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Obama and Pence hit Georgia campaign trail to court Senate runoff voters

"Anybody listening right now, you need to realize this is not just about Georgia," Obama said. "This is about America and this is about the world."

ATLANTA — Former President Barack Obama and Vice President Mike Pence held dueling rallies courting Georgia voters on Friday, seeking to drum up support in the battle for control of the Senate.

Obama joined 2018 gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams and the two Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, for a virtual rally Friday afternoon. At roughly the same time, Pence joined Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., for an in-person rally in Savannah.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., was slated to attend as well but changed plans after a campaign staffer, Harrison Deal, died in a car accident, she announced in a statement.

President Donald Trump will hold a rally on Saturday in Valdosta with the two Republicans in the runoff, which is about a month away.

"You are now, once again, the center of our civic universe because the special election in Georgia is going to determine, ultimately, the course of the Biden presidency and whether Joe Biden ad Kamala Harris can deliver legislatively all the commitments they've made," Obama said.

Currently, the Senate partisan divide stands at 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. If Ossoff and Warnock both win their races, the Senate will be under Democratic control because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would serve as the tie-breaking vote. If Republicans win just one of the Georgia seats, then the GOP will retain control of the chamber.

Obama pointed to his struggles with Republican senators during his presidency, saying control of the Senate "really matters," adding that "the promise" of the upcoming administration "rests in part on their ability to have a cooperative posture with Congress."

"Anybody listening right now, you need to realize this is not just about Georgia," Obama said. "This is about America and this is about the world. And it's within your power, in fact, to have an impact."

Campaigning in the state was sparse this week with the Republicans in Washington, D.C., for Senate work and the Democrats, for the most part, steering clear of in-person campaigning because of the worsening Covid-19 pandemic.

One million Georgians have already applied for absentee ballots for the upcoming election as of Friday, as Abrams noted. Abrams, Ossoff and Warnock all pushed for the roughly 23,000 Georgians who will have turned 18 after the November election but before the runoffs to register to vote.

"It's time for all of us to get ready," Warnock said. "To put our shoes on. The battle is not over. We've got a race in front of us and we intend to win."

Additionally, Obama and the candidates took aim at Perdue and Loeffler over their recent stock-trading controversies. Obama said that during the pandemic they "were first and foremost worried about their stock portfolio."

"Goodness gracious," he added. "That alone should tell you something. Somehow we've become inured to this kind of stuff."

Pence appeared earlier Friday alongside Perdue and Loeffler at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Each person sat more than six feet away from each other and was masked for the event, during which Pence called the Republican senators "leaders" and "stalwart partners in our national response" to the coronavirus. Pence also thanked them for "their consistent steady support."

At the Savannah rally, Pence carefully threaded the needle, not acknowledging Biden's victory but stressing the need to maintain a Republican Senate majority.

"I’m here because I stand with Donald Trump,” Pence said, “and I’m here because we stand with Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler.”

The vice president said “we’re going to keep fighting until ever legal vote is counted” and “every illegal vote is thrown out."

Two Georgia recounts have so far reaffirmed Biden's victory in the state, which was by less than 13,000 votes.

"And we will never stop fighting to make America great again," Pence continued. "That’s why we need David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler back in the majority in the United States Senate."

He also tried to assure the crowd that — despite what the Trump campaign has been arguing in court — the vote in Georgia would be secure.

“We’re on them. We’re watching,” Pence said, urging voters to ignore calls to sit the election out. “We can fight for our president and more Republicans in the Senate at the same time."

The Republicans have found themselves in a bind. Trump's refusal to accept the election results limits their ability to deliver one of their most effective messages, that keeping the Senate under Republican control will serve as a check on President-elect Joe Biden's administration.

Further complicating and undermining some Republican efforts, Trump allies have pushed for voters not to cast ballots in the runoff election in protest of what they say was a "rigged" general election. Neither Trump nor his allies have provided any proof of voter fraud and the state's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has vehemently defended the integrity of the election.

The president has repeatedly taken aim at Raffensperger and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who he has suggested is not doing enough to help his cause.

In a tip of the hat to reality, Pence also told the crowd they needed to vote for the two Republicans because the “Senate majority could be the last line of defense” against Democrats’ agenda.

“Georgia needs to hold the line,” Pence said.

The vice president also offered prayers and condolences for the Loeffler staffer who died, describing him as "a truly wonderful young man."