Pence heads to Georgia as Republicans continue fight in battleground Senate races


By Jeff Mason

Vice President Mike Pence will jump into the fray of two red-hot U.S. Senate campaigns in Georgia on Friday, aiming to get Republican voters to turn out in force for a Jan. 5 runoff election battle that will decide Senate control.

With President Donald Trump contesting President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, Pence is scheduled to make campaign stops in Canton and Gainesville, Republican areas where Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler will need strong turnout to defeat Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

“Good Republicans never vote alone, guys!” Perdue, a businessman, told a rally near Macon, Georgia, on Thursday. Loeffler also urged supporters to put out yard signs, attach bumper stickers to their cars and volunteer to knock on doors and staff phone banks.

With Trump no longer on the ballot, Republicans and Democrats both face challenges getting large numbers of voters to the polls in January.

Pence’s visit could also help address hurdles that Republicans face on their own.

Analysts said he could bring greater focus to the Senate races at a time of infighting between Georgia Republicans.

Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator since 1996. Biden narrowly leads President Donald Trump there by 49.5% to 49.2%, outperforming both of the Democratic Senate hopefuls.

Loeffler and Perdue ruffled party feathers by calling jointly for the resignation of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, as the state conducted a series of vote recounts focused on the presidential contest.

Loeffler also fought a bitter contest against Republican rival Doug Collins in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 election and may have alienated some Collins supporters.

Pence’s visit could also help draw support for Perdue and Loeffler from Republican and conservative independent voters who cast ballots for Biden or a third-party candidate in the presidential election but would still back down-ballot Republican candidates, analysts said.

Democrats, who netted only one Republican Senate seat in the election, need both Georgia seats to take control of the chamber and push Biden’s legislative agenda through Congress. Doing so would give them 50 seats of the Senate’s 100 seats, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote.

But Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential election is also complicating matters for Republicans by making it hard to rally voters to hold the line against a Biden presidency. Instead, they have had to settle for portraying Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer as a political villain.

“The eyes of the world are upon you, Georgia,” Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton told Thursday’s rally near Macon, where he joined Loeffler and Perdue.

“Are we going to have a Republican majority?” he asked. “Or are we going to have Chuck Schumer and the Democrats in charge?”

The Senate races are quickly becoming nationalized as campaign donors and outside groups pour money and resources into the state for runoff elections that could top $100 million in overall spending.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Aurora Ellis)

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