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Election Day In Georgia: Millions Voted Early In 2 Senate Runoffs

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Millions of people have already voted in Georgia, and today is their final day. They are deciding two Senate runoff elections. Republicans - we'll remind you - currently have both seats. If they should win either seat, they keep their majority in the Senate. If Democrats were to win both races, the Senate would be split 50-50, leaving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris with the deciding vote. Democrats would take control. President-elect Biden campaigned in Georgia last night and told voters their choice means everything.

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JOE BIDEN: The power is literally in your hands. Unlike any time in my career, one state - one state - can chart the course, not just for the next four years, but for the next generation.

INSKEEP: On this, at least, the departing president, Donald Trump, agrees.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Tomorrow, our entire nation is counting on the people of Georgia. In a way, the world is counting on the people of Georgia. The fate of our country is at stake. It's in your hands.

INSKEEP: The vote has been overshadowed by the president's baseless efforts to overturn the presidential election that he lost. On Saturday, he spent an hour on the phone unsuccessfully trying to persuade the Georgia secretary of state to add exactly enough votes for Trump to win by one vote.

All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly was at the president's rally last night in Dalton, Ga. Good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Good morning from the epicenter of the American political universe...

INSKEEP: Right.

KELLY: ...Which is not something I have ever gotten to say from Georgia to somebody sitting in Washington. So good morning.

INSKEEP: Good morning. Well, it's a state that is changing.

KELLY: Yeah.

INSKEEP: What did you hear at the rally?

KELLY: We heard, as you nodded to, a president who remains more focused on the November election that he lost than the one unfolding today in Georgia. And based on the crowd's chants of four more years, a lot of his supporters share that focus. Let me share with you one of those voices. This is a woman we met named Trish White. She lives in Ringgold, Ga.

TRISH WHITE: I absolutely love President Trump, and I believe the election was stolen in the state of Georgia - absolutely believe it. Look around. No way Biden won this state - no way.

KELLY: As you know, the fact is that Biden did win Georgia. But Trish White was one of many people who told us she is watching closely what happens where you are, in D.C., tomorrow. She is hopeful Congress is going to find some way not to certify that Biden won.

INSKEEP: Well, did the president bring up that phone call that he made over the weekend?

KELLY: Yeah, the one you mentioned, that he was pushing for Georgia to overturn its election result. He spent a lot of time on those untrue, divorced-from-fact claims that we heard him make on that call. He spent more time on that than he did making the case for why Georgians should turn out and vote today. I will note, we asked a lot of his supporters about the call. We couldn't find anybody who was particularly bothered about it at this Trump rally - so take it with a grain of salt. But it speaks, I think, to that, as high as the stakes are with this election, people have made up their minds.

INSKEEP: Well, that's what you hear at a Trump rally. But how are Georgia election officials - by and large Republicans, including many Republicans, of course - how are they responding?

KELLY: Well, we got a stinging rebuke from one of them here, Gabriel Sterling, a top election official, a Republican who, one by one, ran through this list of false claims of fraud that Trump is making about Georgia, and Sterling corrected the record.

Meanwhile, we were out and about interviewing the election chiefs of a couple of Georgia's biggest counties. They said they were disappointed. They were dismayed by the president's comments. But they also have a lot of other stuff going on today. They are still trying to pull off a vote in the middle of a pandemic, and COVID cases are breaking out. The election director of Cobb County told me she is getting emails right and left. Somebody new is testing positive all the time. So she is flat out just trying to keep the polling stations open and running today.

INSKEEP: Which has got to be complicated. They've already had 3 million votes or so in the early voting period. Now you've got Election Day, where turnout is going to be really, really important, to state the obvious. What does the get-out-the-vote effort look like for the two parties?

KELLY: It looks huge. It looks unprecedented. There are hundreds of millions of dollars, just records amount of money, pouring into Georgia, which will buy you, as you know, everything from ad time to billboards. You cannot turn around in Atlanta without seeing a political billboard. A couple just to give you a taste - there is a big one on the road out from the airport that says, vote your Ossoff. This is a nod to...

INSKEEP: OK.

KELLY: Yes - Jon Ossoff, one of the Democratic Senate candidates. There's another one right on Peachtree Street, the iconic main street of Atlanta. This one's for Kelly Loeffler. It reads, save the Senate, save America. So the sign there - the literal sign of how her campaign views the stakes.

INSKEEP: What is it like as Democrats try to draw out Black voters who are so important to their coalition?

KELLY: So important to their coalition. There are all kinds of get-out-the-vote groups here trying to get Black voters to the polls. We turned up at this drive-in concert in a big parking lot near the airport, and we met LaTosha Brown. She's the co-founder of Black Voters Matter.

LATOSHA BROWN: One of the changes, the differences, between the general and the runoff is that people didn't know whether Georgia was really, really in play, you know, in the general. It is clear that Georgia is in play now. And so the stakes went up.

KELLY: So she's making the point a lot of people didn't suspect - that Georgia, a very red state for a very long time, might go for Biden. Now they're thinking, OK, maybe I can make a difference. I'm going to get out and vote. Her goal is to have more Black voters turn out for these runoff elections today than turned out in the general election in November. Georgia's never seen anything like that. It would be quite something.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about how to expect results tonight and, really, in the days ahead. I'm recalling that on the November election night, of course, President Trump lied and said he won the election. He had not won the election. The counting took several days. And if I'm not mistaken, the election was on Tuesday, and it took until Friday morning for us to get a clear picture of what had happened in Georgia, that Biden had won Georgia. How long might it take this time?

KELLY: It might take something like that. It is all going to depend on turnout, on how close it is. What we are hearing from county by county - we're calling around and saying, when do you think you're going to get a result? (laughter) - they're saying possibly tonight. I mean, it's possible, but it is not likely because it is expected to be so close. We talked to one get-out-the-vote organizer who said, look - I know. I know, Georgia. I know you're tired. I'm tired, he told us. But he said he feels the eyes of the country on voters in Georgia and the eyes of the world. And he said, we're going to see this through.

INSKEEP: Mary Louise Kelly of All Things Considered reporting today from Georgia. And we'll hear more of her reporting this afternoon on All Things Considered. Thanks so much.

KELLY: You are very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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