Biden visits ‘competitive’ Georgia to stake claim, call for national healing

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden urged Georgians to vote at a drive-in rally held Tuesday in Atlanta. He also visited Warm Springs, where he called for national healing. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden brought his closing pitch to Georgia, calling for national healing from a landmark rife with symbolism before traveling to Atlanta to rally more voters to the polls.

Already, more than 3.1 million Georgians have cast a ballot as pollsters show a tight race between Biden and President Donald Trump in a state that hasn’t backed a Democrat for president in decades. Trump won the state by 5 percentage points just four years ago.

About 365 cars and 771 people turned out for drive-in rally for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in Atlanta Tuesday. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

“There aren’t a lot of pundits who would have guessed four years ago that a Democratic candidate for president in 2020 would be campaigning in Georgia on the final week of the election – or that we’d have such competitive Senate races in Georgia,” Biden said over the sound of honking at the outdoor drive-in event at Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood.

“But we do – because something’s happening,” he said. “Here in Georgia, and across America, people of different races, backgrounds, Democrats, Republicans, and independents are coming together to transcend old divisions and to show what’s possible. This is the most important election of any of your lifetimes.”

The rally – which attracted about 365 cars and 771 people – was held in south Atlanta hours after the former vice president called for unity and healing at Warm Springs, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought treatment for his polio and where he died.

“This place – Warm Springs – is a reminder that, though broken, each of us can be healed and that as a people and a country, we can overcome this devastating virus, that we can heal a suffering world and, yes, we can restore our soul and save our country,” Biden said in a televised address from Warm Springs.

U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock spoke at Vice President Joe Biden’s drive-in rally in Atlanta Tuesday. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Biden’s focus on Georgia so late the campaign buoyed state Democrats’ hopes the state could back a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1992, when Bill Clinton won the state. It was also a boost for the campaigns of Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who are trying to oust Republican incumbents. Both candidates spoke on stage at Tuesday’s Atlanta rally.

Biden’s two-stop visit Tuesday came the day after his wife, Jill Biden, campaigned in Savannah and Macon and days after his running mate, California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, stumped at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

State Rep. Calvin Smyre, who is one of the longest serving lawmakers in Georgia, said on stage that Trump has fanned the flames of racism. The Columbus Democrat said before the event that he believes Trump’s lack of leadership on social justice issues helped give a Democratic presidential candidate an opening and that Biden’s unifying message is appealing to Georgia voters.

“We’re not going back to the old days, and I think most Americans think that,” Smyre said. “It’s one of the last things John Lewis told me: Calvin, we’re not going back. So, we just got to keep pressing on.”

Smyre said he’s encouraged by Biden’s visit so late in the campaign and the state’s early record-setting voting tallies. Still, he said it’s important to “play it to the end.”

“Georgia is back on the political map,” Smyre said. “We’re back on the political horizon. It matters when your state matters, and Georgia matters.”

But Debbie Dooley, a well-known tea party advocate in Georgia and a Trump supporter, said she thinks Biden’s late push in the state is a sign of trouble for the Democrat’s campaign elsewhere. Dooley was with a small group of Trump supporters who protested outside the Atlanta venue, heckling the event’s speakers over a bullhorn and chanting “four more years” and “Trump” throughout the event.

A small group of Trump supporters protested Vice President Joe Biden’s drive-in rally in Atlanta Tuesday. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

“Georgia is not as close as what people think it is,” Dooley said. “I think with the fact that he’s spending time coming to Georgia instead of in Michigan or Pennsylvania or Ohio or Florida – the little swing states – it shows that he’s behind in some of those states and he needs to pick up an extra state like Georgia.”

Biden acknowledged the protesters during his speech and folded them into his call for bipartisanship.

“Every American – including the guys on the other side of the fence – will be seen and heard and respected by me,” he said.

Trump has visited the state three times since the summer, including a rally in Macon earlier this month. He’s also dispatched his children and Vice President Mike Pence has come to Atlanta twice in hopes of chipping away at Biden’s support among Black voters in Georgia. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp was set to hold a “MAGA meetup” just down the road from Warm Springs in Manchester earlier in the day.

Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said Trump could still win re-election without Georgia’s 16 electoral votes – but it would be a challenge.

“If he loses Georgia, it probably means he’s in trouble in a lot of other places,” Bullock said.

Georgia Recorder Ross Williams contributed to this report.