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In Georgia, Trump Campaigns For 2 GOP Senate Runoff Candidates

NOEL KING, HOST:

It is the last day of voting in Georgia. Today, voters there will decide who controls the U.S. Senate when they vote in two runoff elections. Here are the stakes - if Democrats win both races, they control the Senate and the House and the presidency; Republicans would like to prevent that. Last night, President Trump campaigned in Dalton, Ga., for the two Republican candidates. NPR's Sarah McCammon was there, and now she's here. Hey, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What did the president say last night?

MCCAMMON: You know, it felt as much like a campaign event for Trump himself as it did for the two Republican senators who are on the ballot today, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Trump continues to berate some of his fellow Republicans who are in charge of elections here in Georgia and to make false claims about voter fraud despite multiple repudiations by the courts and investigators. And last night here in Dalton, Ga., where I am, Trump repeated those baseless accusations while encouraging voters to turn out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You must deliver a Republican victory so big that the Democrats can't steal it or cheat it away. We have all - (laughter) they'll be trying, though. I'll tell you that.

MCCAMMON: So that mixed message from Trump has posed a challenge for Republicans here. Many of them are following his lead and, without evidence, questioning the integrity of the system. And they're asking their voters to make sure they participate in that system today.

KING: Tell me about Dalton. Why did the president go there?

MCCAMMON: So about 60% of Georgia's population lives in the Atlanta metro area, which is growing and diverse. And a majority of those folks vote for Democrats. So Republicans need to get out the vote in the rest of the state. This part of northwest Georgia where I am is overwhelmingly white and rural. And Trump is really popular here. You see his signs everywhere. He won about 70% of the vote in this county in November. And last night at the rally, I met one of his supporters, Deborah Gordon. She lives around here. And she says she's praying that both Republican senators hold on to their seats in these runoffs.

DEBORAH GORDON: And I also pray that the fake election will be revealed because there's - especially Georgia, you cannot tell me that President Trump did not win Georgia because people love him here. They may not in Atlanta or DeKalb County, but they love him in every place I've ever gone to. And I've gone to a couple of different rallies.

MCCAMMON: Of course, President Trump did not win Georgia; President-elect Joe Biden did. But everyone at the rally that I spoke with was repeating claims like that you're hearing from Deborah Gordon and from President Trump. And, Noel, this kind of deep-red county is the kind of place where Republicans will need to get every vote they possibly can if they want to keep those Senate seats.

KING: What about the Democrats? They flipped Georgia in November with Biden's win. That was a big deal. What is their grand strategy for this runoff?

MCCAMMON: So they've been trying to get out the vote early. They've been trying to build on that strategy that worked so well for Biden in November. He was the first Democrat to win the presidential contest in Georgia in almost three decades. That was possible because of the sophisticated ground game led by activists like Stacey Abrams, who spent a lot of time and money educating and registering voters. So there's been a lot more of that kind of work compressed into the last several weeks on behalf of these two Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. At a Warnock event yesterday, I met one of those workers, Patricia Smith. She's 21, lives in Atlanta, and she said she and her husband have been knocking on a couple hundred door a day.

PATRICIA SMITH: This affects the entire nation. It's not just the state of Georgia. So they put a lot of power in the state of Georgia's hands, so we have to encourage people constantly because this is true - like, this is one of the most important elections. The presidential election was important, but this one - this one is - this one is right there with it. Like, it's very important that Georgians get out and vote.

MCCAMMON: And you hear that from a lot of Democrats here, Noel. They're very conscious of Georgia's role in the country right now, this decisive election that will decide control of the U.S. Senate. So Democrats have been focusing hard on population centers like Atlanta and also Savannah, where Vice President-elect Kamala Harris campaigned over the weekend. They're hoping these kinds of efforts will enable them to win these two crucial Senate seats and with that sort of cement Georgia's reputation as a bluing state. But we should mention that Biden fared much better than either of these Democratic Senate candidates in November. So Democrats know it won't be an easy win tonight.

KING: NPR's Sarah McCammon in Dalton, Ga. Thanks, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.