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Trump, Biden trade salvos in Georgia face-off

Published 03/09/2024, 06:03 AM
Updated 03/10/2024, 01:47 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden walks at Joint Base Andrews before departure for a campaign event in Philadelphia, in Maryland, U.S., March 8, 2024. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

By James Oliphant and Nandita Bose

ROME, Georgia (Reuters) -A defiant and bitter Donald Trump returned on Saturday to the state where he faces criminal charges for undermining the 2020 U.S. presidential election, looking to win the battleground of Georgia as a stepping-stone to taking back the presidency.

Trump was stumping in Georgia on the same day as President Joe Biden, who campaigned in nearby Atlanta, signifying the critical role the state will play in November's general election.

In his remarks, Trump repeatedly insisted falsely he was the victim of widespread election fraud and he blasted the Georgia district attorney, Fani Willis, who is prosecuting him for interfering with the 2020 election, accusing her of working with the Biden administration to target him.

“They’re trying to take us out, and it’s not going to work,” Trump told the crowd at an arena in Rome, Georgia.

Biden, meanwhile, took aim at Trump for entertaining Hungary's right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban at his Florida club in recent days, accusing him of "sucking up to dictators and authoritarian thugs all around the world."

"When he says he wants to be a dictator, I believe him," Biden said.

There may not be a more hotly contested state than Georgia in the Nov. 5 general election, which swung to Biden in the 2020 election and was central to Trump’s fraud claims.

Trump is expected to clinch his party's nomination on Tuesday when Georgia, along with Hawaii, Mississippi and Washington state hold nominating contests.

On Thursday, Biden delivered a State of the Union speech laden with criticisms of Trump, accusing him of threatening democracy, kowtowing to Russia and sinking bipartisan immigration reform.

The president, however, continues to grapple with a backlash among Democrats for his staunch support of Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza, discontent that could manifest itself in the vote in Georgia on Tuesday.

At his campaign event on Saturday, a heckler was escorted out after calling the president "Genocide Joe."

A coalition of multifaith and multiracial groups in Georgia have launched a campaign urging voters to leave their ballots blank instead of voting for Biden on Tuesday in the hope of sending a message to the White House to reconsider its support of Israel.

A KEY STATE

Trump’s event was held within the congressional district of right-wing firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene, who raised eyebrows when she attended Thursday’s State of the Union address clad in Trump attire was given a hero’s welcome by Saturday's rowdy crowd.

“Georgia is a key state, it’s a key state in this election,” she said. “We’re going to work as hard as possible to deliver it for Donald Trump."

As he has done in recent speeches, Trump devoted much of his remarks to the situation at the southern U.S. border. He blamed Biden for the death of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student who was killed last month in Athens, Georgia.

A Venezuelan man who authorities say entered the U.S. illegally has been charged in her death. Members of Riley’s family attended Trump's rally and some in the crowd held aloft her picture.

Biden mentioned Riley’s murder during his State of the Union remarks. He apologized on Saturday for referring to the suspect as an “illegal.”

Chris LaCivita, Trump’s co-campaign manager, said Trump would continue to focus on immigration and the economy in the weeks ahead.

“I’m very confident about where we are today, where we’re going to be in November.” LaCivita said. “Because the issues right now aren’t changing.”

NO FRAUD

Biden edged out Trump in Georgia by just 0.23% in 2020. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and the state's top election official, Brad Raffensperger, were adamant that no widespread fraud occurred and that the vote count was legitimate despite Trump's insistence otherwise.

Prosecutors in Georgia allege Trump and his allies engaged in a conspiracy by making false statements about the election and developing a plan to disrupt and delay the congressional certification of the electoral votes. Trump denies the charges.

Trump and his co-defendants are attempting to disqualify Willis from the case, alleging she was involved in an “improper relationship” with a special prosecutor she named to the case and that she financially benefited from the relationship. Willis has denied the allegations.

Last month, a Fulton County judge heard arguments on Trump’s request and is expected to issue a ruling within days.

© Reuters. Supporters use their mobile phones during a campaign rally hosted by Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump at the Forum River Center in Rome, Georgia, U.S. March 9, 2024. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer

“This whole witchhunt should be put out of its misery and dismissed immediately,” Trump said.

Prosecutors have pushed for starting the Trump trial in Georgia as early as August when Trump would be in the heat of the campaign. But it remains unclear whether it will go forward before the election.

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