BUENA VISTA, Ga. (AP) – In the areas of a South Georgia courthouse, a plethora of masked and socially distant voters bowed their heads in prayer for the 260,000 Americans who died from the coronavirus.
Then the Democratic Senate hopeful Raphael Warnock picked up the microphone and promised to push for more economic help for the businesses and people affected by the pandemic and to announce democratic plans to tackle the long-standing racial and wealth disparities highlighted by the crisis.
A day earlier, Vice President Mike Pence had campaigned with Warnock’s opponent, Senator Kelly Loeffler, and other Republican senator, David Perdue. But in the highly republican countries of northern Georgia, little mention was made of the public health plagues that led to the defeat of President Donald Trump: aid programs passed by Congress months ago and vaccinations ranging from mass distribution for weeks or months.
“Before the end of this year, we will see 40 million vaccinations across America,” Pence predicted, attributing the opportunity to “President Donald Trump’s leadership.” His crowd — he only walked away in certain seats and many wore no masks — roared as the vice president added a kick, “We’re miraculously safe.”
Two radically different worlds can be seen in Georgia, where the national political spotlight shines on the twin senate processes that determine which party controls the chamber at the beginning of the democratic administration of elected President Joe Biden. Republicans need one more seat for the majority; Democrats have to sweep through on January 5th.
For Republicans, the pandemic is secondary to a runaway blitz dictated by severe warnings about what it would mean if Warnock defeats Loeffler and Perdue falls on Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. Meanwhile, Democrats are eager to discuss COVID-19 and its economic downturn. The differences in messaging also extend to the public health protocols of the two parties. Approaches largely follow the fall presidential campaign, when Trump wanted to talk about nothing but the virus, while Biden focused on Trump’s cause.
The November results in Georgia explain why neither side is different. Biden cut Trump in the state with less than 13,000 votes out of more than 5 million votes cast. But Perdue led Ossoff by about 100,000 votes and was barely less than the direct majority Georgia is demanding to avoid a runoff. Warnock led Loeffler in a separate election. Both sides come to a common conclusion: The potential votership of both parties is close to 2.5 million. The only question is which party can taste the vote better in a second round.
Retaliation for Republicans again depends in part on generating enthusiasm through personal campaigns, even as cases of the coronavirus increase on a national scale. Trump announced plans for a December 5 protest in Georgia after speculating for weeks as to whether he would still come amid a release next to Biden. As with the president’s October blitz rallies, there is no suggestion that his event in Georgia would involve social isolation or require a mask, as recommended by public health officials.
Neither Perdue nor Loeffler meets the president’s mockery of public health standards. But so far, several indoor events have been held in the run-down campaign without social distance and without mandatory masks. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, appearing alongside Loeffler, attracted hundreds of suburban Republicans to the Cobb County GOP headquarters, surprising organizers, and crowding the facility to the point that some voters left without attempting to get in.
Florida Senator Rick Scott drew similar crowds to a Cumming suburban restaurant for an event attended by the heads of both Georgia states. Days later, Scott said the COVID-19 test was positive and he was exposed to Georgia the same day. Loeffler later announced his own positive test, although consecutive negative tests followed in the following days, leading to the end of a short quarantine..
Loeffler acknowledges the epidemic in his usual speech, highlighting his own and Perdue’s votes on the spring economic aid package.
Warnock and Ossoff counter almost exclusively with outdoor or virtual campaigns. However, Warnock held outdoor photo series that do not involve social distancing.
“We haven’t seen real national public regret because that kind of death doesn’t come in one fell swoop,” Warnock said in Reynolds, where he campaigned under an outdoor picnic canopy. “We don’t really recognize what’s going on. … In the meantime, we are having a debate about science. Wearing a mask is somehow a political statement? No, this is not a political statement. That’s common sense.
Ossoff launched the second round of the campaign with national crawl meetings, similar to those used by Biden after the Labor Day. Ossoff became isolated in July after his wife, an OB-GYN, infected COVID-19. It is often seen in your ads that you greet voters in a mask.
The two Democrats also criticized Loeffler and Perdue to well-timed stock trading after a series of private congressional reports on the then-booming pandemic.
“While you took refuge, he guarded his investments,” Warnock said in Buena Vista.
According to a recent Ossoff ad, Perdue “benefited from the epidemic” instead of “preparing our country”.
Senate ethics officials and the Department of Justice found no violations in any of the Georgia senator’s financial activities.
Ossoff also sought to link Perdue’s allegiance to Trump to the pandemic. For weeks, the president backed unfounded demands for voter fraud in Georgia and other Biden-won battlefield states, without Perdue disputing the allegations.
Pulling Trump’s orderly transition, Ossoff said in an interview, hampered Biden’s ability to organize a government-level coronavirus response.
“What should Senator Perdue do if the interests of the people are at his heart and not just his own,” Ossoff told the Associated Press, “encouraging the president to acknowledge the reality.”
Associated Press writer Ben Nadler contributed to the Atlanta report.