Relief Package Grows as Campaign Issue in Georgia Senate Races

The $900 billion pandemic relief package that President Trump belatedly signed Sunday night gained steam on Monday as an issue in the Georgia Senate runoffs, with the two Republican incumbents seeking to ride the tailwinds of the stimulus bill and claim credit for helping to bring aid to the state.

“Help is on the way,” Senator Kelly Loeffler tweeted Monday morning, applauding the stimulus package with its billions of dollars for vaccine distribution, schools and other beneficiaries, and a $600 payment to millions of Americans. She and her fellow incumbent, David Perdue, released a statement Sunday night thanking the president for finally approving the stimulus funds, avoiding the fact that Mr. Trump plunged the fate of the bill into turmoil last week by calling it “a disgrace” and demanding that direct payments be increased to $2,000.

At the same time, the two Democratic candidates — Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock — on Monday criticized the Republican-led Senate for dragging its feet for months on the bill. They called the $600 payments too small and seized on the president’s call for larger payments to bolster their position.

“David Perdue does not care about us, and $600 is a joke,” Mr. Ossoff told several hundred people at an outdoor get-out-the-vote rally with Mr. Warnock in DeKalb County, one of the suburban Atlanta counties that has become increasingly diverse over the past decade.

“You send me and Reverend Warnock to the Senate and we will put money in your pocket,” Mr. Ossoff said. He faces Mr. Perdue in the runoff, while Mr. Warnock is challenging Ms. Loeffler.

Mr. Perdue has been running ads attacking Mr. Ossoff for calling the $600 relief checks “a joke” even though the president had also called them far too small. Mr. Ossoff wrote on Twitter that Mr. Perdue hadn’t even favored a first round of direct payments last spring.

With Election Day in Georgia just over a week away, Mr. Trump’s initial refusal to sign the stimulus package had put Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue in a delicate position. Both had supported the measure that passed with a $600 direct payment, but both are strong supporters of Mr. Trump and risked angering him if they publicly broke with him on the need to sign the bill.

“The president continues to put both incumbent Republican senators in difficult places during a very hotly contested Senate runoff,” said Bill Crane, a longtime Republican political operative and analyst in Georgia.

Despite the confusion, the president tweeted Sunday that he would make a final campaign appearance on behalf of the two senators in Dalton, Ga., a carpet manufacturing hub in the north, on the eve of the election. The two races have drawn national attention and a record influx of money because of their potentially pivotal roles in determining the balance of power in the Senate.

If both Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock win, there will be a 50-to-50 split, with control of the chamber shifting to the Democrats because of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s ability to break ties.

The fate of the two senators in the unusual dual runoff may come down to turnout in Dalton and the rest of northwestern Georgia, a conservative area where Mr. Trump won 70 percent or more of the vote in most counties. His decision to visit the region, where he remains popular, appeared to be aimed at a last-minute effort to motivate Republican voters.

The election seemed to be headed for a record turnout in a runoff, with 2.1 million Georgians having already cast ballots either at early voting sites or by mail-in ballots. The heaviest turnout so far has been in Democratic areas around Atlanta.

Mr. Crane said he saw advantages for the Democrats in early voting, voter enthusiasm and money. “The Democrats are killing in mail voting,” Mr. Crane said, also noting that 76,000 new voters had registered since the November election, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“That again speaks to enthusiasm and would play to the Democratic side,” he said.

Republicans have expressed concern that Mr. Trump’s repeated complaints about “rigged elections” — a false claim he has made to explain his loss to Joseph R. Biden Jr. — will discourage voters in their party from turning out for the Senate runoffs. Mr. Crane said the message from far-right commentators about voter fraud had endured in the state, with some Georgians confused about whether their vote will count. “Georgia is still conflicted about ‘should we vote at all,’” he said.

With early voting continuing through December, the campaigns of Mr. Warnock and Mr. Ossoff focused Monday on encouraging voters to cast ballots. Their drive-in event, held in the parking lot of a Baptist church, featured performances by several rappers, including Shelley FKA DRAM, J.I.D, Tokyo Jetz and BRS Kash.

Mr. Ossoff, who runs a documentary production company, and Mr. Warnock, the pastor of a historic Atlanta church, encouraged their supporters to head to early voting sites or submit their ballots in drop boxes. “The whole country is watching Georgia voters to see what we will do at this historic moment,” Mr. Ossoff said.

Both Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock — as well as Democrats on Capitol Hill — viewed the stimulus checks as a winning issue and had seized on both the smaller payments and the president’s opposition to the stimulus package in an effort to boost their chances in Georgia. On Monday, hours before the House of Representatives voted to advance the $2,000 stimulus checks demanded by Mr. Trump, Mr. Ossoff tweeted, “@Perduesenate, when will you commit to $2,000 relief checks for Georgians?”

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