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GA GOP Juggle Biden Win, Trump Loyalty 11/27 06:35

   

   GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) -- Twin Georgia Senate runoffs have Republicans in a 
quandary. They could admit President Donald Trump lost his re-election bid and 
turn all attention to salvaging a Senate majority to counter President-elect 
Joe Biden. Or they could march lockstep alongside Trump and his unfounded 
assertions of a stolen election.

   So far, Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, along with a gaggle 
of GOP power players right up to Vice President Mike Pence, seem to want it 
both ways. Some Trump loyalists insist that's not enough.

   This tightrope act threatens party unity as Loeffler and Perdue try to beat 
back strong Democratic challenges from Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, 
respectively, in Jan. 5 contests that will determine which party controls the 
Senate at the outset of a Biden administration. The worrisome reality for 
Republicans is that it wouldn't take much splintering to tilt the contests in 
Democrats' favor in a newfound battleground where Biden outpaced Trump by just 
12,000 votes out of about 5 million cast in the general election.

   "If they want to excite Trump supporters to turn out to vote in the Senate 
runoff, candidates need to be supportive of what the Trump campaign is doing in 
the regard to challenging the election," said Debbie Dooley, a national tea 
party organizer in Georgia and an early supporter of Trump's 2016 campaign.

   After Georgia's Republican secretary of state and Republican governor 
certified the state's vote totals in Biden's favor, Dooley said, the sentiment 
among the president's strongest supporters crystallized. They "question why 
they should support candidates that aren't fully supporting Trump," she said.

   To be sure, Perdue and Loeffler have made considerable efforts to align 
themselves with Trump throughout their Senate tenures --- nearly six years for 
the first-term Perdue, less than a year for the appointed Loeffler now seeking 
her first election. Since Election Day, the senators have called for Secretary 
of State Brad Raffensperger's resignation. They've echoed nebulous claims about 
irregularities in Georgia's voting process and tabulation and have yet to 
publicly acknowledge Biden as the president-elect.

   Yet the campaign on the ground offers a different story, with the senators 
and their top supporters stressing an argument that admits, without saying as 
much, that Biden has been duly elected and will take office on Jan. 20.

   Perdue calls a Republican Senate "the last line of defense" as he campaigns 
on a bus emblazoned with a clear message: "Win Georgia. Save America."

   On stage recently with Pence in Canton, Georgia, the senator got even more 
direct, cautioning that if he and Loeffler lose, Democrats will "have the White 
House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. They'll do anything they 
want."

   Indeed, Democrats are maintaining their House majority and Republicans must 
win at least one of the Georgia seats for a Senate majority. A Democratic sweep 
would yield a 50-50 Senate with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking the 
tie as presiding officer.

   Loeffler avoids explicit acknowledgements of Trump's defeat, but her message 
isn't subtle. "We are the firewall to socialism in America," she roared at one 
of the rallies with Pence.

   Neither Ossoff nor Warnock is a socialist, but Loeffler's hyperbole 
acknowledges that there'll be Democratic veto pen in the Oval Office. So, 
Loeffler said, "We are going to hold the line right here in Georgia."

   The balancing act extends through Trump's Cabinet. "I'm here because I stand 
with President Donald Trump," Pence declared in Gainesville, Georgia.

   The vice president, almost certainly a future presidential candidate 
himself, carefully parsed his words, declaring that a GOP Senate majority 
"could be" Republicans' last tool to protect "all that we've accomplished." 
Pence said nothing to counter the passions of crowds that erupted into chants 
of "Stop the steal!"

   Sonny Perdue, Trump's agriculture secretary and the senator's cousin, 
covered every base, perhaps clumsily. The former Georgia governor called 
Biden's name, unlike Pence, and warned against giving him "a blank check on 
America's values." Yet in the same speech, the secretary insisted "we're not 
going to give up on President Trump."

   The circumstances are precarious enough that many establishment Republicans, 
including Loeffler and Perdue confidants, decline to speak openly about it. The 
senators have not taken questions at their joint runoff campaign events, and 
neither campaign responded to an Associated Press inquiry on whether they 
recognize Biden as the incoming president.

   Trump is doing little to make his fellow Republicans' course any easier.

   The president has chastised Raffensperger, the Georgia elections chief, and 
Gov. Brian Kemp, himself a former Georgia secretary of state, on social media. 
Raffensperger has taken to the editorial pages of The Washington Post to defend 
his job performance and his conservative credentials. When Kemp announced his 
certification of the 16 Democrats who'll cast Georgia's electoral votes for 
Biden, the governor took pains to make clear it was a purely ministerial act 
required by law.

   Trump remains defiant even after losing round after round of court disputes 
and after the General Services Administration finally acknowledged Biden as 
president-elect, the legal step required for the federal government to begin 
the customary transfer of power.

   As recently as Wednesday, Trump retweeted hollow claims of a fraudulent 
election, and, in Georgia, his team's top lawyer, Lin Wood, fanned the flames.

   Wood tweeted that Loeffler and Perdue should demand that Georgia hold a 
special legislative session to review ballots and conduct a "legitimate" 
recount, despite the thorough one that was held, as a condition for getting the 
votes of Georgians in the run-off.

   Voters like Shaun Tracy are the targets of the muddled messaging.

   The 60-year-old came to see Pence, Loeffler and both Perdues, but made clear 
she was there because of her loyalties to the president. "There's just been too 
many irregularities and discrepancies going on," Tracy said, repeating the 
baseless assertion that Biden's victory is due to fraudulent absentee ballots, 
among other things. "They're trying to take our freedom away."

   Days later, David Perdue heard that refrain more directly.

   Standing in front of his campaign bus, the senator launched into his usual 
entreaty about the runoffs' importance. As Perdue spoke, a man in the audience 
cried out: "What are you doing to help Donald Trump?"

 
 
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