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Supporters listen to speakers during the "Stop the Steal" rally with attorneys Lin Wood and Sidney Powell in Alpharetta, Ga., on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

As Georgia prepares to welcome President Donald Trump on Saturday for his first rally since the Nov. 3 election, his most ardent loyalists and more establishment Republicans are clashing over how to square his ongoing attacks on the democratic system with an upcoming runoff that's critical for GOP control of the U.S Senate.

On Wednesday afternoon, Lin Wood — an attorney representing Trump — got on stage at a rally in Alpharetta and told the crowd to not vote for Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in the upcoming runoff election.

Echoing Trump's concerns about the recent presidential election, Wood said the results of the Jan. 5 Senate runoff have already been decided and the upcoming election is already rigged.

"Do not be fooled twice," Wood said, wearing a red "Make America Great Again" hat. "This is Georgia. We ain't dumb. We're not going to vote on Jan. 5 on another machine made by China. You're not going to fool Georgians again."

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Trump loyalists in Georgia

The "Stop the Steal" rally was held just days before Trump's scheduled 7 p.m. rally Saturday at Valdosta Regional Airport to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue. They face Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in match-ups that will decide control of the U.S. Senate.

Republican infighting and mixed messaging around the November election have muddied the waters for the GOP at this critical juncture.

The presidential election in Georgia was certified by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on Nov. 20, awarding Democrat Joe Biden 2.47 million votes to Trump's 2.46 million. Biden's margin was 12,670 votes, or 0.25%.

Trump has not accepted the results — in Georgia and several other battleground states. He has fought unsuccessful legal battles on procedural matters, even as he publicly says the election was stolen or fraudulent. His since-fired cybersecurity chief said the election was secure, and his attorney general, Bill Barr, recently said no fraud investigations have proven fruitful.

The president has relentlessly attacked Raffensberger and Kemp, saying they should do more to bring about his victory and causing strife in the party as other Republicans are placed in the middle.

Wood has quite the following on Twitter, where he has gained popularity for being a staunch Trump supporter. He, too, is using his platform to criticize Kemp and Raffensperger, making claims of widespread voter fraud.

"If Kelly Loeffler wants your vote, if David Perdue wants your vote, they've got to earn it. They've got to demand – publicly, repeatedly, consistently," Wood said at the rally on Wednesday. "Brian Kemp, call a special session of the Georgia legislature, and if they do not do it, if Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue do not do it, they have not earned your vote."

Trump supporter Sidney Powell, an attorney pressing several lawsuits seeking to overturn election results, told the crowd, "I would encourage all Georgians to make it known that you will not vote at all until your vote is secure – and I mean that regardless of party. We can't live in a republic, a free republic unless we know our votes are legal and secure."

Amid the tension, local elected officials in Northwest Georgia are trying to stay on the same page with each other while encouraging voter turnout in January.

The politician with the largest platform in Northwest Georgia is easily Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has posted videos in support of the QAnon conspiracy theory and who has been represented by Wood in the past. Greene has attended several similar "Stop the Steal" rallies, has called the November election fraudulent and has denied Biden could have won Georgia. But she will not go as far as seeking to deter voter turnout on Jan. 5.

Greene has been to several campaign rallies for both Loeffler and Perdue and has encouraged her supporters to get to the polls.

Nick Dyer, communications director for Greene's campaign, said Greene did not have a specific statement on Wood's rally appearance but said Greene has been clear throughout the campaign that voter turnout is important.

Rep. Steve Tarvin, R-Chickamauga, and Rep. Jason Ridley, R-Chatsworth, said in a joint statement to the Times Free Press that the voting machines in Georgia with the paper backup are accurate and safe and it "is important that every registered Georgian vote in the upcoming Jan. 5 election."

At the same time, Tarvin and Ridley called for a special legislative session over three weeks ago to "discuss accusations of irregularities" in the November election, called for an audit of absentee ballot signatures and have asked the Secretary of State's Office for extra security measures for the runoff.

Rep. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, has called for Kemp and Raffensperger "to turn the Georgia election review and certification over to the State Legislature." Moore also called for a special session and accused Raffensperger of breaking the law by sending absentee ballot applications to all registered voters before the November election.

Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, said Friday he understands the frustration of not having the results Georgia Republicans hoped for in the presidential election, "but to not vote when the balance of the whole United States hangs in this election would be a terrible decision."

"I get there are question marks out there, but at the end of the day you still have to get out and vote," Carpenter said. "It's too important. We're in an emotional time in this country, but it's time to refocus on the election."

Carpenter said he and his colleagues have real concerns about Republican voter turnout in January. He's heard a lot of talk about a mistrust in the system from Republicans but hopes those are isolated incidents and not a statewide feeling that would hurt Loeffler and Perdue's chances.

"I've got a huge Trump district, and they're all frustrated, for sure," he said. "The governor hasn't chimed in as much as I'd like, but I've also tried to defend the governor while Trump keeps coming at him. Trump helped (Kemp) get elected but sometimes he makes things a little more difficult."

With less than a month until the runoff, there isn't a lot of time to right the ship.

"No, there's not," Carpenter said. "It's a shotgun wedding."

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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