The race for the?White House?took a sharp turn back to?Georgia?on Sunday as President?Donald Trump?drew thousands to a rally in one of the most conservative parts of the state while vice presidential nominee?Kamala Harris?appealed to suburban voters crucial to Democratic hopes of an upset victory.
The two rival campaigns focused on mobilizing their core supporters rather than persuading undecided voters in the closing stretch of the race, zeroing in on two key territories that could decide a razor-tight race for?Georgia’s?16 electoral votes and?U.S. Senate?contests that could determine control of the chamber.
Trump’s visit to an airport outside?Rome?aimed to drive up turnout among mostly white, rural conservatives who form the most reliable bloc of his electoral coalition in?Georgia. He’s scrambling to run up the score in this Republican-friendly area, where early-voting turnout has lagged behind other areas, to offset Democratic gains elsewhere.
Harris, meanwhile, made a beeline to?Duluth?to energize suburban?Democrats?just eight days after her last visit to the state. Once a Republican stronghold, suburban?Gwinnett County?flipped in 2016 — and?Democrats?now aim to maximize their turnout in a county that’s increasingly tilted in their favor.
The late barrage of visits reflect?Georgia’s?battleground status. Polls show Trump and?Joe Biden?deadlocked in?Georgia, which last voted Democratic for president in 1992.
Though Trump handily captured?Georgia?in 2016, he’s on the defensive this year, forced by close polls to squeeze in a stop here rather than other competitive states. And Biden, who stumped in?Georgia?on Tuesday, senses an opportunity to pull the state into the Democratic column.
The visits also promoted down-ticket candidates.?U.S.?Sen.?David Perdue?is neck and neck in polls with Democrat?Jon Ossoff. And Democrat?Raphael Warnock?is expected to face?U.S.?Sen.?Kelly Loeffler?or?U.S.?Rep.?Doug Collins?in a likely?Jan. 5?runoff.
Georgia’s?moment in the national spotlight won’t be fleeting. Former President?Barack Obama?is headed to?Georgia?on Monday for an election eve rally, and both parties are set to scrap through the year’s end over the?Senate?contests.
A record 3.9 million Georgians have already cast ballots, and?Republicans?are relying on heavy?Election Day?turnout to keep the state in the?GOP?column. In some counties, including?Gwinnett, early-voting turnout has already exceeded the overall 2016 total.
“We finally matter,” said state Rep.?Calvin Smyre, the longest-serving lawmaker in the Legislature and a top?Georgia?backer of Biden.
‘Not the time to let up’
Harris last stumped in?Georgia?on?Oct. 23, making multiple stops across?Atlanta?in an appeal to wavering Black voters. Her visit Sunday focused on?Gwinnett, where?Democrats?aim to sweep countywide offices.
She headlined an afternoon outdoor drive-in rally at the Infinite Energy Center, where gusts of winds forced her to step off a makeshift stage and address a crowd of hundreds from the pavement of the parking lot.
“I came back to?Georgia?because I wanted to just remind everybody that you all are going to decide who is going to be the next president of?the United States,” she said to a cacophony of honking horns.
“This is not the time to let up,” Harris added. “This is the time to put our feet on the pedal.”
She told the crowd — a mix of Black, white, Hispanic and Asian voters in one of?Georgia’s?most diverse counties — they must vote to “honor the ancestors.”
“And?Georgia, for you, this is a particular point of pride,” she said, invoking the late?U.S.?Rep. John Lewis. “He told us to get in good trouble.”
With just two days until?Election Day, Harris left the state with the?Democrats'?closing message.
"Years from now, our children, our grandchildren and others, they will look in our eyes — each one of us — and they will ask us, ‘Where were you in that moment?’ " she said. “And what we will tell them is so much more than just how we felt. We will tell them what we did.”
Trump focused on his core constituency with his visit to?Rome, the heart of one of the nation’s most conservative congressional districts. His strategy is to offset Democratic gains in the suburbs by energizing a rural?Georgia?base that fueled his 2016 victory.
Thousands showed up hours early for Trump’s rally at an airport on the city’s outskirts. A partylike atmosphere prevailed as supporters chanted “four more years” and waved giant American flags. Few wore masks, fewer practiced social distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Democrats?also canceled a plan to wave Biden-Harris signs in downtown?Rome?in advance of the president’s visit after learning that a “large militia presence” was expected in the area. Instead, they shifted to a virtual rally where they panned Trump and other?Republicans?for holding a large-scale rally during the pandemic.
The throngs of?Republicans?were treated to crowd-pleasing messages from top state officials who implored supporters to make sure their social networks cast their ballots.
U.S.?Sen.?David Perdue, who skipped a long-scheduled Channel 2?Action News?debate against Ossoff to appear at the rally, said it was “ridiculous” that Biden was even within striking distance.
“What if you had two or three people that work with you and you didn’t ask them to vote and we lose this election?” he asked. “Make sure you don’t leave any vote out there unturned. That’s what we’ve got to do, guys.”
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