US President Donald Trump is pressing his grievances over losing the presidential election, using a weekend rally to spread baseless allegations of misconduct in last month’s voting in Georgia and beyond.
He did this even while pushing supporters to turn out for a pair of Republican Senate candidates in a runoff election in January.
“Let them steal Georgia again, you’ll never be able to look yourself in the mirror,” Mr Trump told attendees.
Mr Trump’s 100-minute rally before thousands of supporters, most of whom were not wearing masks, came not long after he was rebuffed by Georgia’s Republican governor in his call for a special legislative session to give him the state’s electoral votes, even though president-elect Joe Biden won more votes than any other candidate.
The January 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia will determine the balance of power in Washington after Mr Biden takes office.
Republicans in the state are worried that Mr Trump is stoking so much suspicion about Georgia elections that voters will think the system is rigged and decide to sit out the two races.
The latest futile attempt to subvert the presidential election results continued Mr Trump’s unprecedented campaign to undermine confidence in the democratic process, but overshadowed his stated purpose in travelling to Georgia — boosting senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
Republicans need one victory to maintain their Senate majority. Democrats need a Georgia sweep to force a 50-50 Senate and position vice president-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote.
Party officials had hoped the president would dedicate his energy to imploring supporters to vote in the runoff, when Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler try to hold off Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.
Mr Trump did echo Republican rhetoric that the races amounted to “the most important congressional runoff, probably in American history”. This is only true because he lost.
But after Air Force One landed, it quickly became apparent that Mr Trump was intent on airing his own complaints and stoking baseless doubts about the conduct of last month’s vote, rather than boosting his party.
“I want to stay on presidential,” Mr Trump said minutes into his speech.
“But I got to get to these two.”
He praised the Republican politicians – Mr Perdue for his support for military spending and Ms Loeffler for pushing for early coronavirus relief spending. But he quickly pivoted back to his own defeat.
Mr Trump pulled out a piece of paper and read a list of his electoral achievements, including falsely asserting he won Georgia and the White House. Mr Biden carried the state by 12,670 votes and won a record 81 million votes nationally.
Mr Trump continued to reiterate his unsubstantiated claims of fraud, despite his own administration assessing the election to have been conducted without any major issues.
Chants of “Fight for Trump” drowned out the two senators as they briefly spoke to the crowd.
Hours before the event, Mr Trump asked Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in a phone call to order the legislative session, which the governor refused, according to a senior government official in Georgia.
Mr Kemp, in a tweet, said Mr Trump also asked him to order an audit of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes in his state, a step Mr Kemp is not empowered to take because he has no authority to interfere in the electoral process on Mr Trump’s behalf.
Mr Trump vented his frustrations with Mr Kemp on Twitter and at the rally.
“Your people are refusing to do what you ask,” he complained in a tweet, as if speaking with Mr Kemp.
“What are they hiding? At least immediately ask for a Special Session of the Legislature. That you can easily, and immediately, do.”
At the rally, he took aim once again at Mr Kemp, saying he could assure him victory “if he knew what the hell he was doing”.
Mr Trump’s personal contact with the governor demonstrated he is intent on amplifying his conspiratorial and debunked theories of electoral fraud even as Georgia Republicans want him to turn his focus to the runoff and encourage their supporters to get out and vote.
In his tweet, Mr Kemp said: “As I told the President this morning, I’ve publicly called for a signature audit three times (11/20, 11/24, 12/3) to restore confidence in our election process and to ensure that only legal votes are counted in Georgia.”
While the governor does not have the authority to order a signature audit, an audit was initiated by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and it triggered a full hand recount that confirmed Mr Biden’s victory in Georgia.
The race has been certified for Mr Biden and affirmed by the state’s Republican election officials as a fairly conducted and counted vote, with none of the systemic errors Mr Trump alleges.