With Georgia as backdrop, Biden and Trump offer sharply different 2024 visions

President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event in Atlanta, GA, on Saturday, March 9, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

It is unclear if President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will share a debate stage this year. But on Saturday, the two leading contenders for the presidency shadowed each other across Georgia, conveying very different visions for the country at nearly simultaneous rallies roughly 70 miles apart.

Voters in Georgia head to the polls Tuesday to vote in the 2024 presidential primaries. However, the Biden and Trump campaigns are already turning into the general election as they zero in on each other and November battleground states like Georgia.

Supporters arrive for a campaign event in Atlanta for President Joe Biden on Saturday, March 9, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

“Here’s a guy who’s kicking off his general election campaign up the road with Marjorie Taylor Greene,” Biden told an intimate, but enthusiastic crowd at Pullman Yards in Atlanta. “It can tell you a lot about a person, who he keeps company with.”

In a speech that clocked in at about 20 minutes, Biden warned that American democracy is on the line in a speech that closely mirrored his Thursday State of the Union address.

“Trump and I have a very different value set if it isn’t obvious already,” Biden said. “We all know Donald Trump sees a different America, an American story of resentment, revenge and retribution. That’s not me, that’s not you.”

Trump spoke for nearly two hours in Rome, mocking Biden’s stutter and reiterating his false claim that the 2020 election was rigged. Trump slammed Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is pursuing 13 felony counts against him for efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election result, but is now fighting an effort to remove her from the case.

“Corrupt Fani Willis hired her lover Nathan Wade so they could fraudulently make money together,” Trump said. “‘Let’s see, darling, who can we go after?’”

Trump and other defendants have accused Willis of trying to personally benefit from their prosecution due to her romantic relationship with Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor she hired for the case. A judge is expected to rule this week on whether Willis should be disqualified from the case.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Rome Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Trump handed down more of his hallmark harsh rhetoric about illegal immigration – a debate that has grown even more heated in Georgia following the killing of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student, on the campus of the University of Georgia last month. Authorities have charged a Venezuelan man who entered the U.S. illegally with her murder.

The story reached the national stage on Thursday when Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene interrupted Biden’s State of the Union, demanding he say Riley’s name. Trump met with the young woman’s family on Saturday, and he blamed Biden’s policies for her death.

“He’s got no regret, he’s got no empathy, no compassion, and worst of all, he has no intention of stopping the deadly invasion that stole precious Laken’s beautiful American life,” Trump said.

Trump has regularly deployed similar rhetoric to rally his base, but he cannot only rely on voters in deeply conservative places like North Georgia to win Georgia. Trump and Biden will also need to persuade swing voters in Atlanta’s suburbs, especially formerly Republican enclaves that have been key to recent Democratic victories.

Biden flipped Georgia blue by just under 12,000 votes in 2020, the first Democrat to win Georgia’s electoral votes since 1992. But two years later in the 2022 midterms, voters delivered a split decision, returning Republican Brian Kemp to the governor’s mansion and sending Democrat Raphael Warnock back to the U.S. Senate. 

“If we win Georgia, we’re gonna win the election,” Trump said Saturday.

“We know that the road to the White House goes through Georgia,” Warnock said on Saturday. “Too many of us are quiet, talking about irrelevant things, when there’s a binary choice.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks during a campaign event for President Joe Biden in Atlanta, GA, on Saturday, March 9, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Ahead of November, Biden needs to shore up support among voters of color and young people, including many who have soured on the president’s handling of the war in Gaza. Biden’s speech was briefly interrupted by a protester shouting, “Genocide Joe,” and organizers are waging a campaign for voters to submit blank Democratic ballots in protest.

On Saturday in Atlanta, Biden received the endorsement of the AAPI Victory Fund, the Collective PAC and the Latino Victory Fund, which the campaign said are “the largest political action committees representing communities of color.”

Biden is working not only to contrast his agenda with Trump’s but also to highlight the tangible wins he has delivered, especially for these key voting groups.

“I reduced the burden of student debt for nearly four million Americans, including teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public servants,” Biden said. “Donald Trump, if he gets re-elected, he will stop it. But let me tell you something: he won’t stop me.”

President Joe Biden listens as First Lady Jill Biden speaks during a campaign event in Atlanta, GA, on March 9, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Biden rallied in a building once home to the Pullman Company, the railroad car manufacturer where workers founded one of the first African-American labor unions, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, under the leadership of civil rights activist A. Phillip Randolph.

Debbie Whipple, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1996, said the backdrop to Biden’s rally was special. “It makes you feel some kind of way,” she said.

“He’s the first United States president that has stood on a picket line and he’s marched at our rallies and we want to be here for him because he’s been there for us working families across the United States,” said her colleague, UFCW political director Seth Spann.

Waiting for Biden to speak, Cynee Carpin said she’s just starting to tune into the presidential election and hasn’t made up her mind yet about her vote. She says she’s not sure if an 81-year-old politician really gets what life is like for a 27-year-old like her.

“That’s probably why a lot of young people aren’t propelled to engage or aren’t showing up to represent on behalf of Biden,” Carpin said. “Because it’s hard to see a future when you are still in your twenties and you’re flooded in debt and you can’t find a place to live and then there’s wars in other countries and then groceries go up? Are we even ever going to be able to own a house?”

Carpin said she’s open to Biden convincing her, though.

“If there’s something that we can hear, like we’ll have a future, we’ll have a greener Earth, that’ll be nice,” she said.