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Trump, Obama stop by Georgia in closing days of the campaign

Former President Barack Obama stands on stage with Jon Ossoff, left, and Raphael Warnock, right, after speaking at a rally as he campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, at Turner Field in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

By BEN NADLER and RUSS BYNUM Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Barack Obama campaigned for Joe Biden in Atlanta on Monday, arriving the day after President Donald Trump’s second Georgia rally in the home stretch of a presidential race in which the once reliably Republican state has become a battleground.

Headlining a drive-in rally the day before Election Day, Obama declared that Georgia voters have “an even bigger power to deliver the change that we need” — not just by supporting Biden, his former vice president and fellow Democrat, but also by defeating the state’s two Republican senators who are both on the ballot.

Underscoring the high stakes, Trump returned to Georgia on Sunday night for the second time in three weeks for a crowded rally in Rome. Trump, who easily won Georgia without campaigning in the state four years ago, pledged Sunday that Republicans are “going to win this state again.”

Georgia hasn’t selected a Democrat for president since 1992 and hasn’t sent a Democratic senator to Washington since 2000. But Republican victories in statewide elections have become narrower in recent years as the state’s electorate has become less white, and Democrats see an opening this year.

Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, was in Georgia on Sunday, and Biden visited the state last week.

Republican Sen. David Perdue, who faces Democrat Jon Ossoff in a close race, greeted about a dozen supporters at a private air terminal in Savannah. He gave brief remarks but did not take questions.

Perdue credited himself and Trump with building a strong economy “before COVID” and accused Democrats of pushing an “onslaught of socialism.”

“There’s no secret who knows how to run this economy and beat COVID and get our economy back to normal again,” Perdue said.

Ossoff, who joined Obama at the Atlanta rally, slammed Republican leadership throughout the pandemic.

“At a moment when we need steady competent leadership, we’re getting nothing but chaos, incompetence, deception and division,” Ossoff said.

That message was echoed by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the top Democrat in Georgia’s other Senate race — a multicandidate special election for the Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, which also includes GOP Rep. Doug Collins.

Warnock quoted the late Georgia congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, saying, “We’ve got to vote like we’ve never voted before.”

“This has been a long and painful period. But we are about to write a new chapter in the American spirit, in the American story,” Warnock said at the rally in Atlanta.

During a stop in Savannah, Loeffler touted herself as a “political outsider” and said Collins, her chief rival in the 20-candidate special election, had “failed conservatives.”

Still, Loeffler acknowledged her race will almost certainly advance to a Jan. 5 runoff and that Georgia’s GOP voters will have to come together following the bitter feuding between herself and Collins.

“Look, we have to make sure that we keep the Senate in Republican hands,” Loeffler told reporters at small, private air terminal in Savannah. “We have to keep this state red.”

Meanwhile, Collins held a rally near his hometown of Gainesville with Trump ally Roger Stone, whose 40-month prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges related to an investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election was commuted by the president over the summer.

Collins mocked Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman and political newcomer appointed to the seat less than a year ago. He said Loeffler was trying to overcome an “authenticity gap” by spending $23 million of her own money on “the most expensive political makeover you’ve ever seen.”

Trump has declined to take sides in the battle between Loeffler and Collins, saying Sunday: “Whoever it is, you have two winners.”

Nearly 3.9 million ballots have already been cast in Georgia, according to Georgia’s secretary of state, shattering previous early voting records.

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Bynum reported from Savannah.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.