GOP faithful rally for senators at Forsyth sports bar as Trump slumps

Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue campaigned with junior senator Kelly Loeffler at a Forsyth County sports grill Friday afternoon. Perdue appeared in public for the first time since Nov. 3 when he was forced into a runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

The pivotal race for Georgia’s two U.S.Senate seats stopped by a Cumming restaurant Friday afternoon as hundreds of supporters gathered to hear Florida’s U.S. Sen. Rick Scott try to energize voters for his Georgia colleagues, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

“How do we win these elections? It’s votes,” Scott said. “The moment you can vote, go vote. The moment you can get your friend to go vote, make sure they go vote. We need to do everything we can to get our votes in as early as possible. We’ve got to do this all across the state. The Democrats believe this is their chance. If they win the Senate, think of all the bad stuff they can pass.”

Fellow Floridian Sen. Marco Rubio came to Georgia to rally for the GOP twin bill earlier in the week when Loeffler appeared and Perdue’s wife Bonnie stood in for him.

The public appearance was Perdue’s first since election night, when he fell short of the 50% plus one threshold to avoid a runoff with Democrat Jon Ossoff. In his remarks, Perdue laid out the stakes he says the Jan. 5 special election hold.

“If you haven’t listened to Chuck Schumer, Chuck said he wants the majority,” he said. “They’ve got 48 votes now. They have to have her vote and my seat to get those votes, then with the vice president, they’ll get the tie-breaker. We’re not going to let that happen, are we?”

“No,” shouted the crowd, crammed into the Black Diamond Grill in Cumming, about an hour north of Atlanta.

Loeffler stuck to her familiar campaign labeling of Democratic candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock calling him a radical leftist and criticizing policies that are not part of his campaign.

“Not only do they have radical policies, Green New Deal, high taxes, big government, open borders, defund the police, abortion on demand, destroy the Second Amendment, everything like that. They have radical candidates.”

Loeffler repeated a claim rated by Politifact as mostly false that Warnock “welcomed” Cuban dictator Fidel Castro into a church where he was a youth minister in 1995.

Warnock countered Loeffler’s portrayal of him as an extremist in a television ad released Friday.

“When people have no vision, they revert to division, and that’s what you’re seeing from my opponent right now,” Warnock said in the ad.

“I believe that in the greatest nation in the world, people should have affordable health care, that Georgians that work hard every day deserve a livable wage, and that seniors ought to be able to afford the cost of prescription drugs,” he added. “Kelly Loeffler may think that’s radical, I think it’s common sense.”

Ossoff also rallied his supporters Friday in socially distanced rallies with local officials in Augusta and Athens. At his Augusta rally, Ossoff called Perdue divisive and said he failed to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously.

“We can’t forget that we’re living in the midst of a tragedy. Nearly a quarter of a million Americans have been killed by this virus, a virus my opponent told us was no deadlier than the ordinary flu. Millions have lost jobs, homes, opportunities, and the only way that we will beat this virus and the only way we will recover is to do it as one people, together.”

Supporters of Georgia GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler crowded into a Forsyth County sports grill Friday afternoon as news sunk in that President Donald Trump was losing ground in his re-election bid. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

When Perdue took the stage, members of the crowd chanted “Stop the steal,” a slogan of believers in the conspiracy theory that widespread fraud stole the election from President Donald Trump.

While the Associated Press has not made it final, multiple news outlets have called the election and Georgia for Joe Biden, who leads vote totals in multiple states. Trump has stated without evidence that cheating robbed him of the win.

Scott delivered a message to the crowd from the president.

“The president wants to tell you he loves Georgia, he wants to make sure every legal vote is counted,” Scott said. “He remains optimistic, but he knows this is a lot of work to do, and he’s very appreciative of what all of you have done to try to make sure we keep this country in the right direction.”

Perdue also treated the election’s outcome like an open question.

“We have to tell our friends who voted for Donald Trump, and they may be disappointed, I’m disappointed for sure, and if that ends up holding – we don’t know how it’s going to turn out yet, but we have to make sure every Republican votes in the runoff regardless,” he said.

Maria Murray was one of the crowd of people listening to the senators. She said she will be involved in the recount in Cherokee County, where she lives.

“I’m going to do everything I can because this is the most god-awful election in my 87 years that I have ever seen,” she said. “My parents are probably rolling over in their grave seeing what’s going on with the United States of America. What is happening today and moving forward is no reason why they came here. It is all different.”

Murray said she does not think the vote in Georgia was free or fair, though Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has sought to assure members of his party otherwise, ordering a full hand-recount of all 5 million ballots cast in the presidential election.

Murray and other members of the crowd said watching Trump’s election night lead fade as mail-in ballots and ballots from Democratic Fulton County made them suspicious. And comparing Trump’s crowded rallies to Biden’s more subdued, socially distanced events makes some feel like Biden has little support in the state.

“There’s just no way you can tell me, 150 people at a Biden rally, 10,000 people at a Trump rally, and Biden is ahead, just no way,” said David Sciacca of Woodstock.

But their doubts about the election system will not keep them from voting in the runoff, Murray and Sciacca said. They will be back out casting their ballots for Loeffler and Perdue.

“David and Kelly are our last line of defense,” Sciacca said. “So I’m here to support them, even though I did not vote for Kelly, I voted for Doug (Collins), but now Kelly has my full support.”

“If you love this country, you have a responsibility to do the right that was given to you that other people fought and gave their lives for,” Murray said.

Ross Williams
Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business executives to the living rooms of grieving parents. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting. A native of Cobb County, Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Atlanta's Oglethorpe University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.