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Former Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss Says Trump's False Claims Could Hurt GOP

President Trump made his return to the campaign trail Saturday, at a Georgia rally to support Republican incumbent Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in a runoff election on Jan. 5.

The election results will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

The rally was meant to encourage Republicans to vote in January, but the president spent a good deal of his time talking about the November election and repeating false claims that it was "rigged" against him.

Saxby Chambliss, a Republican who represented Georgia for more than 20 years in both the House and the Senate until 2015, says he hoped Trump would have done more to address his supporters who are questioning whether they should vote on Jan. 5.

"It was mixed message," Chambliss told NPR's Debbie Elliott on Weekend Edition. "He spent more time talking about his election than I think he should have. And he should have just spent more time just emphasizing that people do need to vote on January the 5th. The weight of the Senate is in the balance here and it is a critically important election for the future of our country."

Chambliss says Trump's repeated attempts to undermine faith in the voting process could end up backfiring on the Republican party.

"I'm still concerned that there are some people who think that their vote didn't matter and they're simply not going to come out and vote," Chambliss says. "I hope that's not the case. I hope he will continue to be very vocal about the fact that people need to vote."

As for Trump's continued false claims about the legitimacy of the November election, Chambliss says he doesn't believe any wrongdoing took place in Georgia.

"We have 159 counties in the state of Georgia. All of those counties have multiple precincts, so there's lots of room for mischief to take place," Chambliss says. "But there's not any sign that there was any wrongdoing taking place in the Georgia elections. Isolated incidents? Sure, that's always going to happen, but on a wholesale basis there's just no substance to the statement that this election was not valid."

The longtime lawmaker says he doesn't expect Trump to change his messaging around the November election, but that it's an entirely separate issue from the runoff election in January.

"He needs to do more to emphasize to people in Georgia that they need to get out and vote for the two Republicans on January the 5th," Chambliss says.

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Wynne Davis is a digital reporter and producer for NPR's All Things Considered.