Friday, 27 Nov 2020

Dems, GOP launch opening salvos of Georgia’s twin Senate runoff campaign

ATLANTA (AP) — Jon Ossoff took the stage in Columbus and looked out over a parking lot filled with cars, with supporters blaring their horns in approval as he declared that “change has come to Georgia.”

Hours earlier, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler stepped to a microphone in suburban Atlanta and addressed hundreds of eager supporters packed into the Cobb County GOP headquarters. The freshman senator and her Florida colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio, stirred the crowd with their insistence that the change offered by Ossoff and his fellow Democratic Senate hopeful Raphael Warnock means “radical elements” would control Washington.

Those opening salvos of Georgia’s twin Senate runoff campaign — Ossoff looking to unseat Republican Sen. David Perdue and Warnock facing off with Loeffler — showcase starkly different approaches the two parties are taking to the unusual circumstances that make this newfound two-party battleground the epicenter of a national battle for control of the Senate.

Both sides are playing to core supporters, the most reliable voters among the 5 million who split their ballots roughly evenly between the two parties in the first round. But for Democrats, it’s seemingly a more piecemeal, voter-by-voter approach, while Republicans are pushing a broad branding message through mass media. Whichever strategy proves more effective on Jan. 5 will help determine the ambitions and reach of President-elect Joe Biden’s tenure depending on which party ultimate controls the chamber.

15 PHOTOSU.S. Senate run-offs in GeorgiaSee GalleryU.S. Senate run-offs in GeorgiaGeorgia Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Jon Ossoff rallies supporters for a run-off against Republican candidate Sen. David Perdue, as they meet in Grant Park, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Jon Ossoff speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, in Atlanta. He is facing Republican Sen. David Perdue, a top Trump ally, in a Jan. 5, 2021 runoff. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)Georgia Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Jon Ossoff rallies supporters for a run-off against Republican candidate Sen. David Perdue, as he poses for photos with them in Grant Park, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)ATLANTA,GA- NOVEMBER 03: Sonny Perdue speaks to supporters of the Republican incumbent candidate Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) at an Election Day event hosted by the Georgia Republican Party on November 3, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Perdue is in a tight race against Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, who narrowly lost a 2017 Georgia congressional race in a district Democrats flipped the following year. Georgia’s other Senate seat is also up for grabs, pitting the Rev. Raphael Warnock and incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Georgia’s governor at the end of 2019 to fill the seat formerly held by Johnny Isakson, who stepped down for health reason. (Photo by Megan Varner/ Getty Images)ATLANTA,GA- NOVEMBER 03: Sonny Perdue speaks to supporters of the Republican incumbent candidate Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) at an Election Day event hosted by the Georgia Republican Party on November 3, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Perdue is in a tight race against Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, who narrowly lost a 2017 Georgia congressional race in a district Democrats flipped the following year. Georgia’s other Senate seat is also up for grabs, pitting the Rev. Raphael Warnock and incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Georgia’s governor at the end of 2019 to fill the seat formerly held by Johnny Isakson, who stepped down for health reason. (Photo by Megan Varner/ Getty Images)Supporters cheer Raphael Warnock, left, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate before a rally, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)Raphael Warnock, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate speaks during a rally, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, Pool)Raphael Warnock, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate speaks to supporters and media before a rally, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)Supporters cheer Raphael Warnock, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate before a rally, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)Republican candidate for Senate Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks to supporters at an election night watch party Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Atlanta. Loeffler will be in a run off against Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock. (AP Photo/Tami Chappell)MARIETTA, GA – NOVEMBER 11:Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler speaks to supporters during a Save Our Majority campaign rally with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) on November 11, 2020 in Marietta, Georgia.Georgia Sens. Purdue and Loeffler are in a runoff race against Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., stands with Georgia Republican candidate for Senate Kelly Loeffler, right, and Bonnie Perdue, wife of Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., after a campaign rally Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Marietta, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks during a campaign rally Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Marietta, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., waves during a watch party on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, Atlanta. Loeffler will face Democrat Raphael Warnock in a Jan. 5 runoff. (Branden Camp/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)The wife of Georgia Governor Marty Kemp speaks in lieu of Governor Brian Kemp who is under quarantine for coronavirus at an election night watch party for Republican candidate for Senate Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Tami Chappell)Up Next

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Republicans need one of the Georgia seats for a majority. Democrats must win both to yield a 50-50 Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris then holding the tie-breaking vote.

“This is literally the showdown of all showdowns,” Rubio told the Cobb County crowd, many of them not wearing masks as the Florida senator did. “This is Georgia’s decision to make. But it’s America that will live with the consequences.”

Against that backdrop, the Democratic campaigns still are limiting the scope of their in-person events as coronavirus cases spike nationally, observing social distancing and mask protocols just as Biden did in his presidential bid. Meanwhile, they are quietly ramping up voter contact and registration efforts as they try to replicate their record turnout after Biden drew almost 2.5 million votes to lead President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

Republicans counter by reflecting their presidential standard-bearer, as well, even after his national defeat. They’re embracing unrestricted in-person events just as Trump spent the closing weeks of the presidential campaign holding his signature mass rallies in battleground states across the country — including two rallies in Georgia. And Republicans are using the events to embrace fully the nationalization of the runoffs, urging voters to see the choice as a simple one: A Senate with New York Democrat Chuck Schumer as majority leader or one with Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell continuing in that role.

“Runoffs favor strong, well-organized campaigns,” Ossoff campaign manager Ellen Foster told The Associated Press, explaining Democrats’ tactical emphasis beyond their public events.

In the days since the runoffs were confirmed, Foster said the campaign has made “tens of thousands of calls” to existing voters while hiring new staffers focused on registering new voters ahead of the Dec. 7 registration deadline. Their targets include an estimated 23,000 young Georgians who reach the legal voting age of 18 between the Nov. 3 general election and the January runoff.

The Democratic campaign also said it has almost 22,000 volunteers scheduled for more than 60,000 hours of volunteers shifts over the next two weeks.

To be sure, Republicans have an expansive campaign infrastructure to reach their voters, as well. But the opening days of the runoff campaign have been dominated publicly, at least, by sweeping attacks, from framing Ossoff and Warnock as too far left to questioning Georgia’s election process with Biden holding a narrow lead for the state’s 16 electoral votes.

Republicans have been short on supporting details

Loeffler went so far Wednesday as to accuse Warnock of possessing “a Marxist ideology,” an over-the-top caricature that the Atlanta minister’s campaign spokesman Terrence Clark said was meant to “scare Georgians.” A day before, Loeffler had joined Perdue in a joint statement condemning Georgia’s vote-counting procedures an “embarrassment” and calling for their fellow Republican, Brad Raffensperger, to step down as secretary of state.

In both instances, Republicans have been short on supporting details. But that’s not necessarily the point. The goal, said former Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, is to keep Republican voters “fired up.” Collins is now leading Trump’s recount effort in Georgia, though there’s no evidence that process will reverse Biden’s lead before the count is finalized and certified.

Democrats, meanwhile, hope the presidential result is a boon for runoff turnout simply because it validates, finally, party leaders’ perennial claim that Georgia is a genuine battleground state. Replicating the feat would run counter to the party’s history in recent decades, with Republicans proving more adept at maintaining enthusiasm for second-round voting.

“You know they say that we don’t show up for runoffs,” former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin told Democrats this week at another Ossoff drive-in rally. “Well, we’re going to prove them wrong.”

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