In Georgia, Republicans juggle Biden win and Trump loyalties

2 Senate seats in runoffs

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FILE- In this July 15, 2020, file photo Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., puts on a face mask as she walks with Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., right, at UPS Hapeville Airport Hub in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – Twin Georgia Senate runoffs have Republicans in a quandary. They could admit President Donald Trump lost his re-election bid and turn all attention to salvaging a Senate majority to counter President-elect Joe Biden. Or they could march lockstep alongside Trump and his unfounded assertions of a stolen election.

So far, Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, along with a gaggle of GOP power players right up to Vice President Mike Pence, seem to want it both ways. Some Trump loyalists insist that’s not enough.

This tightrope act threatens party unity as Loeffler and Perdue try to beat back strong Democratic challenges from Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively, in Jan. 5 contests that will determine which party controls the Senate at the outset of a Biden administration. The worrisome reality for Republicans is that it wouldn’t take much splintering to tilt the contests in Democrats’ favor in a newfound battleground where Biden outpaced Trump by just 12,000 votes out of about 5 million cast in the general election.

“If they want to excite Trump supporters to turn out to vote in the Senate runoff, candidates need to be supportive of what the Trump campaign is doing in the regard to challenging the election,” said Debbie Dooley, a national tea party organizer in Georgia and an early supporter of Trump’s 2016 campaign.

After Georgia’s Republican secretary of state and Republican governor certified the state’s vote totals in Biden’s favor, Dooley said, the sentiment among the president’s strongest supporters crystallized. They “question why they should support candidates that aren’t fully supporting Trump,” she said.

To be sure, Perdue and Loeffler have made considerable efforts to align themselves with Trump throughout their Senate tenures — nearly six years for the first-term Perdue, less than a year for the appointed Loeffler now seeking her first election. Since Election Day, the senators have called for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s resignation. They’ve echoed nebulous claims about irregularities in Georgia’s voting process and tabulation and have yet to publicly acknowledge Biden as the president-elect.

Yet the campaign on the ground offers a different story, with the senators and their top supporters stressing an argument that admits, without saying as much, that Biden has been duly elected and will take office on Jan. 20.

Perdue calls a Republican Senate “the last line of defense” as he campaigns on a bus emblazoned with a clear message: “Win Georgia. Save America.”