GA Sens Are Taking A Big Gamble That A Post-Election Trump Can Keep His Eye On Their Prize

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 3: Signs for Sens. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., David Perdue, R-Ga., and President Trump, are seen outside the Sarah Smith Elementary School polling place on Election Day in Atlanta, Ga., on Tuesda... UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 3: Signs for Sens. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., David Perdue, R-Ga., and President Trump, are seen outside the Sarah Smith Elementary School polling place on Election Day in Atlanta, Ga., on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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December 1, 2020 5:40 p.m.

As President Donald Trump prepares to travel to Georgia on Saturday to campaign for Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA), his behavior — during a volatile time for a volatile president — remains one of the biggest variables in races that will determine Senate control.

Scenario One: Trump Fans The Flame Of Conspiracy

Since the election, he has been obsessed with flimsy attempts to overturn the election results on the basis of concocted accusations of widespread fraud. Bunkered down at his golf clubs, he’s sent out the likes of a melty Rudy Giuliani and tin foil-hatted Lin Wood to do his dirty work.

That fixation, much like his war on mail-in voting, may ultimately hurt his cause. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has become persona non grata with Trump, said recently that if the President hadn’t decided to vilify mail-in voting, he probably would have won Georgia based on the precipitous drop off in Republican absentee ballots between the primary and the general.

Trump has continued to attack both Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp (R), creating a sort of intra-party civil war in the state. Perdue and Loeffler have stuck with Trump, calling for Raffensperger’s resignation.

If Trump continues to reinforce the idea that the election was rigged, that voting doesn’t matter, he runs the risk of disheartening his followers right out of participating. That could be a problem for Loeffler and Perdue — and is one that Republican officials seem worried about.  

“It does create a tricky campaign environment for Perdue and Loeffler, who have to walk that tightrope between hardcore Trump supporters who can’t accept that he lost, and the reality that he did lose, and control of the Senate depends on these races,” Dan Judy, vice president of North Star Opinion Research, a consultancy for Republican candidates, told TPM. “What Trump himself says down the stretch will make a big difference on how that small slice of Republicans who might boycott behaves.”

He added that even a relatively small number of Republicans opting out could be critical based on how close recent elections in the state have been.

It’s not clear, though, how many MAGA types Trump’s conspiracy theorizing could ultimately dissuade from voting when they’re facing the specter of a Democratic trifecta.

“It’s hard to know how much this ultimately matters,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University. “Some hard-core Trump supporters may stay home but probably not many.”

That’s the gamble Loeffler and Perdue have shown themselves to be willing to take. By hewing to the President, they’ve made it clear that they need his potential juicing of the Republican base more than they fear turnout suppression through his attacks on the election.

Scenario Two: Trump Supercharges GOP Enthusiasm

Indeed, Trump has demonstrated an ability to get Republican voters excited. He increased his total number of votes from 2016 to 2020, and has outperformed polling both times he was on the ballot.

In a runoff election, enthusiasm and turnout are the whole ballgame. 

“Even amidst all the controversy and anger that’s been stirred up by the election result and aftermath, Republicans in Georgia will recognize the stakes and turn out to vote for their candidates,” Judy said. “Runoffs in Georgia have always favored the GOP because their voters have always been more likely to turn out two months later.” 

Democrats are trying to turn the page on a history of dismal runoff election results for them. They have lost six of the last seven statewide runoff elections as Republicans routinely show a stronger ability to retain voter participation in a random mid-winter election. Some argue that the runoff system, a relic of the Jim Crow south, was actually maintained to ensure white political dominance to the detriment of Black voters, who now overwhelmingly vote Democrat. 

Trump’s star power is clearly something Democrats are wary of, as captured in a new billboard campaign from the pro-Joe Biden super PAC Really American. 

 Scenario Three: Trump Gets Bored Of The Whole Shabang 

Trump is known neither for his attention span, nor for his passion in campaigning for others (see: Trump’s exasperated “nobody wants to hear this, Martha” as he ushered Arizona Sen. Martha McSally off of the stage during a campaign stop for her foundering reelection effort). 

There is a not-insignificant chance that he zones out of the Georgia races altogether after his Saturday stop. “It’s not clear to me that Trump really wants them to win,” Abramowitz said of Perdue and Loeffler. “I wonder what he’s going to actually say when he gets here … if he actually does.”

Trump could be a powerful force in helping his party retain Senate control and stave off the tranche of progressive governing that Democrats would unleash with the White House and both chambers of Congress turned blue. But it remains to be seen whether he’ll stay invested enough to do so.

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