AUGUSTA, Ga. — If you turn off the sound while watching a campaign speech in the Georgia Senate runoff races, ignore the signs and hats, you can still tell which party it’s for by the faces in the audience.
If they have masks on, it’s most likely a Democratic event. If not, it’s almost certainly a Republican one.
On Thursday, the U.S. recorded more than 150,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time since the pandemic took hold nationwide about nine months ago, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health experts are urging people to practice social distancing and wear masks outside their homes.
But, taking their cue from President Trump, Republicans by and large have disdained those warnings. That was conspicuously on display in Georgia on Friday, when Democrat Jon Ossoff held an outdoor drive-in rally in a parking lot in Augusta where nearly all attendees wore masks. But in another part of the state, Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both running for reelection, held a joint rally in a restaurant where hardly anyone in the standing-room-only crowd wore masks.
Ossoff finished behind Perdue in the Nov. 3 election and will face him in a runoff on Jan. 5. Loeffler will be running at the same time against Democrat Raphael Warnock.
Ossoff has made the response by many Republicans to the pandemic an issue in his campaign.
“Throughout this entire crisis, [Perdue and Loeffler] have downplayed the risks [of COVID-19],” Ossoff told Yahoo News. “They’ve lied to the public about the severity of the virus, and they’ve undermined doctors and scientists and public health guidelines. The only way out of this crisis is to trust and empower medical experts and apply their expertise to contain the virus and to invest robustly in economic recovery.”
Ossoff spoke before a crowd of more than 200 in a lot across the street from James Brown Arena, just down the street from the Masters Tournament taking place at the Augusta National Golf Club, in the second-to-last stop of his “Future of Georgia” tour. Ossoff boasted about his party’s achievement in winning the state for President-elect Joe Biden, and called on supporters to repeat that success in the two Senate runoffs. Republicans will control at least 50 seats in the next Senate; Democrats have 48. Wins by Ossoff and Warnock would hand control of the body to Democrats, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
“Change is coming to Georgia,” Ossoff said. “The nightmare is ending and we have a chance to define the future we believe in.”
Attendees at Ossoff’s rally supported his call for precautions against COVID-19.
“As a former military pilot, it’s best to stay safe,” Moses McIntosh, 47, told Yahoo News. “Ossoff put the public’s safety before his own and that’s what we all have to do.”
Less than 200 miles away, senators Perdue and Loeffler held a “Defend the Majority” rally at Black Diamond Grill restaurant in Cumming, Ga. To an enthusiastic crowd of more than 300, both senators spoke about Georgia being the heart of the Republican Party and the country.
“Make no mistake. We are the firewall,” said Loeffler. “Not just for the U.S. Senate, but for the future of our country.”
“We proved to the rest of the country that Georgia is not turning blue,” said Perdue, overlooking the results of the balloting for president. “What we have to do is not persuade people. We have to get the vote out.”
Maskless attendees at the Loeffler/Perdue event said while they acknowledge the virus is real, masks aren’t needed in every situation.
“We believe it’s real, but we want to have a life too,” said Alex H., 55, who chose not to give his full last name. “If I’m with someone older I’ll wear it, but if I’m with the same people all the time, I won’t. It’s a courtesy thing.” (Medical experts have not been calling for people to wear masks at home among members of their own household.)
Dean H., who also chose not to give his last name, said he has no issue with the masks, if they save lives, but agreed they are only needed in certain settings. As for the Senate races, he said he supported the Republicans to keep a check on Democrats, who control the House of Representatives in addition to the presidency.
“Checks and balances are critical for our country,” Dean, 58, said. “I’m voting for Perdue and Loeffler because of that.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: (Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images (3))
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