President Donald Trump won’t be on the ballot in January when Georgia voters settle two Senate runoffs that will determine control of the U.S. Senate. But both Republicans and Democrats are hoping voters forget that.
After watching turnout surge in this month’s election, the parties are banking on using Trump — both rage against him and devotion to him — as key drivers in their push to get voters to return to the polls. For Republicans, that means feeding off frustrations over Trump’s defeat, baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud and fear of President-elect Joe Biden’s policy agenda. But their biggest draw — Trump himself — has not committed publicly to using his influence to turn out voters, a silence that has some Republicans worried.
Democrats, meanwhile, are hoping to retain the intensity of a ground operation fueled by opposition to Trump and his policies.
The president’s plans are still unclear. As he fumes about his loss, he has been noticeably silent on the runoffs between incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and their respective challengers, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The president is chiefly focused on his own political future, including the possibility of running for president again in 2024, according to three White House and campaign aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“I can’t think of a better way for him (Trump) to get revenge on Democrats than to get those two seats,” said Republican strategist Scott Jennings, a longtime political adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Kentucky Republican needs either Perdue or Loeffler to win reelection to secure the GOP majority that would allow him to block Biden’s most ambitious proposals, such as expanding the Affordable Care Act, overhauling the nation’s energy grid and repealing some Trump tax cuts.
Two Democratic victories would yield a 50-50 Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote. That would tilt the chamber to Democrats and assure Biden’s agenda would at least get a hearing under would-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee said Friday its funding more than 600 staffers in the state with an investment of at least $20 million ahead of the Jan. 5 runoffs. Republicans are mindful that a push from Trump may be necessary to overcome a well-financed Democratic infrastructure that, after years of organizing, finally proved with Biden’s performance that Georgia is a genuine battleground.
For now, both the incumbents and their Democratic rivals are largely avoiding direct mention of Trump, instead focusing on Senate control.
To be sure, Democrats can’t be assured of replicating Biden’s vote total. Republicans have dominated statewide runoffs in Georgia recently, proving more adept at returning their core supporters to the polls. But in 2018, during the Trump midterm elections, Democrats set their previous record for turnout, flipping a suburban Atlanta congressional seat and nearly electing Stacey Abrams as the first Black female governor in U.S. history.
Since 2018, Georgia Democrats and aligned groups, including Abrams’ Fair Fight, have registered hundreds of thousands of new voters. A Fair Fight spokesman said Thursday that it will, by the end of this week, have texted 2 million Democratic-leaning voters about the runoffs.
“The fact is the votes are there for both sides,” said Chip Lake, a Republican consultant. “It’s just a matter of who goes and gets them to vote again.”