By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
A handful of Republican statewide officeholders rushed to President Donald Trump’s defense Thursday night as he lashed out against Georgia’s election system just before his lead over Democratic challenger Joe Biden evaporated overnight in the Peach State.
In a prime-time televised speech Thursday, Trump accused Georgia election officials of improperly counting mail-in votes and of having “an election apparatus run by Democrats,” even though both the governor and the state’s election chief are Republicans.
The Republican president, who has called for halting ballot counts in some tight-race states, also made unfounded claims Georgia election officials were accepting ballots after the 7 p.m. Election Day deadline. Similar allegations were made in a Trump campaign lawsuit that a Chatham County judge tossed Thursday.
Trump delivered his speech just as his lead over Biden in Georgia shrunk to less than 4,000 votes. Hours later on Friday, the former vice president and Democratic nominee pulled ahead in the state with a few thousand ballots still left to be counted.
Biden's lead over Trump in Georgia stood at 1,097 votes as of 10 a.m. Thursday morning, according to official state elections data.
Of Georgia’s eight currently seated Republican Congress members, two immediately echoed the president’s attitude Thursday night by slamming the state’s election system in a bid to cast doubt on the election’s integrity and back Trump’s intent to fight mail-in ballot counting in court.
U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, whose district stretches from east of Atlanta to suburban Augusta, unloaded on Georgia officials’ handling of the election minutes after Trump’s speech ended. In a Twitter post, Hice called their performance “embarrassing” and made unfounded claims that “partisan ballots keep appearing" in Georgia.
Shortly after, outgoing U.S. Rep. Doug Collins appeared at a Trump campaign rally in Atlanta alongside the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., where the four-term Gainesville congressman accused an unnamed local media outlet of refusing to report on ballots being counted at State Farm Arena after observers were forced to leave due to a burst water pipe.
“Who’s in cahoots with who?” said Collins, who finished third and out of the running for a January runoff earlier this week in the crowded race for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, the controversial firebrand Republican who won a Northwest Georgia congressional seat on Tuesday, accused Democratic leaders of aiming to “steal” the election by “trying to count ballots that are coming in after the election.”
She also described Republicans who would not support Trump’s push to curb ballot counting in certain states as “cowards” and “weak-kneed.”
The state’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Loeffler and David Perdue, declined Thursday night to directly comment in response to Trump’s statements on Georgia’s election. Both staunch supporters of Trump, Perdue and Loeffler pointed to earlier comments they made Thursday calling for all “legal” and “lawful” votes to be counted.
Loeffler, however, said on Twitter she donated to a Trump campaign fundraising platform aimed at raising money to “protect the results” of the election.
Georgia’s Republican U.S. Reps. Drew Ferguson, Austin Scott, Barry Loudermilk, Rob Woodall, Rick Allen and Buddy Carter had not directly addressed the president’s election comments as of Friday morning. On social media, some of them echoed Loeffler and Perdue in calling for counting “legal” votes.
Also avoiding direct comment were Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, a staunch Trump supporter, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican whose office oversees activities of the state’s 159 county elections boards and is responsible for providing local precincts with voting machines.
In several updates since Tuesday, Raffensperger has stressed Georgia’s election system has “strong security protocols.” His top deputy, Jordan Fuchs, said Friday morning state and local election workers were focused on delivering “real, accurate election results” with the presidential race so close.
“Election workers around the state are working with integrity to ensure every legal ballot is counted,” Fuchs said.
Likewise, the state’s voting systems manager, Gabriel Sterling, defended the elections’ handling by state and county officials on behalf of Raffensperger’s office Thursday, repeatedly stressing the need for accuracy over speed in the ongoing tabulation of ballots.
“In this state, in particular, we take security very seriously,” Sterling said Thursday. “I can speak for the people on Secretary Raffensperger’s staff [and] the elections directors from around the state — they’re going to get it right.”