President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will campaign in the critical battleground state of Georgia on Saturday in what essentially will be the first face-off of the 2024 general election.

Both candidates have been accusing each other of being a threat to democracy for weeks, but Saturday will mark the first time this year both will be in the same battleground state at the same time.

There may not be a more hotly contested state than Georgia in the Nov. 5 general election, which swung to Biden in 2020 election and was central to Trump’s false claims that he was the victim of widespread election fraud. He faces criminal charges in the state over his attempts to interfere with the vote count there.

Trump is expected to clinch his party’s nomination on Tuesday, when Georgia, along with Hawaii, Mississippi and Washington state hold nominating contests.

On Thursday, Biden delivered a State of the Union speech laden with criticisms of Trump, accusing him of threatening democracy, kowtowing to Russia and sinking bipartisan immigration reform.

The president, however, continues to grapple with a backlash among Democrats for his staunch support of Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza, discontent that could manifest itself in the vote in Georgia on Tuesday.

A coalition of multifaith and multiracial groups in Georgia have launched a campaign urging voters to leave their ballots blank instead of voting for Biden on Tuesday in the hope of sending a message to the White House to reconsider its support of Israel.

In battleground Michigan’s primary in February, more than 100,000 people voted “uncommitted” rather than support Biden in protest over Gaza and a similar proportion of voters made the same choice in last Tuesday’s Minnesota primary. Those actions amplified concern among Democrats that some voters could chose to stay home in November.

“Biden cannot win (Georgia) again if young voters, Black voters, Muslim voters, the Arab American voters, the Jewish voters and others who supported him last time decide to stay home or decide to vote for a third party candidate,” said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, spokesperson for the Listen to Georgia Coalition.

Mitchell said the goal for the effort would be to approach the margin – about 11,000 votes – by which Biden won the state in order to convey the risk that they believe the president is taking on the Gaza war.

 

COLLISION COURSE

Trump will hold a rally on Saturday evening in Rome, Georgia, a conservative bastion in the state that lies within the district of U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, an outspoken ally who attended the State of the Union address clad in Trump gear.

Biden will then hold an evening event in the Atlanta area. The city’s suburbs, which are growing and rapidly diversifying, are viewed as the key to Democratic hopes in the state.

Senior Democrats and Biden campaign officials worry that the hard-won 2020 state is at risk of slipping from their grasp in 2024, as Black voter discontent threatens to suppress turnout. Biden edged out Trump in Georgia by just 0.23% in 2020.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and the state’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, were adamant that no widespread fraud occurred and that the vote count was legitimate despite Trump’s insistence otherwise.

In Georgia, prosecutors allege Trump and his allies engaged in a conspiracy by making false statements about the election and developing a plan to disrupt and delay the congressional certification of the electoral votes. Trump denies the charges.

Trump and his co-defendants are attempting to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the case, alleging she was involved in an “improper relationship” with a special prosecutor she named to the case and that she financially benefited from the relationship. Willis has denied the allegations.

Last month, a Fulton County judge heard arguments on Trump’s request and is expected to issue a ruling within days.

Prosecutors have pushed for starting the Trump trial in Georgia as early as August when Trump would be in the heat of the campaign. But it remains unclear whether it will go forward before the election.