Candidates make final pitches to Georgia voters ahead of primary elections
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
But we are going to head now to Georgia, where tomorrow's big primary race feels familiar.
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DAVID PERDUE: The election in 2020 was rigged and stolen.
KELLY: That is former GOP Senator David Perdue. He spent a lot of his campaign echoing Donald Trump's false claim of election fraud. Perdue is challenging incumbent Governor Brian Kemp, and the winner here will face another familiar name, Stacey Abrams. She is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, which is not going unnoticed by Republican voters.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So I really want to hear some things about how he plans to beat Stacey, because Kemp has already beaten Stacey. Perdue lost to Ossoff.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I have no problem with the job Governor Kemp did, but all my buddies tell me that Mr. Perdue's the man.
KELLY: Add to that a contentious race for secretary of State and another contest that could ultimately decide the balance of power in the Senate, and it is no wonder this Georgia primary will be so closely watched. I talked about it with Rahul Bali, politics reporter at WABE in Atlanta, starting with David Perdue.
RAHUL BALI, BYLINE: He was pushed into this race by the former president. And Perdue's top issue, like the former president's top issue, was that the 2020 election was stolen, including here in Georgia. And we've said it once, we've said it plenty of times. There have been investigations, lawsuits looking at what happened, and the claims have just not panned out.
KELLY: This is false. Yeah. But Perdue is - I mean, he opened more than one of his televised debates repeating that line.
BALI: Exactly. There have been three televised debates, and this is how he opened two of them.
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PERDUE: The madness we see in the Biden administration started right here in Georgia when Brian Kemp caved to let radical Democrats steal the election.
BALI: This is usually the first thing that he brings up, these false claims around the 2020 elections.
KELLY: Are voters buying it? What do the polls say?
BALI: What it's looking like is that David Perdue has really not expanded that group of voters who believe that. So there was a recent Fox News poll that showed Governor Brian Kemp with a lead of 32%. But let me tell you, here's the number that matters - 50%. In the state of Georgia, you need 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff. And this is what it's all about. David Perdue is trying to get Governor Kemp into a runoff. Governor Kemp is just trying to avoid one.
KELLY: If Kemp manages to succeed and avoid that runoff, if he gets his 50%, he would face, as you mentioned, Stacey Abrams in November, which would be quite the rematch from their last race. What would be different this time around?
BALI: It's four years later. You know, Governor Kemp has his record of four years as governor, something he's going to point to. Abrams is going to look at that same record, and she's going to attack it. You know, for Georgia Republicans, they're going to try to attach Stacey Abrams to the Biden administration and the issues that are plaguing the administration - for example, inflation. And then you've got to talk about abortion. You know, with the possibility of Roe being overturned, kicking it back to the states - you know, talking to people on the ground, it is going to engage both sides. It's going to engage abortion rights opponents and those who support them. The question is, how many more voters could this bring to the polls?
KELLY: Let's move to the Senate race. This is for the seat currently occupied by Democrat Raphael Warnock. He is trying to defend his seat. Where does this race stand?
BALI: So it's looking like the Republican choice is going to be Herschel Walker. That's a name that some people may recognize, that may not recognize. He is a former football star. He was the centerpiece of the 1980 University of Georgia national football title team - a big name here. But so is Raphael Warnock. He is the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church that was once pastored by Martin Luther King Jr. And these are both Black men fighting for a seat in the Deep South. So this is - it's going to be a really interesting race to watch. You're going to have star power, obviously. You're going to see Donald Trump, who has supported Herschel Walker's race, really pushed Herschel Walker into this race. And you can expect big names to come down to this state for Senator Warnock as well.
KELLY: Yeah. One more race I want to throw in the mix, the race for secretary of state. This is the person who oversees elections in Georgia and not a race that usually we would be talking about on a national news program, but here we are.
BALI: That's right. You know, that's a race that doesn't really get attention here in Georgia as well. But, you know, the position was thrown into the national spotlight after the election in 2020. You may remember that former President Donald Trump had that phone call with the current Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger. That call was taped. And in that call, you hear him pressured to find enough votes to win the state of Georgia in 2020.
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DONALD TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.
BALI: And obviously, in the end, Raffensperger refused, along with Governor Kemp. And both of them became the target of former President Trump's rage. Raffensperger's running again. He's facing a whole field of candidates who are focusing on the false election claims of 2020. Leading that pack is current Congressman Jody Hice, and that is the heart of his argument, that the elections were given away in 2020 here in Georgia.
KELLY: So take me more inside the conversations that you are having with voters. I remember I was in Georgia last year for the runoff. I went to what ended up being Trump's last big outside D.C. rally as president. It was in Dalton in north Georgia. And person after person we spoke to were convinced that he had been robbed. What are you hearing now?
BALI: Mary Louise, it's not changed at all. The majority of Republican and conservative voters I talked to across the state believe something went wrong with the 2020 elections. The question simply is, how is that going to affect 2022? And the concern comes from voters like Lee (ph) from Commerce, Ga. He wouldn't give his last name. I spoke to him at Donald Trump's rally in northeast Georgia earlier this year.
LEE: I'm afraid if you keep bringing it up, bringing it up, bringing it up, you're going to turn off a segment of our Republican conservative voters. I think that they might not come back and vote, you know, if it just keeps on and on. It was a fraud. It was a fraud. It was a fraud. You know, we need to talk issues.
KELLY: May I just say I'm struck listening to you by how much this race in 2022 still seems totally dominated by 2020 and by former President Trump. How large does he loom over these primaries tomorrow in Georgia?
BALI: He's a key factor. He's a key conversation point in all of this. You know, Donald Trump has endorsed 13 candidates up and down the ballot, congressional races. That's something we're going to be talking about. We just have to talk about it because it's - he's involved in the two top races on the Republican side, governor and U.S. Senate, along with the secretary of state race we're talking about. Look; that is going to be a big conversation point on Wednesday morning when the results are in. What do these results mean? What is the power of the former president over voters - conservative and Republican voters in Georgia?
KELLY: So much suspense still ahead. Rahul Bali, thanks so much.
BALI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.