Racist phonecalls in Georgia midterms put spotlight on divided America in closing days of campaign

An automated call to voters by a white supremacist group has highlighted the increasingly bitter rhetoric in the US midterms as the campaign enters its final stages.

Voters in Georgia were targeted with the message that impersonated Oprah Winfrey, a prominent supporter of Stacey Abrams, who is running to become the first black female governor in the US.  

It compared the Democratic candidate to "a poor man’s  Aunt Jemima" who "white women can be tricked into voting for, especially the fat ones," and mocked Ms Winfrey as a "magical negro". 

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Aunt Jemima refers to a brand of US pancake mix that became linked to southern plantation racism. 

The message was reportedly funded by TheRoadToPower.com, a video streaming site that has been described as white supremacist by campaign groups.

It is unclear how many people received the automated call, but the run-up to Tuesday’s vote has been marred by aggression. 

A series of pipebombs was last month sent to prominent critics of US president Donald Trump – including Bill and Hillary Clinton – and a massacre in a synagogue in Pennsylvania left 11 dead, for which a white supremacist was arrested and charged. 

Oprah Winfrey takes part in a town hall meeting with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey AbramsCredit:
REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry

The outrage over the racist phone message came as Mr Trump campaigned in Georgia as part of his whirlwind tour of the US. 

He has visited 20 states since the start of October in an attempt to shore up support for "at risk" Republicans in key areas. 

Over the weekend, Mr Trump tweeted "If you want to protect criminal aliens – vote Democrat. If you want to protect law-abiding Americans – vote Republican!"  

Anti-migrant sentiment has grown during the campaign, with Mr Trump repeatedly targeting a group of Central Americans attempting to reach the US border.

The caravan of some 4,000 migrants – made up of people from violence-stricken Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua – was yesterday making its way up through Mexico in the hope of being given asylum in the US.

Mr Trump has ordered US soldiers to the Mexican border in response, with more than 7,000 active duty troops told to deploy to Texas, Arizona and California.

House of Representatives forecast

Early-voting figures for the midterms, which are widely viewed as a referendum on the Trump presidency, show record-breaking numbers in the tightly fought states of Tennessee, Texas and Florida.

In one of the country’s most closely watched and divisive races, Ms Abrams is vying to become the country’s first African American woman governor. 

Her opponent, Brian Kemp, the current Secretary of State for Georgia, condemned the call as "absolutely disgusting" and a message of "unbridled hate and unapologetic bigotry." 

Similarly racist "robocalls" targeted voters in Florida, where black Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum is running for governor. It featured a man speaking in minstrel-style voice as monkeys screeched in the background. 

Senate forecast

Meanwhile Mr Kemp – who holds a slight lead over Ms Abrams – has been accused of orchestrating his own dirty tricks campaign. 

A total of 53,000 people, around 70 per cent of them black, had their voter registration applications suspended by his office.

The voter suspension came about after Georgia’s Republican general assembly passed a so-called "exact match" law last year, requiring personal information on applications to perfectly match that held by the state’s driving licence authority or social security administration.

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On Friday, a judge ruled that Mr Kemp must unblock more than 3,000 of those flagged as ineligible to vote, allowing them to cast their ballot if they can bring documentation to the polls that proves their American citizenship.

US district judge Eleanor Ross said the requirements raised "grave concerns about the differential treatment inflicted on a group of individuals who are predominantly minorities. 

"The election scheme here places a severe burden on these individuals," she added.

Voter registration rows have featured heavily in other key states. 

The US Supreme Court upheld a law passed in North Dakota, opposed by Democrats, which requires voters to produce ID showing their current address at polling stations.

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Democrats said the rule could in particular stop Native Americans from voting, as they often live on reservations and don’t have an address.

Heidi Heitkamp, the incumbent Democrat US senator from North Dakota, has strong backing from many Native American groups, but is now trailing in polls to her Republican opponent.

In Arkansas the state high court backed a law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.

An Ohio court also backed the state’s procedure of purging people from electoral rolls if they do not vote for six years.

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