Mike Pence arrives in Georgia to help Republican turnout in US Senate battleground

CANTON, GEORGIA (REUTERS) – Vice-President Mike Pence jumped into the fray of two red-hot US Senate campaigns in Georgia on Friday (Nov 20), aiming to get Republican voters to turn out in force for a Jan 5 runoff election that will decide which party controls the Senate.

Just as state officials certified President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory over President Donald Trump, Pence arrived in Georgia for “Defend the Majority” rallies in Canton and Gainesville, Republican areas where Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler will need strong turnout to defeat Democratic challengers 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. He travelled to Georgia with US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a cousin of the senator and leading party figure who served as the first Republican governor of Georgia since the post-Civil War Reconstruction.

Analysts said the visit 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. But Republican confidence has been shaken by Biden’s narrow 49.5 per cent to 49.2 per cent lead over Trump, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in nearly three decades.

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 posed for pictures with the two Republican senators at a US Air Force base north of Atlanta before joining a bus tour for the rallies.

The vice-president could 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.

Democrats, who netted only one Republican Senate seat nationwide 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.

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 their political villain.

“Are we going to have a Republican majority? Or are we going to have Chuck Schumer and the Democrats in charge?” Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton told Thursday’s rally near Macon.

The Senate races are quickly becoming nationalised as campaign donors and outside groups pour money and resources into the state for runoff elections that could be well over US$100 million (S$130 million) in overall spending.

Republicans have formed a fund-raising network called the Georgia Battleground Fund led by scores of party celebrities including members of Congress, former governors and ambassadors.

A source said the Fund is seeking millions of dollars from donors in big states like Florida and Texas.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, an honorary Fund co-chair, chipped in US$1 million for the Georgia races during a Zoom call with 60 other House members that raised US$2.7 million overall in just 30 minutes, according to a person familiar with the event.