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Biden and Trump, in dueling rallies, go on the attack in Georgia

ATLANTA — President Biden and former president Donald Trump painted starkly different visions for the country Saturday night as they campaigned 70 miles apart in Georgia, with Trump delivering an insult-filled, mocking diatribe against the sitting president.

The dueling appearances, eight months before Election Day, demonstrated how divisive and combative the general election campaign has already become before either candidate has officially clinched their party’s nomination, though both are likely to do so shortly.

Trump spoke for nearly two hours and leveled his attacks in particularly personal and inflammatory ways. He mocked Biden for having a stutter, called the press “criminals” and blamed the president for the death of a young woman who was allegedly killed by a Venezuelan migrant who entered the country illegally.

By contrast, Biden only spoke for about 20 minutes, largely focusing on comparing his record with Trump’s. He hammered Trump for cozying up to authoritarian leaders, rolling back women’s reproductive rights and trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act — while touting his record defending individual rights, freedom and democracy.

The campaign visits underscored the key role that Georgia will play in November, after Biden defeated Trump in the state by fewer than 12,000 votes in the 2020 election. Trump decidedly won the state in 2016, beating Hillary Clinton by five percentage points. The state is also holding its primary Tuesday; both candidates are expected to win the state handily after their main rivals suspended their campaigns.

Biden rallied voters in Atlanta, while Trump held his event in Rome, a city in northwest Georgia that is part of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) district. The visits came two days after Biden delivered a fiery State of the Union address, during which he assailed Trump, though not directly by name, for threatening individual rights, freedom and democracy. In his two campaign appearances since, Biden has started to criticize Trump directly.

“Donald Trump has a different constituency,” Biden said on Saturday night. “Here’s a guy who’s kicking off his general election campaign on the road up with Marjorie Taylor Greene. It can tell you a lot about a person who he keeps company with.” Biden also noted that Trump hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday night, who Biden says “doesn’t think democracy works.”

Trump made the border crisis a central focus of his speech, ratcheting up his anti-immigrant rhetoric as he spoke about the murder of Laken Riley, the Georgia nursing student who was killed while jogging. Trump met with Riley’s family ahead of his speech and blamed Biden’s border policy for her death, describing it as “free to kill.”

“Joe Biden has no remorse, he’s got no regret, he’s got no empathy, no compassion and worst of all he has no intention of stopping the deadly invasion that stole precious Laken’s beautiful American life,” he said.

He also criticized Biden for garbling Riley’s first name during the State of the Union address and for saying he regretted using the word “illegal” to describe the suspect in her death. In an interview with MSNBC that aired Saturday evening, Biden said he should have used the word “undocumented” instead of illegal.

“He wanted to apologize,” Trump said, to boos in the crowd. “Biden should be apologizing for apologizing to this killer.”

He added: “I will stop the killing. I will stop the bloodshed. I will end the agony of our people, the plunder of our cities, the sacking of our towns, the violation of our citizens and the conquest of our country. These people are conquering our country.”

Riley’s murder has rallied Republicans, who have cited her killing to criticize the historic number of apprehensions since Biden took office in 2021 and to portray migrants as dangerous. Before Biden’s State of the Union address, Greene handed Biden a pin with Riley’s name.

As Greene heckled Biden during the speech to “say her name,” Biden held up the pin and said Riley had been “killed by an illegal” but then asked: “How many of thousands of people are being killed by legals?” (Experts say there’s little evidence that undocumented immigrants commit more crime, and federal data shows most of those arrested at the border do not have criminal convictions.)

In an ad-libbed moment on Thursday night, Biden offered his condolences to Riley’s family and called on Congress to pass a bipartisan border security bill that died in the Senate, amid widespread GOP opposition led by Trump.

At Biden’s event on Saturday, he received the joint endorsement of three political action committees — AAPI Victory Fund, The Collective PAC, and Latino Victory Fund — and a commitment from the groups to spend $30 million to mobilize Black, Latino, and Asian American and Pacific Islander voters.

Shekar Narasimhan, the chairman of the AAPI victory fund, said Democrats’ ability to motivate communities of color will be critical to the president’s success.

“This is the ballgame for Democrats,” he said in an interview before the rallies. “Even in states where there’s a predominantly White population, the margins are so thin that, for example, getting the Hmong vote in Wisconsin may be critical to winning the election.”

Biden trumpeted his record on racial equity, highlighting the diversity of his Cabinet, his appointment of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court, and record-low Black and Latino unemployment.

“The same forces that want to deny the right to vote, try to deny other core values of American diversity as well,” Biden said. “Banning books, erasing history. Instead of celebrating the contribution of immigrants to our country, to our economy and our communities, Donald Trump calls them vermin, poisoning the blood of America. No one should ever doubt where my heart is.”

On Saturday, Trump falsely claimed that Biden had “announced a plan to send our brave U.S. military men and women into Gaza to resupply the terrorists of Hamas.” During the State of the Union, Biden said that the U.S. military would construct a temporary pier on the coastline of Gaza to provide a new route for humanitarian aid to reach desperate civilians. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are at risk of famine and disease from decrepit conditions.

U.S. officials have said the pier will involve the presence of U.S. military personnel on military vessels offshore from Gaza, but will not require U.S. military personnel to install the pier ashore or to offload the aid. The aid will be distributed inside Gaza by the United Nations and other humanitarian personnel.

Biden’s trip to Georgia came as part of his post-State of the Union tour of the battleground states, which began Friday in Pennsylvania. In the week ahead, he will travel to New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Biden’s campaign also announced that it was launching a $30 million advertising campaign as part of the pivot to the general election. In the first ad, which was released Saturday, the president directly confronts concerns about his age as he contrasts his record with Trump’s.

“Look, I’m not a young guy,” Biden says at the start of the 60-second advertisement. “That’s no secret, but here’s the deal: I understand how to get things done for the American people.”

Some voters at Biden’s event downplayed concerns about his age, pointing to the president’s performance at the State of the Union as evidence of his ability to do the job.

“Age is not a big deal to me,” said Paula Benson, a 56-year-old resident of Cumming, Ga. “I see his actions. I see his heart. Donald Trump is stumbling over his words and his feet and acting very unhinged. He’s the one I’m really concerned about.”

Trump’s campaign riffed on the age question by releasing an ad titled “Not a Young Guy,” which featured videos of Biden stumbling or falling down.

A Fox News poll conducted in January found that in a matchup between Biden and Trump, 51 percent of registered voters in Georgia said they would vote for Trump, while 43 percent said they would vote for Biden.

Trump’s return to Georgia came as he faces 13 state charges in connection with his efforts to try to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia. Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) launched an investigation more than three years ago after audio leaked of a call that Trump made in January 2021 to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), in which Trump said he wanted to “find” the votes to reverse his 2020 loss.

Trump was charged in August, alongside several of his allies, and he was booked at the Fulton County jail. The sheriff’s office released a mug shot of Trump that day, an iconic image embraced by his campaign, supporters and fundraisers as the former president seeks to portray himself as a victim of a weaponized justice system.

It’s not clear, however, when the Georgia election interference case will go to trial. Willis is under scrutiny for having a romantic relationship with the case’s lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade. A judge is considering whether the relationship created a conflict of interest or the appearance of one and whether Willis and her office should be removed from the case. He is expected to make a decision by Friday.

Trump nodded to his legal entanglements Saturday, mocking the pronunciation of Willis’s first name and calling her “corrupt.” He described her relationship with Wade as “sort of a beautiful love story.”

He also continued to falsely claim that the 2020 election was “rigged” and reiterated his suggestion that his domestic opponents posed a bigger threat than the foreign countries.

“The biggest threat we have, it’s the threat from within,” he said. “It’s the radical left lunatics that we have in this country. That’s a much bigger threat than outside threats.”

Vickie Frantz, 54, of Rome, said that Trump’s messages “mostly about the border closing” and “getting justice for the girl,” referencing Riley, stood out to her as “the most important thing.”

She described Trump’s comments about Biden as “mostly fair” but when asked about him imitating Biden’s stutter, she said, “I didn’t really think he should have done that.”

correction

An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of the chairman of the AAPI victory fund. He is Shekar Narasimhan, not Narashimhan. This article has been corrected.

LeVine reported from Rome, Ga. Toluse Olorunnipa in Atlanta contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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