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Biden and Trump trade barbs at rival rallies in Georgia

In this combination of photos, President Joe Biden, left, speaks on Aug. 10, 2023, in Salt Lake City, and former President Donald Trump speaks on June 13, 2023, in Bedminster, N.J. The 2024 general election campaign will pick up Saturday, March 9, where the 2020 contest left off.
Andrew Harnik
In this combination of photos, President Joe Biden, left, speaks on Aug. 10, 2023, in Salt Lake City, and former President Donald Trump speaks on June 13, 2023, in Bedminster, N.J. The 2024 general election campaign will pick up Saturday, March 9, where the 2020 contest left off.

ATLANTA — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump warned of dire consequences for the country if the other wins another term in the White House as the pair held dueling rallies in Georgia Saturday fresh off strong wins in Super Tuesday contests that positioned them for an all-but-certain rematch this November.

The state was a pivotal 2020 battleground — so close four years ago that Trump finds himself indicted here for his push to "find 11,780 votes" and overturn Biden's victory — and both parties are preparing for another closely contested race in the state this year.

Biden opened his speech at a rally in Atlanta noting that Trump was across the state with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the firebrand lawmaker who has gone from the fringes of her party to the fore. "It can tell you a lot about a person who he keeps company with," Biden said to applause. Biden noted that Trump had hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — who has rolled back democracy in his country — at his Florida club the day before.

"When he says he wants to be a dictator, I believe him," Biden said of Trump. "Our freedoms are literally on the ballot this November."

Biden hosted the rally at Pullman Yards, a 27-acre arts and entertainment venue in Atlanta that was formerly an industrial site to receive the endorsement of Collective PAC, Latino Victory Fund and AAPI Victory Fund, a trio of political groups representing, respectively, Black, Latino, and Asian Americans and Pacific Island voters. The groups were announcing a $30 million commitment to mobilize voters on Biden's behalf.

Trump, meanwhile, hammered Biden on the border and blamed him for the death of 22-year old Georgia nursing student Laken Riley last month. An immigrant from Venezuela who entered the U.S. illegally has been arrested and charged with her murder. He hosted Riley's family at his rally in Rome, Greene's hometown.

"What Joe Biden has done on our border is a crime against humanity and the people of this nation for which he will never be forgiven," Trump said, promising the largest deportation in history. "What a tremendous shame," he said.

Ahead of his rally, Biden expressed regret for using the term "illegal" to during his State of the Union address to describe Riley's suspected killer, drawing more criticism from Trump's team.

Trump, who took the stage at the same moment Biden was still speaking at another part of the state, skewered the president for the apology and said, "Are we going crazy?"

"I say he was an illegal alien. He was an illegal immigrant. He was an illegal migrant. And he shouldn't have been in our country and he never would have been under the Trump policy," he said to loud cheers.

Trump also highlighted the very things Biden knocked him for, saying that he "had dinner last night with a great gentleman from Hungary, Viktor Orbán" and praised Greene for yelling at Biden during his State of the Union about Riley, calling her "very brave."

Trump's rally opened with a message asking attendees to rise to support the hundreds of people serving jail time for their roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, when thousands of pro-Trump supporters tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election by halting the counting of Electoral College votes.

The intensity of the rhetoric presaged a grueling eight months of campaigning ahead in the state.

"We're a true battleground state now," said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, an Atlanta Democrat who doubles as state party chairwoman.

Trump, while repeating his lies about the 2020 election on Saturday, declared, "With your vote, we are going to win the state of Georgia in an epic landslide."

Once a Republican stronghold, Georgia is now so competitive that neither party can agree on how to describe today's divide. A "52-48 state," said Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, whose party controls state government. "We're not blue, we're not red," Williams countered, but "periwinkle," a claim she supports with Biden's 2020 win and the two Democratic senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Georgia sent to Washington.

There is agreement, at least, that Biden and Trump each have a path to victory — and plenty of obstacles along the way.

"Biden's numbers are in the tank for a lot of good reasons, and we can certainly talk about that. And so, it makes it where Trump absolutely can win the race," Kemp said at a recent forum sponsored by Punchbowl News. "I also think he could lose the race. I think it's going to be a lot tougher than people realize."

Biden's margin was about a quarter of a percentage point in 2020. Warnock won his 2022 Senate runoff by 3 points. Kemp was elected in 2018 by 1.5 percentage points but expanded his 2022 reelection margin to 7.5 points, a blowout in a battleground state.

In each of those elections, Democrats held wide advantages in the core of metro Atlanta, where Biden will be Saturday. Democrats also performed well in Columbus and Savannah and a handful of rural, majority-Black counties. But Republicans dominated in other rural areas, small towns and the smallest cities — like Rome.

At Trump's rally, at a city in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, more than 3,000 people packed inside an event center Saturday to hear the former president speak. His campaign handed out signs featuring the image of Laken Riley.

Candace Duvall, from Hampton, Georgia, wearing a white "Trump 2024," T-shirt, a gold purse that said "Trump" and a pair of earrings that said "Never surrender" on one earring and Trump's mugshot on the other, declared that her candidate is "going to save this country."

She faulted Biden for fumbling the pronunciation of Riley's name during his State of the Union speech Thursday.

"That happened right here in Georgia. That hits home for us. We know why that happened. We know why," she said, adding that there were too many migrants coming into the country.

Duvall said she thinks Trump is winning over voters who didn't like him before "because they see the difference now" with Biden.

"If somebody gives you sirloin and then they take it away and give you a hamburger, you're going to want sirloin again," she said.

But the same State of the Union address being criticized by Republicans has also been a source of momentum for Biden, who openly challenged Trump's commitment to democracy, U.S. allies, the middle class and the reproductive rights of women.

Supporters saw his spirited performance as cooling worries about the 81 year-old's age. Biden laid into the 77-year-old Trump for having the "oldest of ideas" as the former president has promised that a return to the White House would bring retribution to his opponents.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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