COLUMBUS, Georgia — Social and religious conservatives are the GOP’s biggest weapon in the high-stakes Senate runoff races in this Bible Belt state.
Those churchgoing voters have rescued vulnerable Republicans before and they are being called on to do it again — this time on behalf of Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
“To win these runoffs, Republicans have to have — there are no ifs, ands or buts about it — they have to have a large turnout from the evangelical community,” said former Georgia House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, who chaired the Christian Coalition for part of the 1990s.
Vice President Mike Pence tailored parts of his message toward these voters Thursday during a two-stop campaign swing through the state, touting how Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler have been warriors for President Trump and traditional values.
“You remember under the last administration our values and freedoms were under regular assault,” Mr. Pence told the hundreds that turned out in the bitter cold. “The last administration trampled the religious liberties of Americans on a regular basis.”
Mr. Pence said the state’s two Republican senators have been pro-life and pro-Israel and backed Mr. Trump’s conservative court appointees.
Plus, he reminded the crowd that the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee aired concerns about Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Christian faith, telling her “the dogma lives loudly within you.”
“Well, I’ve got news for the Democrats in Washington and their friends in Hollywood,” Mr. Pence said. “That dogma lives loudly in me, and that dogma lives loudly in you, and the right to live and worship according to the dictates of our faith lies loudly in the Constitution of the United States of America.
“So for our liberties and for our freedoms we need Sen. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler back in the Republican majority in the United States Senate,” he said.
Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler are running against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the Jan. 5 runoff races that will decide which party controls the Senate.
Mr. Warnock is the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Exit polls in Georgia found that 33% of the voters who turned out in the November election identified as White evangelicals, and that 85% of those voters backed President Trump.
“If White evangelicals don’t turn out, Republicans don’t win,” said Charles S. Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. “White evangelicals play the role on the Republican side that African Americans play on the Democratic side.”
The Loeffler campaign has gone after Christian voters with television advertisements featuring clips of Mr. Warnock defending the controversial remarks of former President Barack Obama’s ex-pastor Jeremiah Wright.
“Raphael Warnock compared Israel to a racist country,” the narrator says in a Loeffler ad. “Warnock sided with terrorists who hate American and would destroy Israel.”
Mr. Bullock said the attack is part the broader Republican message that Warnock and Ossoff are “too liberal for the values of Georgia.”
Mr. Keen said the big question in Georgia is whether the evangelical or Christian conservative voter is as large a percent of the total vote as it used to be.
“I don’t believe it is,” he said.
“There is no doubt that given the population changes in Georgia, with a lot of people moving in from the Northeast and West, that the typical evangelical vote that let’s say existed 10 years ago is just not as strong overall as it used to be,” he said.
Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock are trying to make the most of those changes, aggressively pursuing votes in the more urban, and less religious, parts of the state.
They say they’re fighting for a multiracial, multi-generational, coalition that they refer to as “The New South.”
Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler, meanwhile, are focusing more than their rivals on the rural parts of the state that are home to more traditional, church-going White evangelicals.
Darrell Robinson, 59, said he “absolutely,” thinks fellow Christian conservatives will turn out for Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler.
“Everbody I talk to in my circle — friends and family and business associates, everybody is fired up,” he said.
“My family, we are God-fearing people we can’t say enough about how good it is for us as Christians, and business leaders,” he said. “The country is great again.”
Mr. Pence’s visit Thursday here to Columbus and then Macon marked his fourth trip since the Nov. 3 election when President-elect Joseph R. Biden won a narrow 12,000 vote victory.
The trip doubled as a chance for him to reach out to disgruntled Trump voters, including the many who believe the election was stolen.
Mr. Pence said he understands voters are frustrated and have doubts about the November election.
But he urged them to recognize they have a chance to thwart the Democrats’ “radical left agenda” and preserve Mr. Trump’s accomplishments.
“I hear some people say it down here in Georgia if you are frustrated about the last election just don’t vote,” Mr. Pence said. “My fellow Americans I say from my heart if you don’t vote they win.”