What Republican Voters Think About Georgia Runoff Elections
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Atlanta, where we have spent much of the day asking people - asking Georgia voters, asking Georgia election officials - for their reaction to that extraordinary call, the call between President Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger over the weekend, in which Trump pushed Raffensperger to overturn the state's presidential election result.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes.
KELLY: Again, the man on the receiving end of that call, Brad Raffensperger - his office is right here, right over my left shoulder. We are in the Georgia capitol under the famous gold dome. And we have come here to meet reporter Emma Hurt of WABE. She has been reporting on the GOP in Georgia in this runup to tomorrow's runoff elections, which, of course, will determine control of the U.S. Senate.
Emma Hurt, hi there. How are you holding up?
EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Hi. Doing good. Welcome back to Georgia. Welcome home.
KELLY: Thank you. Let's talk about Republicans, who have been busy attacking their own, we should say, for weeks now in Georgia, talking about Georgia. What is the impact of this latest twist of the President Trump phone call?
HURT: You know, morale for Republicans right now is low. This is more of the same in a way from President Trump, questioning the election and putting really direct pressure on Republicans that previously endorsed him and that he endorsed. But this is next-level. And there are Republicans who are speaking out and saying, I'm - I've never felt this way before about it. And the question, though, of course, is, does this affect any Republican voters? Does this make anyone second-guess their vote? Does this make anyone second-guess voting at all? And that is what is striking fear in the hearts of many Republicans - has been for a while, but it has not eased up. In fact, this call has just made it worse.
KELLY: Well, this is a question - a central question here. If you are a Republican in Georgia and your president, your Republican president, is telling you the vote in Georgia was rigged; it was illegitimate; there was fraud - why would you choose to participate in the process for the Senate runoff?
HURT: It's a contradiction, and it's a contradictory message that the president has been giving for weeks now. And I keep asking this of Republican voters. What I'm hearing is, I still have to vote because what else can I do? And the candidates have been framing this as a message of if you want to keep fighting for the president, keep fighting by voting again. And we also should note that while the president is saying all of these things about the election system, he is telling people to vote too.
KELLY: Just to note in passing the stakes and the contradictions in play here - President Trump's in Georgia tonight for a big rally in the northwest corner of the state. The Republican governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, is not invited.
HURT: I've said this before. It's the twilight zone. I mean, to think months ago, Governor Kemp was the strongest surrogate that Senator Loeffler or Senator Perdue could have on the trail. He appointed Senator Loeffler, and he was one of the president's strongest gubernatorial allies. And here he is not being invited - is just mind-blowing for everybody.
KELLY: I want to talk about the two Republican candidates in play here from Georgia for the U.S. Senate - David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler. Voters here who plan to vote for them or who have already voted for them early - is it because they like David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler? Or is this about the bigger picture of, if you're a Republican, you might not want everything in Washington - Congress and the White House - to be in Democratic hands?
HURT: You know, it's a mix, right? Senator Perdue has been in office for six years, and so he has more of an established identity and reputation than Senator Loeffler, who was only appointed a year ago. But that divided government argument that you mentioned is really strong. I mean, we can see that there are split-ticket voters in Georgia. There are voters who want Republican policy still. And we see that in the general assembly too. We're here in the state capitol, where Republicans still control both chambers.
KELLY: I wonder, Emma, as you report here in Georgia, are you starting to see any takeaways about the future of the GOP that might apply nationally? I mean, we're watching the divisions within the party play out spectacularly here in Georgia today. And the whole country is wondering, what happens to the Republican Party when President Trump is no longer president?
HURT: Yeah, I think that this is really - you can make the argument that this is a microcosm of what the Republican Party is going to have to deal with and is already starting to have to deal with, where the president is asking - and in a way, forcing - Republicans to choose between him and everything else, whether that's the laws, the election system, the Electoral College. And he's punishing people who are not choosing him.
But also, I think the bigger lesson is for competitive states like Georgia. What damage could the president be doing to his party going forward? - because by sowing confusion, by undermining incumbent candidates like Brian Kemp, who was a very popular governor, you know, what is he setting them up for 2022? He's encouraged people to run against Governor Kemp, which is just wild. And as one Republican strategist told me, basically, if President Trump really does back a challenger to Governor Kemp in 2022, that could spell a Democratic governor in Georgia. He said, I can't guarantee much, but I can guarantee that.
KELLY: That is reporter Emma Hurt of WABE sharing some of her latest reporting on Republicans here in Georgia. And here we are under the dome of the Georgia Statehouse.
Thanks so much for taking the time.
HURT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.