DALTON, Ga. — President Donald Trump told a crowd of thousands in Dalton, Georgia on Monday night that he doesn’t particularly like holding rallies for anyone but himself.
But with U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler the last Republicans standing in the way of Democrat-controlled upper chamber, the president flew to north Georgia to stump for the pair.
Georgia Republicans face both the threat of growing momentum of the Democratic party and Trump’s false allegations of a rigged election dampening GOP turnout. In a last-ditch effort, Trump warned the crowd in deep-red Whitfield County that because of the the U.S. Senate runoff Jan. 5 the “whole world is watching the people of Georgia.”
"Tomorrow, each of you is going to vote in one of the most important runoff elections in the history of our country,” he said. "Frankly, forget about runoff, one of the most important elections ... it's a biggie. Our country is depending on you.”
But Trump’s visit was marred by a recently released phone call between the president and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which the president pushed the Republican elections official to “find” additional votes in his favor. The audio caused uproar, further complicating the campaigns of both Loeffler and Perdue.
At the rally, Loeffler announced she will challenge the electoral college vote in Congress on Jan. 6. Up until now she has remained quiet on the issue, but roused the crowd in Dalton with her announcement.
"I have an announcement, Georgia,” she said. "On Jan. 6, I will object to the electoral college vote. We’re going to get this done! But I have a very important question for you: are you ready to show America that Georgia is a red state? Look, this president fought for us. We're fighting for him.”
Earlier in the day, Loeffler declined to comment about the phone call between Trump and Raffensperger. Perdue, Georgia’s senior senator, will not be able to object to the electoral college vote since his term expired Jan. 3. But in a pre-recorded message played at the rally — which he was unable to attend after going into quarantine for possible COVID-19 exposure — he claimed he would have issued a challenge as well.
Georgia’s election outcome has driven a wedge between Trump and the state’s Republican state officials. The president launched a verbal attack and tweet storm against Raffensperger when the elections chief denied allegations of widespread fraud. But the president has also slammed once-ally Gov. Brian Kemp for not intervening and has smeared the Republican governor on social media for weeks.
“I’ll be here in a year-and-a-half to campaign against your governor,” Trump said of Kemp.
The governor told press he was not invited to the rally in Dalton. The president called Kemp “incompetent” and said he and Raffensperger are “petrified” of high-profile Democrat Stacey Abrams.
During Trump’s last visit to Georgia, a December rally in Valdosta, his speech consisted mostly of false allegations of voter fraud. His ongoing attacks against Georgia’s election system causing concern among Republicans that it would keep his loyal supporters from the polls in the crucial Jan. 5 runoffs. While his visit to Dalton leaned slightly more toward stumping for Perdue and Loeffler, the president still claimed again and again that he had “won” Georgia.
“There’s no way we lost Georgia, there’s no way,” Trump stated and was met with cheers. “That was a rigged election.”
Trump did lose Georgia to President-elect Joe Biden by about 12,000 votes. If Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock beat the Republican incumbents, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, giving the party control and Biden’s administration an edge.
Candidates and politicians from both sides of the aisle agree: the election in Georgia on Jan. 5 will shape the entire country for years to come.
"I have to tell you,” Trump said, “that the stakes of this election could not be higher."