Trump campaigns for Georgia's Republican senators - but will that help or hurt?

(Reuters) - President Donald Trump campaigns on Saturday for two Republican U.S. senators in Georgia facing January runoffs, but some in his party worry he may do more harm than good if he stays focused on personal grievances over his loss in the Nov. 3 election.

Trump has repeatedly and without evidence asserted widespread fraud in the November election, a claim rejected by state and federal officials, including in Georgia, which Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry in a generation.

The outgoing president has also attacked Republicans who have refused to endorse his claims, such as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Statewide recounts, including a painstaking review by hand of some 5 million ballots, turned up no significant irregularities.

Trump's penchant for making his political rallies all about him - and now, about his claims the U.S. electoral system is rigged - has raised concerns among some Republicans that his appearance in southern Georgia could end up turning voters away.

For example, Trump has publicly fumed about Kemp, a Republican, over his handling of voting issues in his state. A source familiar with the situation said Trump has privately vented to advisers that Kemp is "a moron."

Matt Towery, a former Georgia Republican legislator who is now a political analyst and pollster, said Trump could help Republicans if he talks about the candidates, but warned:

"If he talks about them for 10 minutes and spends the rest of the time telling everyone how terrible Brian Kemp is, then it will only exacerbate things."

The Jan. 5 runoffs pit two Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, against well-funded Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

The races will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Democrats would need to win both seats to win a majority. If Republicans win one seat, they will retain control and be able to block much of Biden's legislative agenda.

Trump enters the fray for a 7 p.m. EST rally in Valdosta, Georgia, with his party in turmoil.

Two pro-Trump lawyers, Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, have argued there that Georgians should not vote in the runoff until issues are resolved from the 2020 election in the state.

Raffensperger was sharply critical of this strategy in an interview with Fox News Channel, saying: "When someone says that, I have to even question if they are a Republican. It's just total foolishness."

He added that he would be voting for the two Republican Senate candidates, even though both had called on him to step down.

REPUBLICANS IN A BIND

How Trump will handle the situation in his first post-election rally was unclear.

One Trump adviser said the hope was he would argue Republicans should produce a huge turnout in the runoffs to erase any questions about voter fraud, but acknowledged that Trump would probably talk more about his grievances than about the candidates.

Trump's grip on the Republican Party remained tight. The Washington Post contacted all 249 Republicans in the House and the Senate as the president continues to make claims without verifiable evidence that he was a victim of a rigged election.

Two Republicans told the Post they consider Trump the winner despite all evidence showing otherwise. And another 222 GOP members — almost 90 percent of all Republicans serving in Congress — will simply not say who won the election.

Trump's refusal to concede has forced Loeffler and Perdue to walk a fine line. Even as they warn voters of the dangers of a Democratic Senate majority, they will not say that Biden won the White House, and echo Trump's attacks on Raffensperger.

On Friday, Trump posted on Twitter that the best way to ensure Perdue and Loeffler win is to uncover fraud and declare him the winner.

"Spirits will soar and everyone will rush out and VOTE!" he wrote.

Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Atlanta's Emory University, said Trump's actions could damage the Republicans.

"The more Trump talks about the presidential election and gets into criticism of how the election was run here, the bigger a problem that is for the Senate candidates, and the greater likelihood that he could reduce enthusiasm among a segment of the electorate," Abramowitz said.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey and Makini Brice and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and Chizu Nomiyama)

12/05/2020 16:58

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