MACON, Ga. - Racing to squeeze more support from heavily Republican rural areas, President Donald Trump promised a "red wave" would crush Democrats in November and touted his administration's agricultural programs at an outdoor rally that underscored Georgia's tight race for the White House.
Throughout his Friday speech to more than 1,000 supporters packing a Macon airport, Trump said he had no doubt Georgia would remain in the GOP column in November, despite polls showing Joe Biden threatening to become the first Democrat to carry the state since 1992.
The president sprinkled his remarks with stump speech favorites that enlivened the crowd, including criticism of Biden's coronavirus strategy, attacks on the "left-wing corrupt media" and a pledge that he is still "not a politician" despite his four years in the Oval Office.
But he also emphasized a more localized message, highlighting a $3 billion package of aid for victims of Hurricane Michael after it flattened crops and uprooted livelihoods in southwest Georgia in 2018. The relief measure, which stalled for months, started reaching some farmers about a year after the storm after a protracted battle in Congress.
"We gave them a hell of a lot of money," Trump said of the farmers besieged by the monstrous storm, adding: "It made me feel good. They never ask for anything. They just want a level playing field."
It served to remind voters that his visit to Middle Georgia Regional Airport was not aimed at voters in Macon-Bibb County, which Trump lost resoundingly in 2016. It was geared toward the surrounding rural areas where Trump and other Republicans have long tallied giant margins.
As Democrats consolidate support in Atlanta's vote-rich suburbs, Republicans are trying to wring out every vote they can to offset those losses. While Democrat Stacey Abrams dominated the suburbs in 2018, Republican Brian Kemp narrowly won the governorship by capturing about 90% of rural Georgia.
Republicans acknowledge that's not a formula for long-term success in Georgia. The densely populated urban and suburban areas where Democrats now dominate are growing at a faster pace than many stagnant rural areas. But they hope that strategy is enough to hold court this year.
"Folks, we got a battle on our hands here in Georgia. We're going to win, but it's not going to be easy," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, told the audience. "Come to these events, but be in your own neighborhoods. Talk to your people - get out your Rolodex and your computer and call those people."
It was Trump's first visit to Georgia since he was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month, and the mass gathering conflicted with Kemp's recently extended order restricting crowds of more than 50 people. Even a contract struck between the campaign and the airport acknowledged the violation.