Trump, Biden hold competing rallies in Georgia ahead of Tuesday’s primary contests • Georgia Recorder

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, separated by less than one hundred miles in Georgia, took turns attacking each other in front of friendly crowds Saturday as voting wraps up Tuesday in the battleground state. 

“You’re the reason we’re going to win,” Biden said to his supporters at the Pullman Yards in Atlanta. “Donald Trump has a different constituency. Here’s a guy who’s kicking off his general campaign up the road with Marjorie Taylor Greene. It can tell you a lot about a person who he keeps company with.”

The presence of both presidential frontrunners in Georgia at the same time was a nod to the decisive role Georgia will play once again in determining who leads the nation. 

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the stage at the conclusion of a campaign rally at the Forum River Center March 09, 2024 in Rome, Georgia. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“Look, if we win Georgia, we’re going to win the election,” former President Donald Trump said at a rally in Rome. “Let me put it that way. We have to win Georgia.”

The dueling visits came before Georgians cast their ballots for the state’s presidential primary Tuesday, but the Republican nominating contest was settled after former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced Wednesday that she was leaving the race after a string of losses to Trump, although she did not endorse the former president. 

Fresh off a fiery State of the Union address that was seen as a hard launch for his reelection bid, Biden’s visit marked his return to the campaign trail in a state where his narrow 2020 win helped put him in the White House. 

Biden won Georgia by less than 12,000 votes in 2020, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win here since 1992. But the limited Georgia-specific polling available so far has shown Trump with a lead over Biden in the state.

Biden returns to the campaign trail in Georgia

Saturday’s stop was Biden’s first visit to Georgia since attending former first lady Rosalynn Carter’s tribute ceremony in November, and it was his first speaking appearance in the state since the afterglow of the midterms last January when he appeared at Ebenezer Baptist Church following a hiatus in visits ahead of the key election. Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is senior pastor of the historic Black church.

Vice President Kamala Harris, on the other hand, has been a frequent visitor, traveling to Georgia 10 times since she was sworn in as the nation’s first Black vice president in 2021. Her last visit was in January, when she focused on voting rights.

Supporters wave to the presidents motorcade as it leaves the Pullman Yards in Atlanta Saturday night. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Biden’s visit came a week after first lady Jill Biden stumped in Atlanta to launch Women for Biden-Harris, which is part of the campaign’s effort to keep reproductive rights at the center of race. The first lady returned for Saturday’s rally. 

On Saturday, the president pitched himself as a bulwark against threats to voting access, reproductive rights and democracy. He spoke for about 20 minutes, hitting on several of the same points he made during his State of the Union address Thursday. 

“Folks, it’s not hyperbole to suggest our freedoms are literally on the ballot this November,” Biden said. “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are trying to take our freedoms away.” 

Several elected officials were in the crowd, including Democratic state lawmakers, congressional representatives and Atlanta officials like Mayor Andre Dickens. Georgia’s U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock helped kick off Saturday’s rally. 

“Georgia has the power to set the course for our republic once again, as Georgia already has,” Ossoff said.

But Saturday’s event also highlighted the president’s challenge with members of his own party, who have criticized his handling of the ongoing war in Gaza. Biden’s team has been taking steps to limit disruptions caused by protesters. 

Biden was in the middle rattling off a list of authoritarian world leaders he said Trump has aligned himself with or publicly complimented in his speech Saturday when a pro-Palestine protester briefly interrupted the speech, calling the president “genocide Joe.” The crowd began shouting “four more years” in an attempt to drown out the protester.  

“I don’t resent his passion,” Biden said in response. “There’s a lot of Palestinians who are being unfairly victimized,” 

The protester, Jacob Dallas, said afterward that he wanted to call out Biden for America’s financial support of Israel and to amplify calls for a permanent ceasefire. 

Jacob Dallas (right) was cheered by pro-Palestine protestors after being escorted out of President Joe Biden’s event in Atlanta Saturday. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

“No matter where he goes in this country, he’s going to get called out that same way until he stops this policy, stops funding Israel, and he calls for a permanent ceasefire. None of this six-week whatever and then getting back to the genocide.” 

There is also a grassroots push for like-minded voters to cast a blank ballot in Tuesday’s Georgia primary as an act of protest. In Michigan, a significant number of Democrats voted “uncommitted” in the primary in protest of the Biden administration’s policies related to the Israel-Hamas war. 

State Rep. Ruwa Romman, a Duluth Democrat who is Georgia’s first Muslim woman state legislator, said she is not expecting a groundswell of blank ballots, considering the campaign in Georgia started only a week ago. But Romman, who has amplified calls for action on the blank ballot campaign, said she is hoping there will be enough blank ballots to send a message through the primary process.

“The asks are consistent and clear: we need a permanent ceasefire, immediate end to funding the Israeli government’s atrocities against the Palestinian people, and a flood of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza. We cannot continue down this path. It’s immoral,” Romman said Friday.

Romman was skeptical about the initiatives Biden announced in the State of the Union address, including calling for a six-week ceasefire and a plan to build a floating pier to deliver aid to desperate Gazans.

“I really hope people see this for what it is, an effort to shift policy so our community doesn’t lose any more loved ones because of our tax dollars,” Romman said of the “leave it blank” push. “My life was in danger under Trump. I know what we’re up against this year, but we have an opportunity to course correct.”  

Romman did not offer thoughts on November’s election, saying her focus is on the primary for now. Any loss of support for Biden here could jeopardize his reelection bid.

Sen. Sheikh Rahman, a Lawrenceville Democrat who was Georgia’s first Muslim state lawmaker, was one of the elected Democrats in attendance Saturday. He said the campaign has time to win progressives back over. 

“That’s up to us to push President Biden to do the things right, whatever is right,” Rahman said. 

The president has struggled with low approval ratings as he tries to push back on concerns about his age. He has also struggled with voter views about the economy after inflation surged following the pandemic.

The Feb. 22 murder of Augusta University student Laken Riley has become a political flashpoint and put Georgia at the center of tensions on immigration. Under pressure, Biden said Riley’s name and expressed condolences for her family during Thursday’s State of the Union address, though has been criticized for his pronunciation of her first name.

‘We have to swamp them’

Polls consistently give Trump a single-digit lead over Biden in Georgia, though both men have high unfavorability ratings in the state. 

Trump’s grip on the Georgia GOP came under question in 2022 after many of the candidates he supported in that year’s election were rejected by voters, including former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who Trump endorsed to replace Gov. Brian Kemp.

But as the former president’s political fortunes appear to wax, endorsements from GOP leaders have been rolling in. State House and Senate Republican leadership have officially endorsed him, as have leaders like Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper and Labor Commissioner Bruce Thompson.

Perdue was on hand Saturday, as were other Trump GOP favorites like Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and Congressman Mike Collins.

In a freewheeling speech that lasted nearly two hours, Trump returned again and again to the topic of immigration, pledging to do more to prevent migrants from entering the country illegally.

Trump said Laken Riley’s family was in the audience, and he said by ramping up border enforcement, he will prevent others from being victimized. Some in the crowd held large signs bearing Riley’s name and face. 

“He was an illegal alien,” Trump said of the suspect, who authorities say is a Venezuelan man who entered the country illegally. “He was an illegal immigrant, he was an illegal migrant, and he shouldn’t have been in our country, and he never would have been under the Trump policy.”

“Joe Biden has no remorse. He’s got no regret,” Trump said. “He’s got no empathy, no compassion. And worst of all, he has no intention of stopping the deadly invasion that stole precious Laken’s beautiful American life.”

Trump’s visit marked his first return to the state since he was booked in Fulton County Jail, charged with attempting to overthrow the 2020 election. The former president mocked the prosecutor in that case, Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis, who is awaiting a decision on a Trump-backed motion to disqualify her over allegations of an improper relationship with a fellow prosecutor. 

“‘Let’s make money, darling,’” Trump said, imagining a conversation between Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade. “‘Let’s see, who can we go after? Well, if we go after somebody that nobody ever heard of we can’t make much. I got an idea, let’s do what Joe Biden and everybody else wants, let’s go after Trump.’” 

“And we did nothing wrong, perfect phone call,” Trump added, alluding to his call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump asked him to find enough votes to win him the election. “Other than we challenged the honesty of this election. This election was rigged. Rigged.” 

Despite multiple recounts and inquiries turning up no evidence of widespread voter fraud, Trump continued to claim he was cheated out of winning in Georgia in 2020. He called on supporters to make his victory make his margin of victory so large that nefarious agents could not overturn it.

“Our goal will be one day voting with paper ballots and voter ID,” he said. “Very simple. But until then, Republicans must go out, and we have to swamp them. We have to go out and we have to get so many votes. We want this to be a landslide. That way, it’s too big to rig. We want to make it too big to rig.” 

Reporter Toni Odejimi contributed to this report. 

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