All Eyes on Georgia

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S1: When I got NSA effort on the phone the other morning, she’s in the back of a Chevy Tahoe that she had been driving back and forth all over Georgia because these runoff elections this week, they’re sort of her Super Bowl, the Super Bowl, the World Cup and the like and the coming out cotillion. That’s a very southern reference by the NSA runs the new Georgia Project, the nonprofit that’s worked to register black and brown communities, women, young people. They’ve gotten a lot of credit for Joe Biden’s presidential victory here and now and say is going for a three peat, working to secure wins for Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and John Boshoff.

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S2: We spent the day in Savannah, Georgia, yesterday where we knocked on our two million door for this cycle.

S1: Your two millionth for like since since when?

S2: Since Labor Day. Oh, that’s a lot of doors. Yeah, it’s a lot of doors. And I should say that one point six, one point seven million of those have happened since the November general election.

S3: And say quantifies her work in what she calls touches, phone calls, text messages, door knocks. But her group also does birthday parties for high schoolers who are turning 18, getting them registered. They sponsor concerts and organize entertainers to perform for people in line at the polls.

S2: We need to try to inject some joy to act as a counterbalance to the bullshit, quite frankly, that people have to endure.

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S4: It’s also kind of a throwback. I remember reading about elections being a big deal, you know, a hundred hundred and fifty years ago where people would put on their best outfits. I mean, white people let it be clear, we put on their best outfits and go into the center of town. They might have, you know, bring a picnic basket like it was the thing like today, it was Election Day. And I’m going to get on my horse buggy and I’m going to see my friends and my family people haven’t seen in a long time. And I think that there’s some of that that we can sort of recapture as a way to bring more people into the process.

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S3: To be clear, this fund is functional, so functional that Republican elections officials have been trying to shut it down.

S2: I know that we are going to have to run up the score and all of the places that we can because we’ve already seen vote suppression shenanigans at play. You mean in this election? In this election and the runoff election, we are talking about a reduction in the number of early voting days, a reduction in the number of early voting locations, a reduction in the number of ballot boxes where people can drop off their votes. We are talking about a memo and a rule change that came from the secretary of state that basically forbids any line warming activity. So we’re not allowed to give voters hot chocolate or water or pizza, even if they find themselves in multiple hour lines and under threat of criminal prosecution. And they are saying that it will be a felony. We are not prepared to concede that point, though. So we are going to maintain that part of our work. And that will likely be a no show down. Another site for battle.

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S1: You sound like a general only. You’re talking about like hot chocolate is like your weapon, right?

S2: Right. Hot chocolate and pizza and live performances. We’re going to have drag queens. We’re going to have marching bands that are going to be ballerinas deejay’s.

S5: I also just want to show that November wasn’t a fluke.

S4: All right, that I want people to know that these changing demographics and long term sustained year round organizing and works and that there’s like nothing magical about it and that if it worked in Georgia, it can work again in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi.

S5: Today on the show, all of Washington has Georgia on its mind, and activists here are trying to build a case that the work they’re doing is going to translate across the country. We’ll talk to a reporter about how voters are responding. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

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S3: There are a lot of people doing what NASA is doing right now, living out of an SUV, driving around Georgia, trying to figure out what’s going to happen on Tuesday.

S1: So, Kleve, how long have you been in Georgia?

S6: Feels like forever.

S3: One of them is Kleve Woodson, a reporter at The Washington Post. He’s not getting people registered, though. He’s trying to figure out how well the efforts of people like Ensay are working.

S6: I’ve been in Georgia since a few days after the general election and did I think I came up the weekend after the general. So early November, this is I’m going into my third month.

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S3: Kleve has covered a lot of elections, but this one, he says it’s more intense than most. You can see it whenever you flip on the TV.

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S6: Any thing that you have a lot of local viewers on, like the Georgia football game or a basketball game. I was watching the USC Georgia Tech game. And obviously they’re going to be a lot of people from Georgia watching that game. And it’s just, you know, the commercial will come on, there’ll be like four or five commercials. All of them would be from political candidates bashing each other and then back to the game. And it’s not just the ads on TV. It’s billboards. It’s if you listen to radio, when I listen to radio on these long, winding trips through Georgia, almost all the ads are about, you know, Warnock and Leffler and Perdue and Asaph and, you know, just ad nauseum. So I’m I’m looking forward to the end.

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S1: It’s funny the way you phrase that, the fact that you’re talking about Perdue and Lefler and we’re not going to Asaph, these candidates, they’ve kind of merged, right, to become just the Democrats versus the Republicans. Have you seen that before? As a political reporter?

S6: You know, you’ve you’ve seen this in a very, very limited ways in the past where they’ll support people and show up and fly in and make it seem like, you know, all the candidates are best friends and all of that stuff. But this is the first time that I’ve seen not just two candidates, but four candidates, you know, all teaming up and saying, look, we’re we’re going to essentially run a nationalized race with nationalized stakes and nationalized money and kind of deciding that very shortly after the first event that I went to was a joint war knock us off rally. They campaigned a little bit together before, you know, in the general. But no, I’ve never I’ve never seen it so intensively where you can’t really say war. Not without saying Asaph. You really can’t say Lefler without Perdue. Here’s an example. Perdue is isolating because he may have been exposed to Coronavirus and Lefler is out, you know, campaigning on her own. But Perdue’s name came out of her mouth six, seven, eight different times. We have to save America. We have to take the Senate. Wee, wee, wee, wee, wee. That’s that’s the entire thing you’re hearing in Georgia.

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S3: Now, today, President elect Biden and President Trump will both be in Georgia rallying to get voters to the polls, even though nearly three million people have already cast their ballots early. For comparison, a Senate runoff back in 2008 brought out two million voters total. This year, a lot of those early votes, they’ve come from more Democratic areas of the state, which has got some people in the GOP a little worried, Cliff says things could really change on Election Day itself, though.

S6: The problem is that a pandemic has presented these unprecedented changes and challenges to just voting period, where people are just voting in in different ways. And then, you know, Republicans are I say, I guess conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, vote a little differently. I’ve talked to, you know, many Republican operatives that say a lot of our, you know, Republicans in the state, you know, want to traditionally cast that ballot in person on Election Day. They feel that that’s best.

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S3: And so so they’re holding their fire.

S6: They’re holding their fire. And that means for people like me and for people like you and for anybody that wants to kind of really know what’s going on, that you have to take a large significant grain of salt, maybe even a shaker of salt to to any of those early numbers. Also, there’s this investment. I mean, there may be half a billion dollars invested in this runoff race. You know, runoff races are usually low turnout, low energy, low money for all but the most invested parties. But in this case, the entire nation’s invested. We’re seeing all those ads on the basketball game. Right. And so it’s difficult, maybe even impossible, to draw a historical comparison that says three million people voting means X or Y. You just sort of have to bite your fingernails and wait for Tuesday.

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S1: You know, a lot of people I talked to you about this election have basically said, look, it’s not about issues. It’s just about how many people you can physically get to a polling location to to fill out their ballot. But I do wonder if you’re seeing any impact of what’s happening in Washington when you speak to voters. Like it stood out to me that that Trump he’s going to be speaking in a county that has been just decimated when it comes to the coronavirus. And I know it’s a place where obviously Republicans have a lot of voters and need people to turn out. But it did stand out to me that, like this is this is an area that has maybe seen a really awful impact of the coronavirus and may be feeling divided about the president’s reaction to it.

S6: Sure. I think one of the questions that each each voter is asking him or herself is who can fix it, you know, which is the best way to fix it. And if you if you’ve if you’re a dyed in the wool Republican and you’ve always believed in Republican values, if you believe that the state of Georgia should be open, for example, and that the economy matters very much and that we can’t take the economy and all of that stuff, it’s hard to see those folks kind of switching sides if I know that, you know, that sort of goes against some of the conventional thinking. The mismanaged coronavirus pandemic from the federal government is just going to turn off voter after voter after voter. I think that for for voters on the margins, the extreme voters, they know how they’re going to vote. They know how they’re going to feel. The question is, those folks in the middle, the quiet people that aren’t going to go to a Trump or Biden rally, you know, they’re not they’re not going to put a Lefler or Warnock’s sign in their yard, like whether those people are swayed one way or the other.

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S3: Kleve says there is another group that could shift the balance on Election Day. Those people and say from the new Georgia project has been trying to reach these aren’t your typical voters. In fact, casting a ballot might not be a priority for them.

S7: There are people that are just because of the competing crises that we’re having with job loss, with pandemic deaths, with the economy tanking and all of that stuff. There are people that are just checked out of it entirely right there that are just not, you know, not listening or cynical about what they’re hearing.

S1: So even with all the ads and all the text messages going to people, you think there are still people who are just.

S6: On the fence or sitting this one out, I just feel like they haven’t been reached, one of the things that I did was I went to rural Georgia to Montezuma, which is an hour, maybe an hour and a half from from Atlanta and where they were trying to canvass low propensity, low turnout voters, people who were just infrequent and all of that stuff. And they’re still finding people, thousands of people who are checked out who maybe see the ads on the TV because you can’t miss them. But what they don’t see is a connection to those people in those ads and their lives, an improvement on their lives. Like I think there’s a certain, you know, rhinovirus fatigue and coronaviruses cynicism. It’s not about whether people are seeing the message. It’s about whether the message is kind of being internalized and it’s motivating them to end up voting. And a lot of times, our biases as journalists, as we, you know, go to the campaign rally, we see the most energized, active people when in reality there are, you know, hundreds of thousands of people in the middle who are just trying to, like, survive and go to work.

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S1: What is convincing those people look like like when you saw groups out there saying, no, seriously, go to the polls, like, what was the cell?

S6: I’m the people that I was observing, canvassing, do a couple of things. One, they go after these people several times. I talked to one person who’s like, I’ve been to this neighborhood five or six times since the general. So it’s a repeated contact with people. It’s also hyper local in that having a canvasser that comes down from North Carolina or York or California or Alabama from anywhere else is a lot harder. It makes it a lot harder for that person to make a pitch or sell to a person than it is somebody that’s local, that’s extremely hyper local that says, hey, if you vote this way, these dirt roads that we’ve been having trouble with might be paved like the ones in Atlanta. You know, these people care more about federal housing assistance and food stamps and Pell grants, for example, than these people. And making that pitch over and over and over again. That takes a lot of time. That takes a lot of energy. That takes a lot of investment. And that’s why a lot of those folks, particularly in rural areas, have been overlooked for so long. But now, with the stakes of this race, you have, you know, Democrats, Republicans, independent groups. I even met some folks that just meet over coffee that decided that they were just going to go out and canvass some neighborhoods because of the high stakes.

S1: And with the margins so thin, it really it makes the point that, like every one of these votes could be crucial.

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S6: Yeah. And every every demographic. Right. Black voters, moderate voters, Asian Pacific Islander voters, rural voters with the margins so thin, you know, 12000 votes in the general, every group, every effort pushes you over the side. And I think more so than that. It’s for Democrats in particular, if there is an opportunity for Democrats to seize, you know, control of the federal government, control of the ship of state, and they don’t exert every last effort and leave nothing on the floor, I think they would just be, you know, disappointed that they missed an opportunity that exists on the Republican side as well. But Republicans have typically been favored in the runoff. I think Democrats say, you know, this is this is kind of our chance and we have to kind of do everything, which is why you’re seeing so much energy.

S8: Cleve Watson on hard to reach Republican voters after the break.

S1: You mentioned the quiet people and how you’re focused on these folks who aren’t at rallies right now, who aren’t like sort of showing up to cheer the candidates on, but are just quietly considering their options at home. And I want to talk about them more, because last month I talked to a Republican operative in Georgia and he was really focused like, this is my glimmer of hope. The people who didn’t vote for Trump but voted for David Perdue and split their ticket in November. And he talked about I think these voters are going to come home to the Republican Party come January. I wonder if you’ve been talking to voters who are in that position to kind of pick a side now and what you’re hearing?

S6: Yeah, it it’s always a dangerous game for me to try to prognosticate about what they’re going to do. But I will say what some of them have been been telling me. Trump is no longer on the ballot, but Trump ism is. So one of the things that these voters are looking at, these voters who are not Trump supporters, who are Republicans, who are conservatives, but not just hardcore Trump supporters, one of the things that they’re looking at is whether or not they’re going to see the continuation of Trump ism with with the chaos, with the rollercoaster, with the negative things. Like I’ve spoken to a lot of folks who both want to, you know, to see a return to a sort of moderate, you know, less extreme Republican conservatism, but who also, you know, don’t want their names used or don’t want don’t want folks to, you know, blast them on Facebook or duck them or call them rhinos, Republicans in name only because they’re not, you know, because they’re not saying Trump, Trump, Trump is wonderful. And so, you know, one of the open questions and it it remains a question for me, for Republicans, for Democrats, you know, even for people in this voting group, is what happens with these people, because it’s not just a question for Georgia. And I’m getting a little big picture. I know, but it’s not just a question for Georgia, but it’s also a question for the Republican Party after Trump, like, you know, who who do they laud next? Who is the next person? Does Trump continue to have influence? Do voters want Trump to continue to have influence, like the want it to be as extreme or more moderate? And so I think a lot of us are watching these people closely because I think they may be the canary in the coal mine that says which way the Republican Party goes in Georgia, maybe in the nation.

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S1: Yeah, I mean, you talk to this mom, Shawna Moesha, and. I was struck by the fact that you mentioned that she didn’t vote for Trump, but you didn’t talk about who she voted for, for Senate, and she was sort of faced with this choice now of what to do with this do over. And I just wonder how she’s thinking about that decision, because she said to you, anyone who associates himself with Trump is poison to me.

S7: Mm hmm. She did tell me she voted for Warnock and Assaf. And it was exactly the point that that I just made. In fact, she was she really helped crystallize my thinking on this. Right. It was that, you know, she voted against Trump. She doesn’t want Trump and she voted for it. In fact, she voted for a lot of Democrats, even though she’s a Republican, even though she’s a conservative. But she doesn’t you know, she doesn’t think that’s enough like that in her mind. It’s not enough to just get rid of of Trump. She wants everybody that’s kind of allied themselves with Trump, with Trump’s way of thinking, with Trump ism, with with the chaos that she sees affecting her children’s lives and, you know, her family’s investments and all of that stuff. She wants those folks out of there. And the big open question that will really only be answered on Tuesday is, is how many Shawna Mosher’s out there? Out there? Like how many people are there out there that feel exactly that way and whether that’s enough to to tilt the election one way or another?

S1: Yeah, I mean, you mentioned how so many people are going to be looking to whatever happens in this election as a kind of sign of where their political party should go from here. What works when it comes to running an election? I wonder if you think the lessons of Georgia can be globalized in that way or whether being down there you feel like you’ve seen some specific things going on in Georgia itself that make it act in the way it has over the last few months.

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S6: I mean, if I’m being honest, the answer the answer can be both. At the same time, I think that Democrats in particular are going to look at the gains they’ve made in Georgia, a state with a high number of African-American voters who lean Democratic state in which a lot of those voters were activated in the last couple of years, thanks to, you know, Stacey Abrams. And to say, you know, can that be replicated? Mike S.B, who is ran for Senate in Mississippi, we talked to a couple of months ago, and he talked about sitting down with Stacey Abrams even before this election and saying how how can I do in Mississippi, which has a larger African-American percentage of the population? How can I do in Mississippi? What you’ve done in Georgia, like what is what is the method? What is the algorithm that that can be used? Now it has to be tweaked and tinkered with and it’s going to be difficult to see the amount of investment that’s flown into Georgia in the past two months fall into every single race. Like, can you do that without half a billion dollars in spending in a race? I don’t know.

S7: But I do think that is sort of the open question on the Democratic side and on the Republican side. I think the big question is, you know, what comes next? Like what? Who is our champion? You know, what is the ideal Republican that appeals not just to the people on the extremes or who on the margins who are going to vote for Republicans, you know, all the time. But should we begin to look outside of the, you know, the typical white male, you know, homogeneous voting bloc that that have made up the large chunk of Republicans? Is there a message that stays true to their values but that also, you know, expands their tent?

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S1: Hmm. Back in November, it took us a while to know what happened in Georgia. When do you think we’re going to know the results this time around?

S7: I know that I will not be sleeping until the effort, but I have no idea that is literally mean that I have, like, absolutely no idea. I’m hunkered down for the long haul, you know. Yeah. It sounds like you haven’t booked your flight back yet. I have not booked the flight back.

S6: I’m, you know, staying at the Airbnb until mid-January and just praying that, you know, it doesn’t it doesn’t go that long because, you know, every everybody’s looking at this race.

S8: Cliff, thank you so much for joining me. Of course. Of course. Cleve Woodson is a national political reporter for The Washington Post, and that is the show, if you’ve listened to this show, you have made it to 20 21. Congratulations. We are produced by Davis Land, Daniel Hewitt, Elena Schwartz and Mary Wilson. Frannie Kelley is helping us make it all work. Alicia Montgomery and Allison Benedikt make the whole thing better every day. And I’m Mary Harris. You can find me over on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s desk and I’ll meet you back in this field tomorrow.