Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff speaks during a debate for U.S. Senate on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Atlanta. Sen. David Perdue declined to attend the debate. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, Pool)

GOP voters ready for Georgia runoffs despite Trump’s claims

ATLANTA — Many Republican voters in Georgia are angry. They’re convinced that widespread voter fraud — claims that are baseless — cost President Donald Trump the election to Democrat Joe Biden.

But will those concerns put them on the sidelines for runoff elections Jan. 5 that will determine party control of the U.S. Senate? No way, said Trump supporter Lori Davis.

“Everyone that I’m around, we’re ready to vote now,” said the 57-year-old businesswoman, as she awaited the arrival of Vice-President Mike Pence at a rally for GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Augusta on Thursday.

Trump has relentlessly promoted false claims that the election was rigged against him and he has savaged Republican elected officials he perceives as standing in the way of his quest to subvert the results. Some Trump allies have gone as far as calling for voters to skip the Georgia runoffs altogether — alarming words for the GOP campaigns banking on a strong turnout.

But interviews with voters and party activists in the state suggest there’s little sign that Trump’s voters are planning to stay home in protest. Most Republican voters interviewed said they were prepared to put their skepticism aside to vote for Perdue and Loeffler in their races against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

“There are people who are discouraged about (Trump) losing Georgia or being behind. But I haven’t talked to people who’ve said, ‘Oh, the heck with this, it’s all rigged anyway,’” said Tim Phillips, president of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which has done canvassing of GOP-leaning voters.

Phillips was among those who worried that the distrust could affect Republican enthusiasm. But he said his group’s weeks in the field, combined with a recent visit from Trump, have eased his worries.

Trump’s Dec. 5 campaign stop in Valdosta, Georgia, was his first since he lost the state to Biden by about 11,700 votes — a result that was confirmed by two recounts, including a hand tally of all ballots. But those recounts haven’t stopped the president from blasting Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Kemp has rebuffed Trump’s call for a special session of the legislature to subvert the election results, while Raffensperger has repeatedly said there is no evidence of systemic fraud or irregularities in the November election.

Trump’s allies have continued to push false claims of fraud.

Sidney Powell, who was removed from Trump’s legal team last month, has teamed up with Georgia attorney Lin Wood, who is known for his representation of several high-profile clients, particularly in defamation cases. The lawyers have repeatedly encouraged Georgia Republicans not to vote in the runoff election and questioned whether Perdue and Loeffler have sufficiently backed Trump’s efforts.

“Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election?” Wood said during a recent rally in a suburb north of Atlanta.

Trump has asked his supporters to get out and vote. The “seats are the last line of defence to save America and protect all that we’ve accomplished,” he said at the recent Georgia event. During the rally, Trump weaved back and forth between pressing his own grievances about the election and encouraging the crowd to turn out for Perdue and Loeffler.

“You know a lot of people, friends of mine, say ‘Let’s not vote. We’re not going to vote because we’re angry about the presidential election,’” Trump told the crowd.

“But if you do that, the radical left wins,” he said.

Phillips said he believes that message is getting through to the conservative base much more so than any isolated calls for boycotts or even the president’s broadsides against Kemp and Raffensperger.

“These aren’t people taking their cues from CNN or conventional political media. They listen to the president directly. And they’re open to his message and our message of not letting (Democratic Senate leader) Chuck Schumer finish the job,” Phillips said.

Republicans are depending on voters such as Terry McCreary, a 65-year-old retiree in Cherokee County. McCreary calls himself a “conservative independent,” but he’s voted almost exclusively for Republicans since casting presidential ballots for Democrat Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

McCreary says he finds it “hard to believe” Biden won the election fair and square. McCreary cites several misleading and disproven theories that Trump and his allies have pushed in recent weeks.

“It just doesn’t feel right,” he said from his home in the Atlanta suburbs.

But none of that, McCreary said, will keep him from voting in the runoffs. “I’m concerned about the election on Jan. 5” being legitimate, he said. “But I always vote. Every time.”

Perdue and Loeffler have tried to placate Trump and his supporters by backing a lawsuit from Texas that sought to overturn Biden’s win but was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, and by calling for Raffensperger to resign, citing unspecified “mismanagement” in the election.

Nonetheless, they’ve faced pushback from hardcore Trump supporters. As the pair strained to speak at Trump’s rally in Valdosta, cries of “Fight for Trump” filled the crowd, largely drowning out the senators.

Jeanne Seaver, a Republican activist in Georgia who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, said she believes that Republican voters will still come out to support Perdue and Loeffler despite the anger on the ground.

“I think if Donald Trump says get out and vote for Kelly and David, then the Trump folks are loyal to Donald Trump and will get out and vote,” Seaver said.

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