Georgia’s a 2020 Battleground, But It’s Not the Premier Presidential Hot Spot

September 16, 2020by Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)
Eric Trump tosses a hat into the crowd at a campaign rally for his father U.S. President Donald Trump at the BOK Center, June 20, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)

ATLANTA — President Donald Trump’s son Eric shared the stage Tuesday with evangelical pastors in Atlanta’s northern suburbs to tout his father’s campaign. A day earlier, Dr. Jill Biden “virtually” traveled to Georgia to talk about her husband Joe’s plan to help military veterans.

The attention from the relatives of White House hopefuls reflects how Georgia remains in the mix in November. But it is not generating the level of intensity seen in Pennsylvania, Florida and other battlegrounds where Trump and Biden are warring.

Democrats might take solace that the mere fact that Biden is threatening in Georgia has forced Republicans to play defense. Recent polls show a tight race in the state, which Republicans have carried in every White House race since 1996.

Republicans, meanwhile, crow about the campaign’s robust in-person presence in the state, mindful that Trump has no clear path to victory if he loses Georgia.

“The silent majority is not all that silent anymore,” said Eric Trump, speaking to a crowd of hundreds at an Evangelicals for Trump event outside a barn in Cumming, before falsely boasting: “Biden, in his entire campaign, hasn’t pulled this many people.”

Biden has other routes to 270 Electoral College votes if he falters here. He has focused mainly on the Rust Belt states that Trump flipped in 2016 — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — as well as Minnesota, which Hillary Clinton narrowly carried four years ago.

Biden’s campaign is also redoubling its efforts in Arizona and Florida, two states that would essentially doom Trump’s chances at a second term if they flipped.

Though Georgia is no afterthought for Biden strategists, it’s also not the lowest-hanging fruit on the battleground map.

Carl Cavalli, a University of North Georgia political scientist, describes a “skepticism among Democrats and nervousness among Republicans.”

“The closeness of the race and unease about a 2016 repeat is pushing Democrats to invest in our state,” he said. “Similarly, Republicans are used to Georgia being in the bag, but that closeness and unease nationally are leading them to inject resources where they may not have wanted to.”

Biden recently beefed up his campaign staff, hiring a local communications director and adding a “voter protection” guru in the state. A slate of virtual Georgia grassroots events are on the schedule. And in a recent interview on Channel 2 Action News, Biden downplayed a poll that showed him trailing Trump.

“The polling I’ve seen locally as well as nationally, the state of Georgia, I’m doing just fine,” Biden said. “I’m doing better than any Democratic presidential candidate has in a long, long time. And it’s very competitive.”

And Trump’s campaign has steadily ramped up its efforts to fortify the state. While Biden’s operation in Georgia has stuck to online events to avoiding spreading the coronavirus, Trump’s staffers and volunteers have been back in the field since June.

Brian Barrett, the Trump campaign’s regional director, calls the door-to-door canvassers the president has amassed a “field army that can be the foundation that all Georgia candidates can stand on.”

And on Tuesday, the campaign released a new ad in Georgia as part of a $10 million buy across competitive states. The 30-second TV spot warns that a Biden administration would lead to an “economy in ruins,” pivoting to one of the few issues where Trump leads Biden in the polls.

At Tuesday’s event in Cumming, the Trump campaign spotlighted evangelical voters, whose overwhelming support in 2016 helped him narrowly defeat Clinton.

This election, support from religious voters has dipped. An August survey by Fox News showed Biden hovering at 28% support among white evangelicals — that’s an improvement of 12 percentage points from Clinton’s performance in 2016 exit polls.

“All this progress, all these victories, can go away in a heartbeat on November 3,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed one of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion measures last year, said at Tuesday’s even. “If we tire, if we lose faith, you know what we get? Joe Biden. And you know what we get with that? Liberal judges.”

A day earlier, Jill Biden held a virtual event that featured Georgia military families and highlighted her husband’s veterans’ agenda. She ended it with a plea for support from Georgians.

“The stakes in this election couldn’t be higher. We have just 50 days to make sure our voices are heard. Fifty days to make calls and to talk to our friends. Fifty days to make sure we wake up on November fourth knowing we did everything we can.”

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©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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