MARIETTA, Ga. — Socialists. Radical extremists. Marxists.
Such caricatures of Democrats make up Republicans’ opening arguments as they try to protect Georgia’s two U.S. senators who face strong challengers in Jan. 5 runoffs that will determine which party controls the chamber at the start of President-elect Joe Biden’s Democratic administration.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio led the charge Wednesday, campaigning in suburban Atlanta alongside his colleague, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and warning that defeats for her and fellow Georgia Sen. David Perdue would put “radical elements” in control of the U.S. government.
Loeffler went so far as to assert, without supporting details, that her Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock has “a Marxist ideology.” Loeffler did not take questions after the event that filled the Cobb County Republican Party headquarters with hundreds of enthusiastic GOP voters, many of them not wearing masks as coronavirus cases spike across the country.
It’s a familiar trope for Republicans to blast Democrats, especially in traditionally GOP-leaning states like Georgia, as “too liberal” or even “socialist.” But the vehemence to open a two-month runoff campaign blitz underscores the national stakes of Georgia’s unusual twin Senate contests and the sharp focus Republicans are putting on energizing their core supporters for a second round of voting.
The arguments come as Loeffler, Perdue and Georgia Republican officials continue to suggest that the Nov. 3 election — overseen by a Republican secretary of state — was rife with voting irregularities and tabulation errors, assertions that come without evidence but animate a GOP base that remains loyal to President Donald Trump even after his national defeat.
“Turnout takes care of itself when the presidential race is on the ballot, so it can still boil down to persuasion in the middle,” said Republican consultant Chip Lake, a top adviser on Rep. Doug Collins’ unsuccessful bid against Loeffler.
“In a runoff, it’s no longer about persuasion, really,” Lake continued. “It’s about the bases.”
Collins, who is now leading Trump’s recount efforts in Georgia, said in an interview that the goal is to keep Republicans “fired up because they don’t want to see our country turn to a liberal perspective.”
Republican and Democrats are bracing for an unprecedented national-scale campaign in Georgia, a newfound two-party battleground where a record turnout of roughly 5 million split almost evenly. Biden leads Trump by about 14,000 votes at the top of the ticket, but Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced plans Wednesday for an audit with a full hand tally of ballots before certifying the results.
Perdue, first elected in 2014 and now a staunch Trump ally, led Democrat Jon Ossoff but fell short of the majority required under Georgia law to win outright. Loeffler, who was appointed after Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson announced his retirement last year, trailed Warnock in an all-party primary to finish out the final two years of a six-year term.
The Associated Press has called runoffs in both races but hasn't called Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in the presidential contest.
Nationally, Republicans have secured 49 Senate seats to Democrats’ 48. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis’ Democratic challenger has conceded, as well, though the AP has not called the race. Still, the GOP would need at least one of the Georgia seats to command a 51-seat majority in January. In a 50-50 Senate, Democrats would have the tie-breaking vote in Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Rubio and Loeffler warned of dire consequences if that happens, even as Rubio implicitly acknowledged the hyperbole.
“To be fair, not all Democrats are socialists,” Rubio said. “But all socialists are Democrats.”
Rubio alluded to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, an independent who calls himself a democratic socialist and caucuses with Senate Democrats, along with other Democrats who identity as democratic socialists or hail from the party’s left-flank and support policies like “Medicare for All” single-payer health insurance or tuition-free public college nationwide. Rubio nodded to progressive calls to “defund the police.”
“All the energy” and “all the money” in the Democratic Party, Rubio insisted, come from such forces.
During the presidential campaign, Biden consistently beat back such arguments from Trump, noting that he defeated Sanders and other more liberal candidates for the nomination.
“He thinks he’s running against someone else,” Biden quipped during an Oct. 22 debate when the president sought to label his challenger a socialist.
Biden, for example, supports adding a “public option” government insurance plan to current health insurance markets, but without ending private insurance. He backs significant public spending on green energy but opposes progressives’ push for quickly phasing out fossil fuels from the economy and energy grid.
Warnock and Ossoff have largely aligned behind Biden’s agenda, especially on a public option.
Republicans nonetheless are doubling down on their framing after GOP Senate incumbents defeated well-financed challengers in more conservative states such as Iowa, Texas and Montana, while Republican challengers knocked off several House Democrats who’d won moderate districts in the 2018 midterms. Their bet is that Georgia, long a GOP stronghold before Biden’s performance in the presidential race, offers the party a similar reward.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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