(CNN) — Sen. David Perdue issued a blunt warning to GOP activists during an off-the-record conference call this week: Democrats are in position to turn his state blue and take the Senate.
“Here’s the reality: The state of Georgia is in play,” Perdue said Monday, according to an audio recording of a call with “Women for Trump” obtained by CNN. “The Democrats have made it that way.”READ MORE: Stimulus Check Update: When Might Your $1,400 Economic Relief Payment Arrive?
The stark warning from a GOP senator — who is not considered among the most vulnerable Republicans this election cycle — illustrates the fear among Republicans that Democrats’ chances of taking back the Senate continue to grow.
Already facing the prospect of defending the Senate with an polarizing Republican president in an election cycle with more seats to defend than to target, Republicans are up against a bevy of well-funded Democratic challengers and are now navigating a public health and economic crisis that has injected deep uncertainty into the national political landscape.
Indeed, the political environment for GOP senators has only become more challenging in the past few months. Republican incumbents in Colorado, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina always knew they would face a tough path to reelection. Now Republicans in more conservative states — Georgia, Iowa, Montana and even Kansas — have realized the same.
In January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decided not to run for the open seat in Kansas, leaving behind a divisive primary field, including the polarizing conservative Kris Kobach, the former Kansas Secretary of State who lost to Democrat Laura Kelly in the 2018 governor’s race. Weeks later, Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia announced his insurgent campaign for the seat that GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler was just appointed to fill. In March, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock announced he’d run for Senate in Montana, instantly putting the seat held by GOP Sen. Steve Daines on the map.
Republicans are particularly concerned that the intraparty battles in Kansas and Georgia, two states Trump carried in 2016, could make it easier for Democrats to gain the three seats they need to take back the Senate if former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidency since the vice president breaks a 50-50 tie.
Behind the scenes, GOP senators are trying to instill fear into their base and mobilize their loyal voters into action, Republican sources say. On the private Monday call, Perdue told the GOP activists that the 2020 elections would be a “turning point for America.”
‘Our wake-up call in Georgia’
The Georgia senator laid out an apocalyptic view in the eyes of Republicans if Democrats take back the Senate, warning they would seek to make Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico states, try to abolish the Electoral College, add four justices to the Supreme Court and create a “single-party system.”
“We have had our wake-up call in Georgia,” Perdue said, detailing the state’s recent electoral history of increasingly tight races. Perdue said he needs to win “twice the number of votes” than he did in his 2014 campaign to keep his seat due to the influx of new Democrats in Georgia. “The demographic moves against us. But we can still win this if we get out and make sure that all of our voters vote. That’s what this comes down to.”
Ginger Howard, a Georgia committeewoman for the Republican Party, responded that Perdue’s analysis was “very sobering.”
“It’s hard to hear,” she said on the call. “The truth hurts sometimes — and we need to know that because we’ve got to work doubly hard.”
Asked for comment about the call, Perdue spokeswoman Casey Black said: “From day one, our campaign has known that this will be a competitive race. With his strong record of proven results in the U.S. Senate, we are confident that Georgia voters will re-elect David Perdue this November.” Howard didn’t respond to an inquiry seeking comment.
Perdue’s assessment is striking in part because both parties view his race as less competitive than the other Senate race in Georgia, a special election to fill the seat of the retired Sen. Johnny Isakson. In that race, candidates of all parties will be on the ballot in November — and whoever takes a majority of the vote will win the seat outright; otherwise there will be a runoff between the top two candidates.READ MORE: Wanted For Homicide, Florida Man Leads Deputies On Chase, Breaks Into Home Before Placed Under Arrest
With Loeffler and Collins engaged in a ferocious and personal fight, Republican leaders are worried that it will only boost the chances of Reverend Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and a Democrat who raised $1.5 million in the first quarter.
In a recent interview, Warnock attacked Loeffler, who has faced questions over stock trades in her portfolio made before the market took a nosedive, the subject of a new pro-Collins super PAC ad.
“Right now, Georgia has a senator, who when she received the news about the coronavirus pandemic, seemed to be more focused on sheltering her own investments than she was in making sure that those who were sheltering in have the protections that they need,” said Warnock.
Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Loeffler, disputed Warnock’s allegation, saying she has put “people — not politics –first” during the coronavirus crisis.
“While Mr. Warnock is parroting baseless accusations from the radical left, Sen. Loeffler is working around the clock to deliver relief to Georgians impacted by COVID-19,” Lawson said.
Republicans in Washington are worried that their incumbent senators are not getting the recognition they deserve for backing emergency rescue legislation to prop up the faltering economy, including hundreds of billions of dollars for small businesses, hospitals, workers and the unemployed. Instead, their governors are generally receiving the lion’s share of the credit for implementing the states’ response.
What’s more: Republicans need Trump to steady his handling of the pandemic, given that many of their electoral prospects will depend on his performance at the polls.
Whit Ayres, a prominent GOP pollster, said it will be a “challenge for Republican senators to run very far ahead of the President” given the deeply divided electorate.
“That means the President’s standing in each of these states is every bit as important or more important than the senator’s standing,” Ayres said.
On the private call, Perdue made clear his affinity for Trump and gushed about the President’s handling of the crisis.
“I really think that President Trump is a person of destiny,” Perdue said when asked how Trump’s response to the pandemic “helped save lives.”
Several Democrats, including former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff, 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico and former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson, are vying for the chance to take on Perdue. But the Republican senator boasts a huge fundraising advantage with over $9 million on hand and an easier path to reelection than at least seven other GOP incumbents, according to political handicappers.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has realized the threat of losing the Senate, reserving ads starting in June, earlier than the past cycle, with at least $31 million reserved for the cycle in seven states, an amount that is certain to grow. The Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has already reserved $67 million in six key states, more than double its initial amount in 2018. It already has spent roughly $2 million against Collins in Georgia.MORE NEWS: Florida Man, Family Torches His Impounded Vehicle To Destroy Evidence
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