MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — On a crisp fall morning, eager volunteers fanned out in Atlanta’s leafy suburban neighborhood to knock on doors, trying to persuade reluctant and skeptical conservatives to register to vote in the election. of the next month. midterm elections.
It’s painstaking work anywhere, but especially critical on the battlefield of Georgia, as Donald Trump’s lies about a rigged 2020 election have created a new constituency of election deniers, some wary their votes won’t be counted. in November.
Sending the group on the hunt for votes was an unlikely emissary: former Republican senator Kelly Loefflerwho initially supported the defeated president’s effort to undo Joe Biden’s victory, but was now working, in blue jeans and a plaid shirt, to lure election skeptics back to the polls.
“We saw it firsthand in our election,” Loeffler said of the delivery during an interview outside the Cobb County GOP headquarters, where volunteers gathered on a recent Saturday.
Loeffler told The Associated Press how he lost his seat to Democrat Raphael Warnock in January 2021 after more than 330,000 Republicans who voted in the 2020 presidential election did not vote in the January 2021 runoff. As Warnock now faces Republican Herschel Walker in a race that could determine the balance of power in the US Senate, Loeffler is trying to prevent a repeat.
“This effort is about amplifying the voices of Georgia and taking back our state and saying we will not be silenced,” Loeffler said, cheering on the volunteers before sending them off. “We know that when people feel like their vote counts, they are more likely to vote.”
It is a unique mission with uncertain prospects in November, the first national elections after Trump’s repeated attacks on the US electoral system and the January 6 assault 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 are trying to hold together a fragile coalition of voters: those who accept Trump’s fraud charge and those who reject it.
“That reflects a real tension in the GOP’s messaging,” said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America, a Washington-based think tank that specializes in democracy issues.
“It can be counterproductive to say the election is rigged if you really have to get people out to vote.”
Voters seem eager to cast their ballots this fall. A new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center of Public Affairs Researchfinds that 71% of registered voters think the future of the US is at stake when they vote this year. Even the survey also found a large segment of Republicans, 58%, still believe that Biden’s choice was not legitimate.
Brian Robinson, a GOP strategist, said Georgians have put Trump’s claims behind him, judging by this year’s primary victories for Brad Raffensperger, the embattled secretary of state whom Trump unsuccessfully asked to “find 11,780” votes and incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp. , who drew the ire of Trump for endorsing the state’s results.
“By almost any measure, Georgia voters have come through the 2020 election and at this point have largely rejected claims that fraud tarnishes the election outcome,” Robinson said.
But Democrats say Republicans are trying to have it both ways, courting what one strategist called MAGA and moderates, referring to Trump supporters from Make America Great Again. While Loeffler promotes Georgia’s new election law as fraud prevention, Democrats argue the GOP-led bill was unnecessary, a reaction to Trump’s lies about 2020.
Loeffler is, in many ways, an imperfect messenger, having initially denied the 2020 election results. He stood on stage at Trump rallies as he spread his claims of a stolen presidential election. He asked Raffensperger to resign over his handling of the vote. Loeffler promised voters at Trump’s rally that he would oppose the vote count in Congress, drawing cheers from the crowd, only to abandon the effort hours after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on Capitol Hill.
Loeffler, a wealthy former businesswoman who remains close to Trump, has invested more than $2 million in Greater Georgia and her companion Citizens for Greater Georgia effort to get Republicans out to vote. She is modeling her work in part after Democrat Stacey Abrams, the gubernatorial candidate, whose enfranchisement efforts have catapulted her into a national figure in her rematchagainst kemp.
“I said from day one when I started this effort, we can’t let the left have a monopoly on voter registration in our state,” Loeffler said of the group he launched after his loss.
The diverse group of volunteers from Greater Georgia broke into a cheering chant of “We’ll hit you!” — a nod to the Queen song — at a cul-de-sac in Marietta before breaking up into smaller groups to canvass well-appointed middle-class homes.
Trump voter Lisa Buxton said she joined Loeffler’s effort because she was tired of “throwing stuff at my TV” in the year after the former president lost.
Buxton said she was sad after Trump’s loss and formed her own church women’s group, Christians Taking Action and Prayer, around election and voting strategies.
“Our motto is that we know what has happened. We know what is in the past. We are going forward,” she said.
When asked if Biden was the legitimate president, he paused for a long time.
“He’s sitting on the chair,” he said. “The electoral college said he is there. So he is there. That’s where I am. I’m not going down that rabbit hole because he might jump up and scream a lot.”
The challenge of reaching skeptical voters the last weekend before the deadline was clear. Georgia already has a high voter turnout, and volunteers that day mostly encountered residents who either didn’t answer their door or who moved, literally and politically.
The home’s owner, Scott Davenport, said the neighborhood used to be all Republicans, but the days when he used to put up a giant Newt Gingrich sign in his yard supporting the former Republican House speaker are long gone.
Davenport, a father of two adult daughters who works in commercial real estate, said it was in the Trump era that he began voting Democrat. He said the GOP’s rhetoric on racial issues and its denial of the 2020 election results was not what he had signed on to.
“I didn’t leave the GOP, the GOP left me,” he said, raking through leaves as pollsters, who didn’t have him on their list of priorities, skipped his house. “For me, they have gone too far.”
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