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2020 election denial looms over anticipated Trump-Biden rematch in Georgia

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(ATLANTA) — While President Joe Biden’s slim victory over former President Donald Trump in Georgia last election cycle broke a nearly 30-year losing streak for Democratic presidential candidates in the state, his win also sparked Trump’s attack against the legitimacy of the election itself.

While many issues — from the economy to immigration — are animating voters in the state, 2020 election denial still looms over the 2024 race in Georgia, where Trump has pleaded not guilty to 10 criminal counts over his alleged efforts to overturn the election there nearly four years ago.

But Biden’s lackluster approval, and charges he hasn’t lived up to some campaign promises, call into question whether the president can reassemble the coalition that delivered him his slimmest margin of victory — less than a quarter of a percentage point — over Trump in 2020.

“There’s no question that this is going to be a close election,” Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, a top Biden ally in the state, told ABC News senior congressional correspondent Rachel Scott.

Trump currently leads Biden in Georgia by an average of 5.5 percentage points, according to 538’s polling average.

Warnock — who has been on the ballot five times over a two-year span — knows Georgia voters well. His advice to the president this election: “Keep telling the story about the work that we are doing.”

To win in November, Biden needs to turn out voters — and in particular, Black voters — in metro Atlanta’s densely populated Democratic strongholds. That includes the state’s most populous county — Fulton — where Cascade Skating roller rink, a mainstay in Atlanta’s Black community, is located.

Cascade owner Greg Alexander, who is planning to vote for Biden, said he “cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump,” but he also said that Biden needs to do a better job selling his record.

“What I’m hearing is, what has Biden done for the country? What has been done for Black people?” Alexander told Scott. “I think if he’s going to be successful in this go around, he has to really focus on getting the word out on, ‘This is what I’ve done, this is what I stand for."”

Navy veteran Bucky Bassette, a skater ABC News spoke to at Cascade, said he is still undecided about who he will support in November.

“What frustrates you most with President Biden?” Scott asked Bassette.

“I don’t like to be pandered to,” he said. “I don’t like anyone to tell me who, who I should vote for. And I feel like a lot of times, you know, the Democratic Party at times does do that.”

Bassette said he may sit out the election altogether — and he’s not alone. A January poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 1 in 10 Black Georgia voters do not plan to vote in the presidential election this year.

Warnock said he believes Georgia voters, including Black voters, will “show up” for the president.

“Not to vote is to vote — it is to push Donald Trump a little bit closer to the White House. And that is a dangerous proposition,” he said.

A Trump victory, however, is what several voters ABC News met in Georgia are hoping for.

Tommy Thomas, the owner of Thomas Barber Shop in the affluent Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta, supports Trump and is optimistic about his prospects in November, telling Scott, “I think if people look at their pocketbooks, I think they’re gonna change your mind this time.”

But to retake the state, Trump will also have to win back voters who have soured on him since the last election, voters like Lynn Dinkins, a self-described “big Nikki Haley supporter.”

While Dinkins supported Trump in 2020, this time, she says his priorities are off.

“I feel like there’s just so much drama associated with him at the moment, and I’m not convinced that he is necessarily focused on the issues at hand right now,” she told Scott.

Out in Rockmart, Georgia, a city of about 5,000 people in Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s congressional district, support for the former president was strong.

“I like his vibe,” said Bill Sportiello, the owner of local bar and grill, The Rails at Rockmart.

He said life was better for him during the Trump administration, and that Trump’s legal issues are not a concern for him.

“I’m a businessman myself, and I feel it’s more of a witch hunt than anything,” he told Scott.

Sharon Capes, a patron at The Rails, told Scott that Trump’s legal issues make her support the former president even more, and that she would “absolutely” still support Trump if he were convicted of a crime.

“No questions asked, no questions asked,” she said. “I would bail him out if I could afford it.”

Capes echoed Trump’s false claims that the last election was stolen. Asked by Scott what would make her trust the election this time, Capes said she would probably trust it “if Trump wins.”

Gabriel Sterling, the chief operations officer in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, said that position undermines American democracy.

“What happens if he wins Georgia, but loses the country. Do you accept it then? What happens if he loses Georgia, but wins the country — do you accept it then?” Sterling told Scott in an interview. “I mean, you can’t base your belief in the outcome based on whether your side wins or not. That’s just not logical.”

A lifelong Republican, Sterling supported Trump in 2020. But when Trump refused to accept that he lost the election, Sterling became one of the loudest voices defending Georgia’s election.

His plea to voters this cycle: Have faith in the system.

“Anybody saying, ‘I feel safe about my vote here, but I don’t know about those guys over there — we do know about those guys over there.’ It’s a little bit different, but it’s safe and secure everywhere in America,” he said.

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