Will frustrated Trump supporters back GOP senators in runoff?

Hundreds turned out to Wills Park in Alpharetta to hear attorneys L. Lin Wood and Sidney Powell make the unfounded case that the presidential election had been stolen. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Hundreds of Donald Trump supporters gathered at an Alpharetta park Wednesday as speakers cast doubt on the integrity of Georgia’s presidential election last month and found some sympathetic ears in the crowd.

Some in the crowd said they aren’t sure whether they’ll bother to cast ballots in Georgia’s high-stakes pair of U.S. Senate races.

“Why are we going to a runoff election and pretending like the previous election wasn’t corrupt? With the same system, it’s going to be fixed,” said Daniel Miller, a Trump supporter from metro Atlanta. “Let’s say all the Republicans, nobody goes and votes, the Democrats are just going to make it up, they’re going to fix it however they want to fix it. There’s no point in voting period with the system that we have.”

With a little over a month away from the runoff election that will decide the balance of power in the U.S. Government, Georgia Republicans are getting mixed messages from the party.

On Wednesday, 18 state party leaders including former Gov. Nathan Deal and former Sens. Johnny Isakson, Saxby Chambliss and Mack Mattingly, issued a statement calling for party unity and a focus on winning the Senate races.

“We have watched with increasing concern as the debate surrounding the state’s electoral system has made some within our Party consider whether voting in the coming run-off election matters,” the statement begins. “We say today, without equivocation, that without every vote cast for President Trump and all our Republican candidates on November 3 also being cast in the U.S. Senate runoffs, the trajectory of our State and Nation will be irreparably altered on January 5th.”

President Donald Trump has blasted Gov. Brian Kemp following his narrow loss in the state, referring to Kemp as “hapless” in a Tweet Monday and telling Fox News he regrets endorsing him. 

Trump has claimed without evidence that the election was stolen from him, and Republicans fear the doubt sown by Trump and his allies could cost the party the vital Georgia runoff election pitting Republican incumbent Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue against Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

“It’s a tightrope they’re trying to walk,” said Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia. “Because, yeah, they need Trump supporters, and yet, those Trump supporters, by all accounts, are believing what he’s saying about the Georgia electoral system, that it’s rigged, it’s corrupt, and then at least anecdotally, you hear these Republicans who are saying, ‘Well, I’m not even going to bother to vote, because the president has convinced me that my vote isn’t going to count.’”

Attorney L. Lin Wood speaks at Wills Park in Alpharetta. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Attorneys L. Lin Wood and Sidney Powell offered the crowd a series of bizarre and unsubstantiated claims, including that Gov. Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger received money from the Chinese Communist Party and that an algorithm on Dominion Services voting machines swapped votes from Trump to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.

The two encouraged the crowd to boycott the Jan. 5 election.

Despite filing lawsuits across the country, the lawyers have not provided evidence of widespread fraud in the Nov. 3 election that saw Biden win Georgia by about 13,000 votes. A  hand recount completed last month that served as an audit failed to change the outcome in Georgia and a third counting of the ballots is due to wrap up Thursday.

Perdue and Loeffler have broadcast skepticism about the elections’ results, calling for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s resignation soon after the election for unspecified “failures,” and treating the president’s loss as an unsettled issue at public appearances, though their argument that their election will serve as a firewall against Democratic control amounts to a tacit admission that Biden will occupy the White House next year.

But Miller had company among Trump supporters at the rally who said they do not plan to vote in January unless the state takes significant steps to make them feel their votes will be counted properly.

Many said they do not trust mainstream news sources, especially cable news networks. Many said they rely on alternate sources, such as NewsMax, One America Network and Parler, a social media network that advertises itself as an alternative to places like Facebook and Twitter that they say put too many restrictions on conservative speech.

Others said the stakes are too high not to cast their ballots for Loeffler and Perdue.

“Have you ever played poker? That’s a bluff,” said Michael Della Polla of Kennesaw. “Because everybody knows, if we do lose this next election, the country’s going to change. They’ve already told us what they’re going to do. They’ve given us their game plan. I don’t think that’s the way to go. I think the way to go is to change the vote so they can’t cheat.”

Della Polla said having paper ballots with thumb prints or some other way of proving the voter’s identity would go a long way toward alleviating his concerns.

Sandy Springs voter Mykel Barthelemy said she hopes Kemp will institute significant changes before the next election because she has next to no confidence her vote will be counted. But even if no changes come, Barthelemy said she will be casting her ballot.

“Personally, I would vote, because I don’t want to take that chance of it counting,” she said. “What if some miracle happens and it does count? I’d rather for it to be there than for it to not be there at all. It’s like, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but if you don’t vote, they have a greater chance of losing.”

Loeffler and Perdue have been touring the state with prominent Republicans in the hopes of convincing conservatives to return to the polls again in the new year. They are set to appear with Trump when he is scheduled to visit Valdosta Saturday.

The clash between conservative factions has led to threats and harassment toward election staff.

On Tuesday, Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting systems implementation manager, called out Trump, Loeffler, Perdue and other Republicans for contributing to the hostile atmosphere.