Biden campaign, DNC highlight democracy, Jan. 6 in lead-up to debate

Scenes on a moving billboard circling the site of the first 2024 presidential debate in Atlanta will feature former President Donald Trump’s 2020 phone call to Georgia’s top election official about finding enough votes to put him ahead of Joe Biden, press conferences with two Republican former officials backing Biden and citing democracy as the reason. And a campaign ad narrated by a Michigan police chief who criticizes Trump for not stopping the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks on the U.S. Capitol.

This is how Mr. Biden’s campaign and his party are highlighting Jan. 6 and Trump’s role in attempting to overturn the 2020 election in the run-up to Thursday night’s debate.

The mobile billboard, paid for by the DNC, will highlight Trump’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger urging him to find 11,780 more votes to help him win the state in 2020, according to details first shared with CBS News.

The billboard also links the issue of democracy with abortion bans, as it shows news clips about Trump’s platform and comments about abortion bans. It ends with the narrator saying, “Our freedoms are under attack. Donald Trump is to blame. Don’t let him do it again.” 

This accompanies three other DNC billboard locations in the Atlanta metro area that criticize Trump on similar themes, including one billboard that’s been up since Wednesday that draws attention to the former president’s 34 felony charges in the New York “hush money” trial.

“Donald. Welcome to Atlanta for the first time since becoming a convicted felon. Congrats — or whatever…” the highway billboard reads, in both English and Spanish.  

DNC spokesperson Abhi Rahman says its pre-debate activity is meant to “remind voters of how [Trump] tried to dismantle Georgia’s democracy,” and that it’s the committee’s first time referencing Trump’s post-2020 efforts in Georgia. 

“Voters will see the stark contrast tonight between President Biden, a true leader who wakes up every day fighting for the American people… and Donald Trump, a convicted felon who is only fighting for himself,” Rahman added.

Prosecutors in Fulton County, a pivotal county in Georgia’s 2020 election, have been investigating Mr. Trump and 18 others for an alleged unlawful scheme to overturn his electoral loss in the state to Mr. Biden. That case has been halted as a separate Georgia appeals court reviews a decision to keep Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on the case, after it was revealed she had a romantic relationship with a prosecutor that she had hired to help with the Trump case. 

Democracy has been a common theme for Mr. Biden and his campaign as they try to energize their coalition. And it has ranked high on voter priorities in recent polling: a mid-June CBS News poll found that the “state of democracy” ranked behind just the economy and inflation as major factors among likely voters, with Democratic voters especially ranking it highly. 

But the Biden campaign is also using Republicans to make an argument against Trump about democracy. 

After announcing his endorsement Wednesday of Mr. Biden, former Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a former member of the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the riot, spoke at an Atlanta press conference hosted by the Biden campaign focused on Jan. 6. He was joined by former Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, another Republican who has endorsed Mr. Biden, and former U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who was at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. 

“I think democracy is the most important issue and we have to be talking about it because if you don’t… democracy can’t survive if frankly leaders don’t care about it,” Kinzinger told reporters Wednesday. 

Kinzinger and Duncan, both cited Trump’s actions in 2020, when he made baseless and untrue claims of a “rigged” or “stolen” election, and his reaction to Jan. 6 as reasons to vote against him. 

“We’re not expecting [Biden] to become a Republican. We want you to be true to who you are. We want somebody that can defend democracy. That’s it,” Kinzinger added. 

In a pre-debate memo on Wednesday, Trump campaign senior advisers noted Mr. Biden’s focus on democracy and referenced a Washington Post poll of swing voters showing higher marks for Trump than Biden on “protecting democracy.”

Outside of Atlanta, Georgia and National Republican officials held a “Protect the Vote” event that encouraged Trump supporters to become poll workers and poll watchers this November. 

Asked if he’s concerned about Trump potentially referencing to the 2020 election as “stolen” during Thursday’s debate could hurt GOP efforts to promote all voting options (early, mail, etc.), RNC Chair Michael Whatley demurred and said election infrastructure and building a “protective vote program” are the priorities. 

“What we’re expecting the president to do is tell people what he’s going to do for the next four years and how it is going to make America a better place,” he said in Alpharetta, GA. 

Jacob Rosen contributed reporting. 

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