MARIETTA, Georgia (AP) — On a crisp fall morning, eager volunteers fanned out in the leafy Atlanta suburbs to knock on doors, trying to convince unwilling and skeptical conservatives to register to vote in next month’s midterm elections.
It’s painstaking work everywhere, but especially crucial in the Georgia battlefield, as Donald Trump’s lies about a 2020 election rigged have created a new constituency of election deniers — some wary that their votes won’t be counted in November.
Sending the group in search of votes was an unlikely emissary – former Republican Senator Kelly Loefflerwho initially supported the defeated president’s attempt to undo Joe Biden’s victory, but was now busy, in blue jeans and a country plaid shirt, trying to get election skeptics back to the polls.
“We saw it firsthand in our election,” Loeffler said of the drop-off during an interview outside the Republican Party headquarters in Cobb County, where the volunteers recently gathered.
Loeffler told The Associated Press how she lost her seat to Democrat Raphael Warnock in January 2021 after more than 330,000 Republicans who voted in the 2020 presidential election failed to vote in the January 2021 runoff. While Warnock now faces Republican Herschel Walker in a race that could determine the balance of power in the US Senate, Loeffler tries to avoid repetition.
“This effort is about amplifying Georgia’s voices and taking back our state and saying we won’t be silenced,” Loeffler said, pumping up the volunteers before sending them away. “We know that when people feel that their vote counts, they are more likely to vote.”
It is a unique mission with uncertain prospects in November, the first national election in the wake of Trump’s repeated attacks on the US voting system and the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters trying to stop the certification of Biden’s election.
And it comes as Republicans in Georgia and across the country try to hold together a fragile coalition of voters—those who embrace Trump’s fraud claim and those who reject it.
“That reflects a real tension in the Republican Party messages,” said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America, a Washington-based think tank that specializes in democracy issues.
“It can be self-defeating to say the elections were rigged when you actually have to get people to vote.”
Voters seem eager to cast their votes this fall. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center of Public Affairs Research say 71% of registered voters think the future of the US is at stake if they vote this year. Yet found the poll too a large proportion of Republicans, 58%, still believe Biden’s election was illegitimate.
Brian Robinson, a GOP strategist, said Georgians have moved away from Trump’s claims, judging by this year’s primary election wins for Brad Raffensperger, the embattled secretary of state who unsuccessfully asked Trump to find “11,780” votes, and the incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who drew Trump’s ire for standing behind the state’s results.
“By almost every measure, voters in Georgia have passed the 2020 election and at this point have largely rejected claims that fraud has distorted the election results,” Robinson said.
But Democrats say Republicans are trying to get it both ways, pushing for what one strategist called MAGAs and moderates, referring to Trump’s Make America Great Again supporters. While Loeffler touts Georgia’s New Election Law As fraud prevention, Democrats argue the GOP-led bill was unnecessary, a response to Trump’s 2020 lies.
Loeffler is in many ways an imperfect messenger, one who initially denied the 2020 election results. She took the stage at Trump rallies as he spread his claims about stolen presidential elections. She called on Raffensperger to resign because of his voting method. Loeffler promised Trump voters she would object to the Congressional vote, which drew cheers from the crowd, to halt the effort hours after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol,
Loeffler, a wealthy former businesswoman who remains close to Trump, has invested more than $2 million in Greater Georgia and its companion Citizens for Greater Georgia to vote the Republicans. She models her work in part after Democrat Stacey Abrams, the governor’s candidate, whose voting rights have catapulted her into a national figure in her own right. rematch against Kemp.
“I said from day one when I started this effort, we cannot allow the left to have a monopoly on voter registration in our state,” Loeffler said of the group she launched after her defeat.
The diverse group of volunteers from Greater Georgia burst into clapping chanting “We’ll knock you!” — a nod to the Queen’s song —— in a cul-de-sac in Marietta before breaking up into smaller groups to search the well-appointed middle-class homes.
Trump voter Lisa Buxton said she joined Loeffler because she was tired of “throwing things at my television” in the year after the former president’s defeat.
Buxton said she was sad after the loss of Trump and formed her own women’s church group Christians Taking Action and Prayer around voting and election strategies.
“Our motto is that we know what happened. We know what is in the past. We’re moving forward,” she said.
When asked if Biden was the legitimate president, she paused.
“He’s in the chair,” she said. “The electoral college said he’s here. So there he is. That’s where I am. I’m not going down that rabbit hole because I could jump up and down and scream a lot.”
The challenge of reaching skeptical voters in the final weekend before the deadline was clear. Georgia already has a high voter registration rate, and volunteers that day were mostly met by residents who didn’t answer their door or who had moved on — literally and politically.
Homeowner Scott Davenport said the neighborhood used to be all Republican, but the days are long gone when he stuck a giant Newt Gingrich sign in his lawn in support of the former House GOP speaker.
Davenport, a father of two adult daughters who works in commercial real estate, said he started voting for Democrats during the Trump era. He said the Republican Party’s rhetoric on racial issues and its denial of the 2020 election results was not what he had signed on for.
“I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me,” he said, raking leaves as the colporteurs, who didn’t have him on their priority list, skipped his house. “For me, they just went too far.”
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