U.S. President Donald Trump traveled to the key southeastern state of Georgia on Saturday to campaign for two Republican senators running against Democratic challengers in the January runoff election that will decide which party controls the Senate, but he mostly repeated his claims of widespread vote fraud.
"You know we won Georgia, just so you understand," Trump told the large crowd gathered for the first post-election rally for the president. Few in the crowd wore masks.
Democrat Joe Biden, a former vice president, unofficially won Georgia by fewer than 12,000 votes out of about 5 million cast, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1992.
Hours before his trip to Georgia, the president called Governor Brian Kemp, urging the fellow Republican to call a special session of the state legislature to get lawmakers to override the vote results and appoint electors who would back him, according to The Washington Post.
The governor refused, according to sources in Georgia and the White House who spoke on condition of anonymity, The Associated Press reported.
The Republican Party needs one more seat to maintain its majority in the U.S. Senate. Republican Senator David Perdue must defeat Jon Ossoff in the January 5 runoff election in Georgia, while Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler must overcome a stiff challenge from Raphael Warnock. If the Republicans lose, resulting in a 50-50 Senate, Democratic Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote.
Trump, a Republican, repeatedly has said without evidence there was widespread fraud in the November election, a claim frequently rejected by federal and state officials.
"They cheated and rigged our presidential election, but we'll still win it. And they are going to try to rig this election, too," Trump told the crowd Saturday night in Valdosta, Georgia.
Trump’s campaign said it filed a lawsuit Friday in Georgia to nullify the November 3 presidential election results in the state. The campaign and its supporters have filed dozens of similar lawsuits in various states, most of which have been rejected. As the campaign filed the lawsuit in Georgia, Trump’s legal battles were defeated in Michigan and Nevada.
The suit in Georgia is the latest legal attempt to reverse Biden’s defeat of Trump. Trump’s campaign said the suit would include sworn statements from Georgia voters claiming fraud. But Georgia election officials, including the state’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, have said several times they have found no evidence of significant irregularities.
Biden’s narrow win in Georgia, where a recount Trump’s campaign requested shows Biden winning by 11,769 votes, means any additional support Trump can garner in the state could increase Perdue’s and Loeffler’s chances of victory.
Some Republicans are concerned Trump’s appearance in Georgia, however, could discourage voter turnout for the runoff.
“Trump’s comments are damaging the Republican brand,” Republican donor Dan Eberhart told The Associated Press. He said Trump is “acting in bad sportsmanship and bad faith” instead of working to maintain Republican control of the Senate.
Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, said Trump’s attacks on the integrity of the state election dampen Perdue’s and Loeffler’s chances of winning the runoff.
“The more Trump talks about the presidential election and gets into criticism of how the election was run here, the bigger a problem that is for the Senate candidates, and the greater likelihood that he could reduce enthusiasm among a segment of the electorate,” Abramowitz said in an interview with Reuters.
But a top adviser to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Josh Holmes, told the AP that Republicans “haven’t seen any evidence of lack of enthusiasm in the Senate races.”
Loeffler and Perdue are walking a fine line on the campaign trail: They warn voters of the dangers of a Democratic Senate majority but will not say Biden won the White House.
They are not alone. The Washington Post contacted all 249 Republicans in the U.S. House and the Senate and reported that only 27 would say Biden won or have called him the president-elect. Two said they considered Trump the winner.
Trump’s visit to Georgia comes one day after California certified Biden’s win in that state, giving him more than the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.
Presidential electors meet in each state on December 14 to cast their votes. On January 6, the newly elected Congress will officially count the electoral votes and formally name the president.