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What Activists In Georgia Are Doing To Turn Out The Vote In Runoff Elections

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Georgia is still in the national political spotlight. A hand retally in the presidential election there is complete and awaiting official certification for Democrat Joe Biden. President Trump is lashing out at the Republican secretary of state there at the same time that Georgia's two Republican senators are in runoffs that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports money and operatives are flooding the state to get out the vote.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Georgia voters are being bombarded, whether it's Twitter messages, robocalls or the more than $100 million worth of television ads they'll see between now and the January 5 runoff.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Now we take Georgia, and then we change America.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Georgia, don't let these radicals change America.

ELLIOTT: That ad was paid for by Republican Senator Rick Scott of neighboring Florida, one of a host of powerful GOP figures trying to help incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Neither got more than 50% of the general election vote, resulting in runoffs against Democratic challengers. Loeffler faces Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. Perdue is against Jon Ossoff, who gained national attention in a 2017 special election for Congress, nearly flipping a seat long in Republican control.

Democrats are working to keep up the enthusiasm after Joe Biden bested Donald Trump in the presidential race here. All kinds of groups are working to make sure people show up for the runoff.

EDWARD AGUILAR: Welcome to Students For 2020 HQ.

ELLIOTT: Under colorful string lights on a friend's back patio in Alpharetta, 17-year-old Edward Aguilar has set up a makeshift office for Students For 2020. He's a co-founder of the group that developed an algorithm for college students to determine where their vote matters most, in their hometowns or where they go to school. Now calling themselves Students For Tomorrow, they're shifting gears for the runoff.

AGUILAR: I mean, we're students. At the end of the day, we founded this organization because we want our interests to be represented in government.

ELLIOTT: They're backing Democrat Jon Ossoff for Senate, in part because of his age. He's 33. On this evening, the mission is to refine scripts for issue-focused phone canvassing.

AGUILAR: OK, so the main thing is - Michael, can you run over, like, the most basic script you could find?

ELLIOTT: Michael Giusto says the calls should start from common ground.

MICHAEL GIUSTO: Hey, we're Students For Tomorrow. We're trying to get student ideas into office, and we've been calling other students to make sure that their ideas are being represented and that they are what we are campaigning for.

AGUILAR: Can we write that up on the dark (ph)?

GIUSTO: Sure. Sure. Sure.

ELLIOTT: Giusto turned 18 after the general election but can now vote in the runoff and wants to persuade others to join him. It's estimated that more than 20,000 potential voters will have turned 18 between the general election and the runoff. December 7 is the deadline to register. There's also a concerted effort to drive turnout for other groups. Black Voters Matter, for instance, is launching a bus tour in Georgia this weekend. Republicans are working just as hard to keep their voters engaged. A key message is keeping control of the Senate.

JAKE EVANS: From the Republican perspective, you know, a lot of people view this as the firewall.

ELLIOTT: Attorney Jake Evans is past president of the Atlanta Young Republicans. Talking about a firewall is tricky for the Republican senators, Evans says, because it acknowledges Biden as the president-elect.

EVANS: They have a very delicate balance. They have to balance the Trump supporters under the reality that he likely is not going to be president on January 21, 2021.

ELLIOTT: Republicans have historically performed well in runoffs, which tend to have lower turnouts. Even in this heightened atmosphere, Evans says the GOP has the advantage.

EVANS: I don't think that the Democrats have the Darth Vader at the top of the ticket that is Donald Trump to drive up their turnout. I mean, in Georgia, you had a lot of first-time voters in metro Atlanta who were really turning out to the polls for one reason, and that was to vote against Donald Trump.

ELLIOTT: Some have speculated that political operatives could come here and register to vote in the January runoff. Gabriel Sterling with the secretary of state's office warns that would be a felony.

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GABRIEL STERLING: If you are here for the sole sake of politics, don't game our system.

ELLIOTT: Early voting in the Georgia Senate runoff starts December 14.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH'S "TONE'S RAP (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.