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Atlanta setting for Biden-Trump showdown is packed with political significance

Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Political News

ATLANTA — This year’s first debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will be held in the confines of CNN’s Atlanta studios. But outside the walls of the network’s Midtown digs, the backdrop could hardly pack more political symbolism.

The studio sits a short hop from State Farm Arena, the locus of election fraud lies about “suitcases full of ballots” that animated Trump supporters and became a part of the criminal case against the former president and his top allies.

It’s in the heart of the congressional district that Trump labeled a “horrible” and crime-infested area shortly before he took office, leading to a full-scale civic outrage from leaders of both parties.

It’s a few miles from the Fulton County Courthouse, where prosecutors have worked for more than three years to convict Trump and more than a dozen of his allies on charges involving election interference.

A short ride away is the Fulton County Jail, where authorities arrested Trump and 18 co-defendants on racketeering charges — and took the famed picture that became the first mug shot of an American president in the nation’s history.

Not far from there sits the Georgia Capitol, where Trump’s influence has shaped legislative debates over abortion rights, election rules and public safety crackdowns.

And zooming out, the debate is in the heart of a state that’s central to both campaigns. Republicans see Georgia as a must-win state, while Democrats would love to prove Biden’s narrow victory in the Peach State in 2020 was neither fleeting nor a fluke.

“It’s like a Netflix limited series in terms of everything this debate offers,” Jen Jordan, a former Democratic legislator, said of the setting.

The city’s backdrop, Jordan added, might serve as a reminder that despite the reality TV drama of the campaign, “these candidates have a real impact on voters’ lives and the election really matters.”

‘Very much in play’

The fight for Georgia is one reason that both campaigns agreed to the CNN debate.

Both campaigns are engaged in a battle for Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes four years after Biden became the first Democrat to capture the state since Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory.

 

Both candidates have crisscrossed the state over the past two years, and Vice President Kamala Harris has visited more than a dozen times since she was elected in 2020 — including two recent stops in Atlanta within a week.

“We are viewed as being very much in play,” University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said. “It’s clear Democratic leadership has not written us off.”

Trump’s ongoing legal struggles also will factor heavily into a debate held just weeks after he was convicted on felony charges in New York involving hush money payments to a porn star.

Voters need little reminder Trump is also facing a separate set of felony charges in Fulton County’s election meddling trial. That case is delayed until 2025 as an appeals court weighs a motion to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis.

The case stems from the extraordinary efforts by Trump and his allies to discredit Biden’s victory in Georgia, including spreading lies about Fulton County’s vote-tallying process at State Farm Arena.

Trump and several allies falsely claimed that local officials were smuggling “suitcases full of ballots” during a delay in counting, though an investigation showed the pause was due to a plumbing issue. The review found two poll workers were passing each other a ginger mint, not a USB port loaded with votes, as Trump allies wrongly alleged.

It will also put in the spotlight Trump’s love-hate relationship with Atlanta, including an attack on the city shortly after his 2016 election when he was fuming over then-U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ decision to skip his inauguration because he didn’t see the Republican as a “legitimate president.”

Back then, Trump went on a Twitter rant saying most of Atlanta is in “horrible shape and falling apart” and describing Lewis, a civil rights icon, as “talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”

Since then, Trump has mostly laid off the insults about Atlanta as he rallies voters during stops across the state. Biden, meanwhile, added a note of gratitude to voters during his latest swing.

“If you ever doubt the power of the vote, I say come to Georgia,” he told supporters in Buckhead in May. “You are the reason I won. Georgia is the reason I’m president right now.”


©2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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