending off intense attacks as their Republican opponents try to paint the Democratic duo’s policies as too extreme – in a word, “socialist” – for Georgia voters.
Warnock, in particular, is battling attacks from Loeffler that highlight the Atlanta pastor’s past comments criticizing certain law enforcement members and his past involvement with a New York church that hosted Cuba’s Fidel Castro in 1995.
Warnock’s and Ossoff’s campaigns have brushed off those and similar attacks as distractions and diversion tactics meant to stir passions in conservative Georgia voters, while the Democratic candidates continue homing in on issues like health insurance, criminal justice reform and the national COVID-19 response.
The TV ads and campaign stops look to ramp up in the coming weeks with control of the Senate hanging in the balance. Wins for both Ossoff and Warnock would likely tip the Senate in Democrats’ favor along with control of the U.S. House and the presidency, clearing the way for President-elect Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers to enact their priorities with little resistance for at least the next two years.
Republican leaders and groups are marshaling forces in a push to lock down the Senate and keep the Democrat-controlled House and the incoming Biden administration in check. Speaking after Friday’s rally, Florida’s Scott said he’s confident Republicans will turn out the vote for the Perdue-Loeffler ticket on Jan. 5 despite the Democratic voter surge that flipped Georgia for Biden last week.
“You’ve just got to get your votes out,” Scott said. “We did it in Florida, and I know we’re going to do it in Georgia.”
Aiming to invigorate conservative voter enthusiasm even more, Scott and other Republican leaders have echoed President Donald Trump in questioning the results of last week’s presidential election and calling for investigations into ballots cast in states with tight races like Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
State election officials across the country from both political parties including Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, have said they’ve found no evidence so far of ballot-casting fraud as Trump and his allies have alleged since last week.
Even so, Raffensperger has warned people from outside Georgia not to relocate to the state with the sole intent to register and cast ballots in the Jan. 5 runoffs, which would be a felony. His warning came on Friday as Georgia launched a statewide hand recount of the nearly 5 million votes in the presidential election. The state’s 159 county elections boards have through Wednesday to wrap up the recount.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders have shown similar confidence as Republicans in their prospects for mustering supporters for another big election turnout on Jan. 5, buoyed again by a massive vote-by-mail effort that drove turnout for the presidential election amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Notably, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams – who has been widely credited with playing a major role in boosting Democratic turnout this election cycle – has stayed in the national media spotlight over the past week as she seeks to drum up donations for Warnock and Ossoff and inspire another round of huge mail-in voting.
“We have seen what’s possible when we work hard and when we work together,” Abrams said in a recent Twitter video. “We know we can win Georgia. Now, let’s get it done.”
Early voting for the Senate runoff elections starts Dec. 14. The deadline for Georgia voters to register for the runoffs is Dec. 7.