The Republican Party’s only hope for maintaining a majority in the United States Senate in the first years of Joe Biden’s presidency rests on Georgia runoff elections next month. But a vocal group within the party is undermining that effort by casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election.
Hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump gathered on Wednesday for a rally in a park near Atlanta to hear lawyers Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, a former member of Trump’s legal team, and called for Georgians to boycott the vote on January 5.
Wood and Powell echoed Trump’s baseless assertions that the November election was rigged and openly discouraged Republican voters from casting ballots again this time around.
“We are not going to allow ourselves to go back in the polling booth,” said Wood at the rally, which was streamed online and viewed by thousands of people, before urging the crowd not to support Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
“They have not earned your vote. Don’t you give it to them? Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election?”
He added later: “Maybe it’s time to look beyond the Democrats and the Republicans.”
Powell, who was removed from Trump’s legal team in November, alleged without evidence that the voting machines used in Georgia and dozens of other states were compromised and that Georgians should refuse to vote again next month.
“There should not be a runoff,” she said. “Make it known that you will not vote at all unless your vote is secure.”
The rally highlighted the potentially severe consequences of having a president who constantly undermines the integrity of the US voting system, but who is also a member of a party that is trying to win another election.
“For Republicans, Trump can be a blessing and a curse,” Jessica Taylor, the Senate and Governors editor for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, told Al Jazeera. “You need Trump to get out the base, and he’s been effective at that. They need him to do that. But what is he going to say … He has spent weeks battling the Republican governor and the Republican secretary of state.”
The rally also set off alarm bells for members of the GOP, which is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the state for the elections, and leading members of the party are increasingly calling on people to ignore calls for a boycott and cast their ballots in the runoffs.
“Some have talked about staying home,” Georgia State Representative Vernon Jones, a Republican who is Black, said at the rally.
“I think about Dr [Martin Luther] King, and I think about all those people in the movement. They were kicked and they were beat and some of them were even killed just to be able to go and vote … You have to come out.”
Spokespeople for Loeffler and Perdue’s campaigns did not respond to a request for comment about the rally.
Eric Johnson, a former Georgia state Senate president and campaign adviser to Loeffler, told Al Jazeera it was “unbelievable” that Wood and Powell would urge people not to vote.
Lin Wood and Sidney Powell are totally destructive. Every Georgia conservative who cares about America MUST vote in the runoff. Their dont vote strategy will cripple America
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) December 3, 2020
“Lin Wood and Sidney Powell are totally destructive,” Newt Gingrich, a former US House of Representatives speaker and Republican presidential candidate from Georgia, also tweeted on Thursday.
“Every Georgia conservative who cares about America MUST vote in the runoff. Their dont [sic] vote strategy will cripple America.”
Baseless fraud claims
Throughout his campaign, Trump aimed to distance himself from Wood and Powell, and his campaign Twitter account posted a story from far-right website Breitbart accusing Wood of being a Democratic plant.
In an address on Wednesday, Trump called on Republicans in Georgia to vote, but still managed to cast doubt on the election process. “A very important election that’s coming up will determine whether or not we hold the Senate. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are two tremendous people,” he said.
Two days earlier, however, the president retweeted a post from a supporter asking why anyone should “bother voting for Republicans” if they will not support the president’s claims of a fraudulent election.
Suggestions that Republicans boycott the election have been made before. In fact, the idea has been spreading among conservatives for weeks, guided by Trump’s relentless, yet unsuccessful, efforts to overturn the results.
For weeks, Georgia election officials have faced an onslaught of criticism from Trump and his supporters who allege they mishandled the election.
Even Loeffler and Perdue have called upon Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican and Georgia’s top election official, to resign.
Trump supporters held boisterous caravans in front of Raffensberg’s private home and some allegedly sent what officials called “sexual threats” to his wife.
Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, accused Trump of “inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence” in a passionately delivered live statement this week.
“It has all gone too far. All of it,” Sterling told reporters on Tuesday.
“It has to stop. Mr President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up and if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some.”
Trump responded to Sterling’s plea by repeating his baseless allegation that the election was “rigged” with “massive voter fraud in Georgia”. He also accused Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp of not searching for evidence of fraud.
Need every vote
Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday contradicted the president, saying there was no evidence of fraud that would overturn the election results.
“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told The Associated Press news agency.
Meanwhile, several former Republican officials and prominent conservative activists in Georgia on Wednesday released a letter calling for unity heading into the runoffs, saying they need every vote if the party’s candidates are going to win.
“I want to hear the president say that it’s just as important to him to get to vote on January 5th as it was to him in November,” Jay Morgan, a former executive director of the Georgia Republican Party who signed the letter, told Al Jazeera.
“I want him to show the same loyalty to David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler that they have shown to him.”
The Senate races headed to runoffs on January 5 because of a state law that requires a winning statewide candidate on Election Day to receive at least 50 percent of the vote, or else a runoff is set to decide the race.
Perdue received 49.73 of the vote to Democrat Jon Ossoff’s 47.95 percent – a difference of 88,098 votes out of almost five million cast.
Loeffler was part of a 21-candidate special election to fill the seat of former Senator Johnny Isakson, who resigned last year for health reasons. She came in second place with 25.91 percent of the vote behind Democrat Raphael Warnock, who received 32.9 percent.
Now, in the final weeks before the vote, Republicans who questioned the election’s integrity are now tasked with putting the election fraud genie they released back into the bottle.
Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to hold a rally for the Senate candidates on Friday in Savannah and Trump will hold his first runoff rally on Saturday in Valdosta.
Even Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, is getting involved as a group called Save the US Senate PAC has been formed to run ads featuring Trump Jr that will encourage people to vote in the runoffs.
“I’m seeing a lot of talk from people that are supposed to be on our side telling GOP voters not to go out & vote,” Trump Jr tweeted last week. “That is NONSENSE. IGNORE these people. We need ALL of our people coming out to vote for Kelly & David.”
That is NONSENSE.
IGNORE those people.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 23, 2020
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said the Cook Political Report’s Taylor. “Not one, but two run-offs that are now going to determine the state of Senate control. You add in Trump’s continued insistence, without evidence, that the election was somehow fraudulent, and it’s just further distracting from what Republicans should be focusing on.”