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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Republicans sound alarm on Georgia Senate runoffs as they privately weigh Trump’s influence

“Those blunt assessments, which capture a Republican Party in turmoil as Trump refuses to concede to President-elect Joe Biden, were made on a Nov. 10 call with donors hosted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It featured Georgia’s embattled GOP incumbents, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and Karl Rove, a veteran strategist who is coordinating fundraising for the Jan. 5 runoffs.

The comments by the senators and Rove were shared with The Washington Post by a person who provided a detailed and precise account of what was said by each speaker on the call. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to divulge the contents of the private discussion.

Most striking was the way the senators nodded toward the likelihood of Biden’s presidency. While Trump keeps insisting that he won the election, making baseless claims of voter fraud and mounting legal challenges, Republicans on the call privately cast those efforts as an understandable but potentially futile protest.

“What we’re going to have to do is make sure we get all the votes out from the general and get them back out,” Perdue said of core Republican voters. “That’s always a hard thing to do in a presidential year, particularly this year, given that President Trump, it looks like now, may not be able to hold out.”

Perdue added that “we don’t know that” yet — and said he fully supports Trump and his dispute of the results in several states. But, he said, “we’re assuming that we’re going to be standing out here alone. And that means that we have to get the vote out, no matter what the outcome of that adjudication is on the recount in two states and some lawsuits, and others. Kelly and I can’t wait for that.”

Perdue noted later that he had confronted an “anti-Trump vote in Georgia” in the first round of voting and said the runoff is about getting “enough conservative Republicans out to vote” in the Atlanta suburbs and elsewhere who might have opposed the president’s reelection.

“I’m talking about people that may have voted for Biden but now may come back and vote for us because there was an anti-Trump vote in Georgia,” Perdue said. “And we think some of those people, particularly in the suburbs, may come back to us. And I’m hopeful of that.”

Perdue’s delicate approach — standing with Trump, but also privately acknowledging that the president’s time in power could be waning and that he carries possible political liabilities — extended to others on the call who tried to balance their loyalty to Trump with their apprehension about what is needed in Georgia to save the GOP Senate majority. It is revealing of the Republican dilemma in the winter of Trump’s presidency, with fear of offending him and his fervent supporters hovering over a cold political reality.

“In fact, I’m assuming the worst. I’m assuming the worst but hoping for the best. And the worst-case scenario is that we have a Democrat in the White House, that we have Nancy Pelosi still with her hands on that speaker’s gavel, which appears almost a certainty,” Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), who recently chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said on the call, as he spoke urgently of the need to win in Georgia.

Those remarks came as Perdue and Loeffler have remained publicly defiant about the 2020 election result in their state. Biden won Georgia by about 14,000 votes — the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has won there since 1992 — and a hand recount is underway. Both senators have called for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to resign for failing to be “transparent,” channeling voter anger but not citing anything that he might have done wrong.

The GOP fretting also comes as Trump flails and as Democrats, with a caucus of 48 senators so far, see one last chance to reclaim the Senate majority by trying to secure a double victory in what used to be a conservative Republican stronghold. If they’re successful, the 50-50 Senate would tilt to the Democrats once Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris is sworn in next year.

The private GOP phone call highlighted the party’s rising angst over the highly unusual dual runoff campaign, which is unfolding under the cloud of the Georgia presidential recount and Trump’s refusal to concede, while at the same time Democrats appear energized and emboldened by Biden’s win in the state.

Some on the call expressed particular concern about Georgia’s fast-changing electorate, driven by the increasingly liberal metro Atlanta region and the push by 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to register more Democratic voters, especially in the state’s communities of color.

Democrats hope that the candidate challenging Loeffler in the runoff, the Rev. Raphael Warnock — the pastor at Atlanta’s iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached — will help energize Black voters.

Perdue, elected in 2014, faces Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker running his first statewide race.

“They changed, dramatically, the face of the electorate in Georgia. Many of these new voters are from California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and they’re not of the conservative persuasion,” Perdue said on the call.

Loeffler and Perdue laid bare their strategies for the closing weeks, with an emphasis on making incendiary attacks on the Democrats and rallying the GOP base in Georgia, which is majority White.

“This is really not about messaging. It’s not about persuasion in my race. It’s more about getting the vote out,” Perdue said. He later said: “We have to remind people of what the Democrats will do. It has nothing to do with Kelly or me.”

Republicans sound alarm on Georgia Senate runoffs as they privately weigh Trump’s influence

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