In this edition: Garbage time in Georgia, the latest challenge to the presidential election certification, and the races left unfinished as the new Congress is sworn in.

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SUGAR HILL, Ga. — Dan Knab voted Republican in November. He voted again, by absentee ballot, for Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue (R-Ga.) ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff. But he expects all of it to be rigged.

“We’re going to hear that the Democrats won, because the voting devices they’re using today are connected to the Internet,” said Knab, 66, as he waited for a Republican get-out-the-vote rally. “I expect that the White House, the NSA, and individuals in government that want to do what’s right are going to come forward and say: Here's how this election was stolen.”

The two-month runoff campaign, which has already smashed fundraising, spending and turnout records, might have been the first of a post-Trump era. But the president’s refusal to concede has repeatedly reshaped the race. And President Trump’s tactics have been rebooted by the Republican nominees. 

At a Saturday stop in Carrollton, Ga., Loeffler warned Republican voters that Democratic control of Washington would lead to “permanent lockdowns” and the passage of a Green New Deal that would “cost every family $75,000.” (There was no cost estimate in the 2019 Green New Deal resolution, so conservative think tanks have made their own.) At every event, Loeffler warns that Democrats would “defund the police,” an idea rejected by both candidates.

The character attacks on both Democrats go further. Republicans have portrayed Jon Ossoff as both a wealthy do-nothing and a puppet of the Chinese Communist Party, based on a Hong Kong media company purchasing a documentary from Ossoff’s firm; they’ve painted Raphael Warnock as a genuine danger, a threat to women and children, and an ally of international Marxists. 

“Raphael Warnock has been involved in child abuse, domestic abuse,” Loeffler said at her Saturday rallies. “We’ve learned this morning that the lawyer for Harvey Weinstein has been contributing to his campaign. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”

Ossoff, who’s waging his second campaign in four years, has been put through the ringer before. The Republican runoff effort has focused more on Warnock, starting with stories about Warnock’s criticism of Israel and ending, last week, with body-camera footage of Warnock’s ex-wife telling police that her husband had run over her foot with their car.

“I’ve tried to keep the way that he acts under wraps for a long time, but today he crossed the line,” Oulèye Ndoye said. “He’s a great actor. He is phenomenal at putting on a really good show.” That quote made it into a Loeffler ad, which ends by encouraging domestic violence victims to call a hotline. (The abuse allegation was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in March.)

The other attacks are thinner. The child abuse claim grew out of Warnock, in 2002, telling camp counselors accused of misconduct to get legal counsel when police interviewed them. The Weinstein attack came after attorney David Boies donated to a Democratic Georgia political action committee, not to Warnock directly. 

Democrats have responded in two ways: Accusing the Republicans of constant distraction, and lowering their own bar for attacking them. When asked about Loeffler’s accusations, Warnock has condemned the senator for campaigning with Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, a conspiracy theorist who represents deep-red northwest Georgia. Ossoff, who interacts far more with the press, used an impromptu Fox News interview to repeatedly say that Loeffler has been “campaigning with a Klansman.” When confronted by CNN on Sunday — a former member of the Ku Klux Klan got a picture with Loeffler, who denounced him — Ossoff simply insisted he was telling the truth.

“Its even more distressing that this isnt an isolated incident,” Ossoff said. “Kelly Loeffler has repeatedly posed for photographs and been seen campaigning alongside radical white supremacists.”

Tactics like that have kept both Democrats in the hunt, if not slightly stronger. Republicans ended the early-vote period behind their numbers from the Nov. 3 election. The GOP share of the electorate was the same, while Democratic turnout was higher. While the president is campaigning in northwest Georgia tomorrow, he has shown far more interest in reversing his loss in Georgia than in messaging for Loeffler or Perdue. 

In a 35-minute call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), a recording of which was obtained by The Washington Post, the president urged the states top election official to fabricate a new vote count that put him ahead of Joe Biden. He barely mentioned the Senate races. As vividly negative as the campaign has been, nothing has resonated like the idea that turning out in the Senate race will help the president.

“The legacy of Donald Trump is at stake in Georgia,” said former Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski, joined by Republican senators and congressional candidates at a rally in Sugar Hill, Ga. “See, the country is looking at you saying: We can steal another one. They stole the last one. Don’t kid yourself.”

Fixating Republicans on the Senate race, and not the fraud allegations boosted by the president, started out as a challenge. It’s still a challenge. At Sunday’s rally, when Club for Growth President David McIntosh started a chant of “Vote,” a section of the crowd chanted “Stop the steal!” instead. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) warned that an ambitious left-wing agenda would pass if the runoff races were lost, from statehood for Washington, D.C., to a packed Supreme Court. The voters who reached him after the speech thanked him for challenging the Jan. 6 certification of Biden’s win. Asked about that and the Trump-Raffensperger call, Cruz refused to talk about it.

“I’m going to answer what I think matters for the voters of Georgia, and what matters for the voters of Georgia is the special election that is happening on Tuesday,” Cruz said. “I get the media wants to report all sorts of things and get everyone distracted by whatever else is going on.”

Reading list

Inside the effort to turn out Georgias biggest Democratic electorate.

How the presidents election protests keep shaping the race.

Congressional Republicans dont have the votes to overturn the election, but more than 100 are exploring it.

The multimillion-dollar candidate.

How get-out-the-vote campaigns discovered reluctant Democrats that could be turned out.

Perdue si, socialism no.

Will the fate of a 41-year-old father change any minds about the pandemic?

Autogolpe watch

The effort to challenge the Nov. 3 presidential election results has settled into a pattern. First, theres an accusation, then a lawsuit. Then when thats rejected, theres a hearing during which the accusation can be aired unfiltered, whether or not it is true.

Saturdays events fit into that pattern. In the morning, 11 Republican senators announced that they would join Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) to challenge the election results, and a few hours later, the office of Vice President Pence said he “shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election.” For the first time in 144 years, the electoral vote in multiple states would be contested in Congress.

This was both surprising and inevitable, coming after the Senates hearing Dec. 16 on election fraud (which Hawley was part of) and after the failure of a lawsuit that argued that Pence could reject electoral votes if he so chooses. The lawsuit was rejected in district court and in the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. It was also opposed by the Justice Department. But the courts did not go into great detail, saying that the lawsuits were brought by people who did not have standing to sue. 

“In effect, the ruling would be that you’ve got to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa and BLM,” said one plaintiff, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), on Friday.

While Gohmert railed, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) organized. His letter, which brought the number of Republican senators challenging the election to 12, argued that the “allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes,” and that Congress must “immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states.”

Who would volunteer to serve on the commission? Who’d pay for it? The letter skipped the details and focused on what could happen after an emergency audit was completed, days before the next president takes office: “Individual states would evaluate the Commission's findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.” Why would these be “special sessions,” given that all but one state contested by Republicans — Nevada — will have begun its ordinary legislative session before Inauguration Day? Thats also unexplained.

The Republican infighting sparked off by Cruzs letter, and Hawleys previous promise to challenge the results, clarified just what the challenges are designed to do. Both refer not to evidence of voter fraud, but to “allegations” that it might have happened. “At the very least, Congress should investigate allegations of voter fraud and adopt measures to secure the integrity of our elections,” said Hawley, who introduced his own election reform legislation at the end of the last Congress. Cruzs letter cited the “precedent” of the 1877 electoral college fight, when Congress created a special commission to investigate the results — but the commission, dominated by Republicans, handed every contested vote to its nominee, doing nothing to debunk credible fraud allegations.

This makes more sense when considered as a pattern. At state legislative hearings last month, Republicans heard accusations of election fraud from people that were quickly debunked, like a man who told Georgia legislators that hardware not connected to the Internet could be remotely hacked. In court, they produced no fraud claims, focusing instead on getting millions of votes disqualified by arguing that election officials didnt have the power to expand ballot access without permission from Republican state legislatures. But because the courts neither received nor adjudicated actual fraud charges, Republicans like Gohmert argued that they hadnt really been debunked.

Hawley argued that, too. After brushback from colleagues, he put out a weekend statement arguing that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit asking for all absentee voting to be invalidated “without hearing the merits.” Hawley didnt allege fraud, instead writing (correctly) that the state legislature passed a law expanding absentee voting in 2019, then writing (misleadingly) that state officials “put the new law into effect” in November. In reality, the law had been in effect for several elections, including the states tortured and delayed June primary — a fact that harmed the Republican lawsuit, as they had waited until losing an election to quibble with the rules.

Why does one odd phrasing in a news release matter? Because weve been here before: An allegation is made, a court rejects it, and a hearing is called so the allegation can be aired again. Senators and members of the House can say nearly anything they want in floor debate, and each challenge of a state on Jan. 6 will create hours of debate. In a statement endorsing the GOP challenges, the vice presidents office said Republicans could “raise objections and bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people.” It never made sense when pro-Trump conservatives argued that the Supreme Court could hear their allegations of voter fraud — thats not what the court does — but nothing stops Republicans from airing those allegations on C-SPAN.

Democratic reaction to this, and to President Trumps endorsement of an 11 a.m. “Stop the Steal” rally before the certification, has leaned more toward irritation than panic. Theyre not worried about Pence assuming extra-constitutional powers that he has already rejected in that Justice Department filing in the Gohmert suit. Just two Republicans could vote down the challenges, and at least four have said they will do so: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). But they expect to spend hours dealing with this, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, has said Democrats are prepared to counter the allegations and defend the contested states elections.

“We are ready for every contingency,” Klobuchar told The Posts Mike DeBonis this week. “This isnt like we just woke up this morning and said, ‘Oh, this is coming up!’ Weve been working on this since Election Day.”

Ad watch

Jon Ossoff, “Georgia.” Twelve years ago, when a race for this Senate seat in Georgia went to a runoff, President-elect Barack Obama didnt campaign for the Democrat. The states bluer now, and Obama voices this spot which completes Ossoffs weeks-long strategy: Turn the race into a second vote for Joe Biden. “Georgia stepped up. Now, Americas counting on you again,” Obama says, emphasizing Ossoffs pledge to pass more health insurance reforms and a new Voting Rights Act.

David Perdue, “Total Democrat Control.” Republicans are closing out the Senate runoffs with the argument that Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave them two months ago: Defeat in Georgia would let Democrats run everything in Washington. “If they’re in charge, America will never be the same,” a narrator says, as an image of a communist American flag dissolves into Perdue walking with determination toward the camera.

Kelly Loeffler, “Job to Do. Loefflers version of the closing argument ad looks like Perdues, with a little more verve and guitar riffs. Loefflers remarks from last months Trump rally in Valdosta, Ga., are cut together with familiar warnings of how Democrats would wreck the country. “Stop socialism in its tracks,” a narrator says.

Dems in disarray

The 117th Congress was seated Sunday. Mostly. A death in Louisiana, a court fight in New York, and that little runoff in Georgia have left three of 535 seats open, and an ongoing Democratic challenge to a House race in Iowa could add to the Democrats majority, or leave it as is.

Georgias situation is unique: Sen. David Perdues term expired at noon Sunday, and he wont rejoin the Senate unless he wins Tuesday, a process that will take days or weeks to conclude. (Even in a rout, it takes a while for a state to complete a final canvass of votes.) In Louisiana, the death of Rep.-elect Luke Letlow just weeks after his runoff win will keep the 5th Congressional District vacant until a special election later this year. Both Republicans and Democrats expect that to be bundled with a special election for the neighboring 2nd Congressional District, which Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) is vacating to join the Biden administration.

Theres no more voting underway in New Yorks 22nd Congressional District, but the seat remained vacant today as attorneys for Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat, and former congresswoman Claudia Tenney, a Republican, fought over the validity of dozens of contested ballots. Tenney ended the last count up by 29 votes, and the winner will be seated after challenges conclude. Twelve years ago, when Senate Republicans objected to the seating of Minnesotas Al Franken until challenges were exhausted, the Democrat wasnt seated until July.

Iowas 2nd Congressional District did get representation on Sunday, when Democrats seated Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks. But they did so “provisionally,” and their rules package, also passed Sunday, provided funding for the challenge brought by Democrat Rita Hart, who ended the states official count down by just six votes, the closest House election anywhere in the country in this century.

On Dec. 22, Hart filed a challenge with the House Committee on Administration, arguing that 22 ballots had been disqualified even though they were cast by valid voters — and that counting them would put her ahead. Miller-Meeks has 19 more days to respond to that challenge, after which the committee will decide whether to take it up. 

Republicans, even as theyve argued for overturning presidential vote margins of 10,000 votes or more, have resolutely defended Miller-Meeks. The Congressional Leadership Fund conducted a poll in the district, finding a majority of voters wanting the election over with Miller-Meeks seated, and Iowa editorial boards have chastened Hart for seeking relief in the House instead of courts. (Harts argument: Relying on the court might have meant Miller-Meeks was seated before a final decision, at which point there would be no way to unseat her.) On New Years Eve, the Hart campaign gathered some of the affected voters on a conference call, such as Sadie Bromberg, a Democrat who learned too late that her absentee ballot was rejected because she taped it closed.

“I was pretty disappointed, because voting is very important to me as a woman and as an American citizen,” Bromberg said.

If the House Committee rejects the challenge, its over. If Hart ends up prevailing, the Democratic majority can vote whether to seat her. But either resolution is weeks away.

Countdown

… two days until runoffs in Georgia 
… three days until a joint session of Congress to certify the presidential election
… 17 days until the inauguration