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    HomePoliticsBiden-Trump rematch kicks off in Georgia with dueling visits Saturday

    Biden-Trump rematch kicks off in Georgia with dueling visits Saturday


    Rome, Georgia
    CNN
     — 

    President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will hold dueling events Saturday in Georgia as their rematch for the White House moves from an inevitable likelihood to an inescapable reality.

    Biden will continue his post-State of the Union tour by heading to the Atlanta area as he embarks on a monthlong push to deliver his message directly to swing state voters. At nearly the same time, Trump will hold a rally in the state’s northwest corner as he ramps up his own political schedule with an eye toward the general election.

    Their head-to-head appearances separated by about 60 miles of Georgia highway will offer an early window into the competing strategies for courting an electorate less-than-enthused about another Biden-Trump showdown. Few battlegrounds will be more closely watched than Georgia – where Biden won by less than 12,000 votes four years ago – for signs of how voters are responding to the outreach, making the Peach State a fitting kickoff to the eight-month fight ahead.

    “Georgia has been ground zero on the national political landscape since 2018,” said Fred Hicks, a Democratic strategist based in Georgia. “It’s appropriate that this would be the first major stop after the State of the Union where the president is restarting his campaign, and where Donald Trump is trying to regain momentum.”

    The two arrive in Georgia at a key turning point in the presidential race. Saturday’s rally marks Trump’s first since emerging as his party’s presumptive nominee after pushing former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to finally end her longshot presidential campaign, nearly sweeping the Super Tuesday nominating contests and picking up nine more delegates in Friday’s Republican caucus in American Samoa. His nomination could take another symbolic step toward becoming official on Tuesday when Georgia and three other states award their delegates.

    Meanwhile, Biden’s rousing State of the Union address marked an unmistakable pivot toward the political challenge ahead. His nearly 70-minute speech did not mention Trump by name, but included multiple references to “my predecessor” and went to extraordinary lengths to set the stakes for the November election.

    It’s the second-split screen appearance by the two men in as many weeks. Last month, Biden and Trump visited the US-Mexico border on the same day.

    Saturday is the second in a line of trips anticipated this month as Biden’s team seeks to amplify the president’s State of the Union message and build on its infrastructure, kicking off what it’s calling the “I’m on Board” campaign. Biden visited a Philadelphia-area middle school on Friday.

    Campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez told reporters Friday that the team is engaged in new efforts to “dramatically expand our volunteer engagement, scale up our battleground staff, launch our coalition groups, and invest in new paid media campaigns.”

    There are plans for Biden and Harris to travel to every battleground state in the coming weeks, the campaign said. Next week, Biden will head to New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Michigan.

    “Throughout this month of action, we will aggressively mobilize the diverse Biden-Harris coalition,” Rodriguez said.

    That includes Saturday’s visit to Georgia, a state that has proved critical to Democrats winning the White House and the Senate in the last two cycles.

    Early polls of the state, however, show Trump ahead. And unlike in 2020, the race for the US Senate will not come through Georgia, leaving it up to the Biden campaign to mobilize voters without the help of key down ballot candidates.

    “Without any statewide races, anything of note on the ballot, turnout is going to be a challenge,” said Andrew Heaton, a Democratic strategist who worked for Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

    Biden’s team is seeking to make age an asset, releasing a minute-long advertisement – his first of the general election – addressing the political vulnerability, but Democratic strategists say that one part of the winning coalition that Biden will need to address is Black men.

    Hicks stressed that there is little awareness among Black voters of many Biden policies, like his efforts to lower health costs and crack down on price gouging.

    “They live inside the DC bubble,” Hicks said. “And they think that their policies are known, understood and the impact of which are felt outside of the DC bubble and that simply is not the case. So, they’re going to have to tell people what they’ve done.”

    This week, the Trump-aligned super PAC, MAGA, Inc., launched a three-week radio ad campaign targeting Black voters in battleground states, including Georgia, which saw the largest buy.

    The Trump campaign has said that it sees an opening with Black voters who feel disenfranchised or left behind by the Democratic Party and is working on strategies to court these voters. Some Republicans were optimistic after polling in critical battleground states last fall indicated that Trump was making inroads with Black voters.

    But there are headwinds for Trump in Georgia as well – many of his own making.

    After Trump became the first GOP presidential candidate to lose Georgia in 24 years, he lashed out at statewide Republican officeholders, baselessly accusing them of concealing widespread voter fraud. In a phone call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger two months after the 2020 election, Trump pressed Georgia election officials to “find” the votes needed to overturn the election result.

    Shortly after his defeat, the state’s two incumbent Republican senators – David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler – lost their respective runoff contests against Jon Ossoff and Warnock, handing Democrats a slim Senate majority at the beginning of Biden’s presidency. Many in the party blamed Trump’s election denialism and criticism of mail-in ballots for lower party turnout in those runoff contests.

    Trump attributed his 2020 loss to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Raffensperger, who both refused to aid him in overturning the election in the state. Trump personally recruited primary challengers to both men in 2022, though Kemp and Raffensperger prevailed and won reelection.

    Trump has been indicted for his alleged efforts to interfere in the 2020 election there – making Georgia home to one of several legal battles he faces while running for president. Trump has regularly attacked Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney who brought the charges. A judge is expected to rule in the coming weeks whether to disqualify Willis over her past relationship with the special prosecutor overseeing Trump’s case.

    One Republican strategist in the state said Trump’s antics there have hardened many swing voters against the former president. In 2022, that resulted in a sizable number of conservative-leaning independents and moderates splitting their tickets, voting for Kemp for governor but Warnock for Senate.

    “This polling mirage is very dangerous for us to count in our favor,” said the strategist, who asked not to be named to speak freely about the Trump campaign there. “These Kemp-Warnock voters, they will not even have a conversation about Trump. You can’t even start the conversation. They don’t like him.”

    Notably, Trump and Kemp have not reconciled, though Kemp last year said he would vote for the former president over Biden. Kemp was not invited to Trump’s rally in the state.

    Even Republicans rooting for Trump to succeed are unconvinced whether he can make the necessary adjustments to win Georgia.

    “It depends on Trump. I want to see a gracious winner,” said Jule Windham, the local Republican Party chairman of Macon County in Middle Georgia. “I want to see someone who reaches out to the other side and that has not always been his MO. But that would get some of the voters turned off by his personality and not turned off by his policies.”

    One senior adviser told CNN that his team expects to build out its campaign operations in Georgia in the coming weeks. His messaging, though, has already shifted to the general election, particularly seizing on national angst over the flow of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border.

    In recent weeks, that has included regular mentions at campaign rallies of 22-year-old Laken Riley, a nursing student allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant after jogging on the University of Georgia campus. Trump has told audiences that he spoke with Riley’s parents and he tied her death to Biden’s immigration policies.

    Her death is further looming over Biden’s visit after it became a political flashpoint during his State of the Union address this week. Several Republican members of Congress wore pins with her name and she became the subject of heckling from Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, sparking a colorful exchange between her and Biden during the speech.

    Picking up a pin handed to him by Greene as he walked into the House chamber, Biden acknowledged the death of “Lincoln Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal” – at once misstating her name and using a term for undocumented individuals that many Democrats consider a pejorative.

    “To her parents, I say my heart goes out to you,” Biden continued. “Having lost children myself, I understand.”

    Notably, Trump’s rally will take place in Rome, the heart of Greene’s Georgia district, and the congresswoman is expected to attend. Another Georgia Republican, Rep. Mike Collins, is scheduled to be there as well. Riley was killed in Collins’ district and he invited her parents to the State of the Union.

    In a sign of how the tragedy may be further politicized in the months ahead, Greene on Thursday said she told Biden during their face-to-face, “You’re responsible for her murder.”

    This story has been updated with additional details.

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