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Trump In Valdosta Pushes Republicans Turnout In GA Senate Runoffs, Rails Against Non-Existent Election Fraud

Thousands of people gather at night outside an airport hangar building.
Evan Vucci
The Associated Press
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally for Senate Republican candidates, at Valdosta Regional Airport, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Valdosta, Ga.

Thousands of people welcomed Trump to Valdosta with wild enthusiasm Saturday night, chanting “we love you” and “four more years.” They heard a familiar and fanciful tale: The election was stolen. Trump now wants people to vote again in a state where he claims -- without proof -- that elections are rigged.

“You must go vote and vote early, starting December 14. You have to do it,” Trump said. “They cheated and rigged the presidential election, but we will still win it. We will still win it. We’ll win it. They’re going to try to rig this election, too.”

Republicans are on edge about the January 5th runoffs between Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, and between Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock. Both sides know that whoever turns out more voters will win.

As Trump accused Democrats of an agenda to coddle undocumented immigrants and confiscate guns, Democrats made their case across town. Local Democratic leader Michael Noll cited Sen. Perdue’s opposition to Obamacare and expanding Medicaid.

“David Perdue is not only a failure in regard to taking care of your health and health care, he also is the poster boy for Washington corruption,” Noll said. “He’s one of those who profited off the pandemic by trading in PPE and vaccine stocks.”

The visit to Valdosta was Trump’s first in more than four years. He rallied voters at Valdosta State University in 2016 and VSU political scientist James LaPlant was there to watch. When LaPlant saw people standing in line for two hours to get inside, he knew something remarkable was happening.

“It was part carnival, part political rally, part Walmart sale,” LaPlant said. “That should have been a harbinger, that this guy could not only win the nomination, he could win the presidency, you know?”

Trump won in 2016, but now won’t accept his loss to Joe Biden. At Saturday’s rally, he played the Socialism card to deal with the contradiction in his own message.

“You’re angry because so many votes were stolen, and you say, well, we’re not going to vote. Well, you can’t do that. If you don’t vote, the Socialists and the Communists win. They win.”

Many people in Valdosta had someplace else to be Saturday night.
It was the city’s annual Christmas parade. Despite the obvious COVID-19 risks, downtown was filled with people, most of them without masks. Melissa Moore got an invite to the rally, but took her grandchildren to the parade instead.

“Go Trump! Go Trump! I would love to be there. I’m excited,” Moore said. “I hope he generates a lot of excitement for the Republicans and I hope the Legislature gets off their fannies and gets it right.”

On one of the busiest streets in Valdosta, a two-sided billboard neatly sums up the feelings on both sides in this town. One sign reads “God Bless President Trump.” The other side of the same billboard says: “Unfit and unhinged. Vote him out.”

America did vote him out. But like Trump still won't accept it.

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.