DALTON/ATLANTA, Georgia (Reuters) -President-elect Joe Biden and outgoing President Donald Trump held dueling rallies in Georgia on Monday to persuade supporters to turn out on Tuesday for runoff U.S. Senate elections that will determine the balance of power in Washington.
The Georgia races pit a pair of incumbent Republicans, Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, against Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively.
Biden wants both Democrats to win so his party will control both houses of Congress when he takes office on January 20. Trump’s team wants Republicans to win so that, with Senate control, his party can block or curtail Biden’s legislative agenda.
Trump, a Republican who lost the November presidential election to his Democratic counterpart, has not conceded to Biden, and he spent part of his rally remarks in Dalton, a city in Georgia’s heavily Republican northwest, suggesting that he would try to hold on to power.
“They’re not taking this White House. We’re going to fight like hell,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd, which chanted “Fight for Trump!”
Biden criticized the outgoing administration for its handling of the pandemic and promised a fresh start for the country with Democratic control. More than 350,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States, and it is spreading rapidly in most states.
“It’s a new year, and tomorrow can be a new day for Atlanta, for Georgia and for America,” Biden said.
He said the Trump administration had “gotten off to a god-awful start” with the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. “The president spends more time whining and complaining than doing something about the problem,” he said.
Democratic candidates, if elected, would ensure that $2,000 stimulus checks were delivered to Americans as the economy struggles during the coronavirus pandemic, Biden said.
The outgoing president also put pressure on Vice President Mike Pence, who will receive the results of the state-by-state Electoral College in Congress on Wednesday, to take action in his favor. Biden beat Trump 306-232 in electoral votes and carried the popular vote by more than 7 million ballots.
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” Trump said, referring to the vice president as a great guy. “If he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much,” Trump said.
HISTORIC SHIFT IN GEORGIA
Long a solidly Republican state, Georgia surprised the nation in November by choosing Biden, the first time it had backed a Democratic presidential candidate in almost three decades.
That has raised liberals’ hopes for Warnock and Ossoff, although they face a tough battle in the still deeply conservative state. About 3 million have already voted.
A win by the two Democrats would hand the Senate to Biden’s party, as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would hold the tiebreaking vote in the 50-50 chamber. That would make it easier for Biden to enact further coronavirus relief and tackle climate change, as Democrats also control the House of Representatives.
None of the Senate candidates won a majority in the Nov. 3 election, which spurred the runoff elections.
Trump has continued to assert, without evidence, that his loss in November was the result of widespread voter fraud – a claim that reviews by state and federal election officials, multiple courts and the U.S. Department of Justice have rejected.
In a call on Saturday to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that was recorded, Trump pressured the Republican official to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat, and suggested Raffensperger’s failure to alter the November results could hurt Republican turnout in the Senate runoffs.
Democrats and election experts say Trump’s efforts almost certainly broke the law.
Biden, who won Georgia by almost 12,000 votes, did not mention the call directly in his remarks on Monday.
Loeffler, the senator who is contesting in Georgia, said on Monday night she would object to the certification of the election results in Congress on Wednesday, joining about a dozen other Republican senators and over 100 Republican House members. The move has virtually no chance of overturning Biden’s victory.
It is not clear whether Trump’s actions and his repeated claims of election fraud will affect the outcome of the Senate races. Strategists from both parties say the outcome could likely hinge on how many Republican voters participate on Tuesday, given strong Democratic early voting turnout.
The Senate campaigns have obliterated spending records and spurred unprecedented turnout, as political groups have flooded the state with a tsunami of advertising.
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Atlanta and Steve Holland in Dalton, Ga.; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Andy Sullivan, Michael Martina and Jeff Mason; Writing by Jeff Mason and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Michael Perry, Heather Timmons, Peter Cooney and Raju Gopalakrishnan)