- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2020

COLUMBUS, Georgia — Vice President Mike Pence is slated to return Thursday to headline a pair of rallies for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, becoming the latest in a series of high-profile political figures to call on Georgia voters to stay engaged in the crucial Jan. 5 Senate runoff races.

The two contests are playing out in the most unusual of circumstances.

Candidates and their surrogates are competing for the attention of voters who have been bombarded with President Trump’s stolen-election allegations while juggling holiday plans.

The races are also playing out against the backdrop of a coronavirus pandemic that has left many out of work, struggling to put food on the table and facing the prospect of losing their homes.

Alton Russell, chair of the Muscogee County Republican Party, told The Washington Times it has been “very difficult” to keep voters involved — particularly given the lingering suspicion over President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s 12,000-vote victory here in the Nov. 3 election.

Mr. Russell said Mr. Trump and his lawyers know “without a shadow of a doubt” this was not a fair and accurate election.

He said he supports the president’s decision to challenge the results.

But his beef is with people who are telling Republicans they should sit out the runoff races because it is clear their votes didn’t count.

“My answer for those people, if anybody tells any other American not to vote, they have got to be a communist because that is completely opposite of what we have been telling people since 1776 that voting is a privilege and we need to vote,” Mr. Alton said.

He singled out pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood, criticizing him for calling on voters to boycott the election as a way to punish GOP leaders for not fully embracing the president’s challenge.

“His 15 minutes of fame are over and he needs to get out of Dodge,” Mr. Russell said. “Because of people like that it is hard to turn out the vote in our areas. We are working hard to oppose that message.”

Polls show both races are tight, and there are warning signs for Republicans in the early vote totals.

A running tally from Ryan Anderson on The Georgia Votes blog shows that 715,000 cast votes and over a third of the ballots have come from African American voters — a group that turned out in big numbers for Mr. Biden in the general election.

There also are 18,000 people who have voted that did not vote in the November election, and Democrats claim the demographics of those voters skew Democrat.

Matt Towery, a pollster with InsiderAdvantage, said in an interview with Sean Hannity Wednesday the situation for Republicans is “tenuous.”

“Right now it is a competitive race, but they have got to see that early voting pick up and they’ve got to be able to turn their folks out on Election Day,” he said.

Mr. Pence will look to energize voters with stops here in Columbus, the country seat of Muscogee County, and then in Macon.

The campaign swing comes on the heels of Mr. Biden’s visit to Atlanta this week and follows numerous visits from several high-profile Republicans, including leaders thought to be considering presidential runs in 2024.

Both parties are scrambling to make sure voters stay tuned-in.

Jacquelyn Bettapur, chair of the Cobb County Democrats, said the runoff races should not be considered a continuation of Nov. 3 but rather “a complete reset” with a “different dynamic.”

“It is going to be about which side has the better turnout of voters who voted in the Nov. 3 election,” Ms. Bettapur said. “Can we get them to turn out again?”

“This will be a game of jump ball,” she said. “We are competing with voter fatigue, the holidays, a COVID surge, and the absence of a presidential campaign from the ballot.”

Dontaye Carter, a Democratic activist in Atlanta, said this election cycle has been “exhausting” because of COVID.

He said the key has been trying to talk directly to the day-to-day challenges facing voters.

“You know there is such a huge food shortage for charities and they have been telling us the numbers are just growing,” Mr. Carter said. “Many of the food banks here are out of food.”

“So many people are impacted by COVID,” he said. “So yeah, saying go vote for Jon Ossoff or Raphael Warnock or come back and vote for Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — all that stuff sounds good, but at the end of the day how is the election going to meet the needs of the people?”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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