Atlanta, Georgia, United States – President-elect Joe Biden travelled to Georgia on Tuesday to campaign for two Democratic Senate candidates facing runoff elections that will determine control of the US Senate and shape Biden’s first years in the White House.
Biden urged residents in Georgia to vote early for Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and he framed success in the elections as crucial to his ability to pass his agenda as president.
“It’s time to stand up and take back our democracy,” Biden told the drive-in rally in Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighbourhood. “Send me these two men and we will control the Senate and we’ll change the lives of the people of Georgia.”
With the presidency and a majority in the House of Representatives secured, Democrats are focusing on winning control of the Senate to complete a trifecta, which would make it far easier to enact legislation that Republicans could attempt to block.
Warnock and Ossoff are challenging incumbent Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, respectively, who have embraced President Donald Trump and his baseless claims that the presidential election was “rigged”.
Polling shows the races at a statistical tie, so both parties are concentrating on getting their supporters to vote. Biden beat Trump in Georgia by just 12,000 votes, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since former President Bill Clinton in 1992.
Biden’s campaign appearance came just a day after the Electoral College formally confirmed his victory in the presidential election.
Biden made his remarks at Pratt-Pullman Yard, a former industrial area which has recently been renovated as a hub for film studios and as a public urban space.
Unlike the recent Trump rally in Valdosta, Georgia, where thousands of people gathered together, many of whom were not wearing masks, the Democratic event restricted attendance and enforced social-distancing guidelines. Rally attendees watched Biden from inside their cars in an effort to reduce the chance of spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In his speech, Biden promised action on pandemic relief, the economy, healthcare, voting rights, criminal justice and climate change, but warned supporters that he would not be able to accomplish those goals without a Democrat-led Senate.
“Are you ready to vote for two Senators who are doers not roadblocks?” he said. “I need two senators from this state who want to get something done. Not two senators who are just going to get in the way.”
Biden also urged people not to wait until January to vote. Early voting sites opened on Monday and will remain so until the end of the year and both parties have encouraged supporters to vote early.
“Early turnout is especially crucial,” said Ed Kilgore, a veteran Democratic strategist who was part of several campaigns and administrations in Georgia. “In-person voting has always been the preferred method of voting for minority folks in the state, and also because we may be heading into levels of COVID-19 infection that are far worse than anything we have seen before. Banking votes for both parties is going to be more important than ever.”
Although the rally had restricted attendance, Democratic voters gathered outside the perimeter to listen over loudspeakers. Voters said they were well aware of their potential to swing the direction of the country. Many voters framed the election as an opportunity to demote Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has blocked Democratic efforts since rising to the post in 2015.
“This election is different. This can change the Senate,” said Sandy Lange, a Democrat from Atlanta. “This can get Mitch McConnell gone and we can actually get some stuff done. He’s been the albatross. This is almost as big as the presidential election.”
Conner Shey, another Democratic supporter from Atlanta, said that the power of the president without congressional support can only go so far.
“If we want to get stuff done we actually have to change legislation and stuff that can last long term,” he said. “An executive order can only do so much.”
The Georgia run-off has received national attention and has even drawn volunteers from other states who have come to work on behalf of the campaigns.
Jennifer Pierce drove to Georgia from Arkansas and plans to spend several weeks living in her car while she canvasses for Warnock and Ossoff.
“Ossoff and Warnock are easy candidates to support,” Pierce said. “I love them both. But it don’t really matter if they were blind three-legged dogs. Mitch has just got to go.”
Before concluding his remarks Tuesday, Biden thanked Georgians for their support in November but emphasised that their work was not done yet.
“You voted as if your life depended on it. Well, guess what? Now you’re going to have to do it again,” Biden said. “Come January 5th, you’ve got to vote in record numbers again, because, yes, the lives of every Georgian still depend on what you do.”