VALDOSTA — President Donald Trump addressed a large crowd in Valdosta Saturday night in what was hailed as a “Victory Rally” ahead of Georgia’s Senate runoff election Jan. 5.
The president rallied thousands of largely maskless supporters not long after he was rebuffed by Georgia’s Republican governor in his astounding call for a special legislative session to give him the state’s electoral votes despite Biden winning the majority of the vote.
Trump pressed his own grievances over losing the presidential election, more so than trying to help two Republican Senate candidates whose fate will decide the balance of power in Washington once President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month.
“I want to stay on presidential,” Trumps said minutes into his speech. “But I got to get to these two.” He praised the GOP lawmakers, Perdue for his support for military spending and Loeffler for pushing for early coronavirus relief spending. But he quickly pivoted back to his own defeat.
[SPECIAL SECTION: Election 2020]
Trump pulled out a piece of paper and read a list of his electoral achievements, including falsely asserting he won Georgia and the White House. Biden carried the state by 12,670 votes and won a record 81 million votes nationally. Trump continued to reiterate his unsubstantiated claims of fraud, despite his own administration assessing the election to have been conducted without any major issues.
Chants of “Fight for Trump” drowned out the two senators as they briefly spoke to the crowd.
Trump has continued to make unfounded claims about voter fraud in Georgia and attacked election officials from his own party. His lawyers have filed a suit asking that the election results be overturned.
On Saturday morning, he pressed Gov. Brian Kemp in a private phone call to hold a special legislative session in Georgia with the aim of overturning Biden’s win, sources close to the governor said. Kemp refused.
Trump continued his attacks on Kemp Saturday afternoon, asking for Kemp to call for signature verification. Kemp responded, saying he has called for a signature audit three times.
Trump, though, vented his frustrations with Kemp on Twitter and at the rally.
“Your people are refusing to do what you ask,” he complained in a tweet, as if speaking with Kemp. “What are they hiding? At least immediately ask for a Special Session of the Legislature. That you can easily, and immediately, do.”
Kemp did not attend the rally due to the death of a close family friend and staffer for Loeffler who was killed in a car accident Friday.
The RNC is hoping the rally will fire up Republican voters to support Loeffler and Perdue, amid calls by some Trump supporters for voters to skip going to the polls.
Republicans need one victory to maintain their Senate majority. Democrats need a Georgia sweep to force a 50-50 Senate and position Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking majority vote. Party officials had hoped the president would dedicate his energy to imploring their supporters to vote in runoff election, when Perdue and Loeffler try to hold off Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.
Trump did echo Republican rhetoric that the races amounted to “the most important congressional runoff, probably in American history.” That is only true because he lost.
GEORGIA VOTER GUIDE:
- Key Dates for 2020 Runoff Elections in Georgia
- These are the 7 races that are in a runoff in Georgia
- Did you know? You can still register to vote in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs
- How to vote by absentee ballot for Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff elections
First lady Melania Trump made a rare political appearance to introduce the president, and encouraged Georgians to get out to vote.
“We must keep our seats in the Senate,” she said. “It’s more important than ever that you exercise your rights as a citizen and vote.”
The risk for the GOP is that it wouldn’t take much of a drop-off to matter if the runoffs are as close as the presidential contest: Biden won Georgia by about 12,500 votes out of 5 million cast. There’s enough noise to explain why Pence felt the need to confront the matter head on after two Trump loyalists floated the idea of the president’s supporters bailing on Perdue and Loeffler.
Trump’s false claims have resonated with voters such as Barry Mann, a 61-year-old business owner who came to hear Pence in Savannah. Mann hasn’t decided whether he’ll vote for his senators a second time.
“I think there’s some issues with our election and more investigation needs to be done,” Mann said, adding that he doesn’t think Perdue and Loeffler have done enough to support Trump’s efforts to overturn the results. “I want to see what happens between now and January,” Mann said.
A third vote count, this one requested by the president’s reelection campaign, was nearing completion. Raffensperger could certify the election again as soon as Saturday; the result is not expected to change.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.