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Last week’s primaries in Pennsylvania and North Carolina showed that former President Trump still exerts real influence on Republican voters. That influence will be tested again this week in Georgia, one of the closest battleground states in 2020. William Brangham reports.
Recent primary elections in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and elsewhere have shown that former President Donald Trump still exerts strong influence on Republican voters.
Tomorrow, his influence will once again be tested, this time at the polls in Georgia, a state President Biden narrowly won in 2020.
William Brangham just returned from Georgia and has this report.
Early voting has been going on for weeks in Georgia. And while inflation and high gas prices are top of mind for many, another issue has also been thrust center stage.
David Perdue (R), Georgia Gubernatorial Candidate: Let me be very clear tonight. The election in 2020 was rigged and stolen.
In the Georgia governor's race, the popular Republican incumbent, Brian Kemp, is trying to fend off a challenge from former Senator David Perdue, whose main attack has been the Kemp should have reversed the last election because of unproven claims of fraud.
Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA):
The only one lying here is you, and that is a fat.
Donald Trump, Former President of the United States: Brian Kemp let us down. We can't let it happen again.
Former President Trump endorsed Perdue, hoping to unseat the governor, who wouldn't echo his lies about the election.
Brad Raffensperger (R), Georgia Secretary of State: I followed the law and I followed the Constitution.
There's a similar fight to unseat incumbent Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who famously refused President Trump's request to — quote — "find him" 11,000 votes.
I only need 11,000 votes. Fellows, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.
Raffensperger is facing a primary from another Trump-endorsed election denier, Republican Congressman Jody Hice.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA):
I believe the election here in Georgia reaped with fraudulent activity.
So, the question is, is this so-called big lie, the widely discredited notion that somehow the 2020 election was stolen from President Trump, is that theory going to resonate with voters two years later here in Georgia?
We went to Woodstock, Georgia, in Cherokee County, where Trump won nearly 70 percent of the vote, to ask Republicans that question.
Mary Elizabeth Morris, Georgia Voter:
I don't have a lot of trust in the elections themselves.
Real estate agent Mary Elizabeth Morris is convinced the last election was stolen.
Mary Elizabeth Morris:
I feel like they are looking at us like, oh, well, you're just so stupid, you won't know that we committed these crimes. I mean, there's so much evidence. But nothing's being done.
Do you think that the last election was stolen?
Tim Osborne, Georgia Voter:
I think, in every election ever, there's been some hoodie-doo going on.
Hoodie-doo is the technical term for it?
It is in Woodstock.
But I think now, with the scrutiny that it's under, I have more faith in this election than any in a while.
Former Major League Baseball scout Tim Osborne says all this conspiratorial talk of a rigged election is a distraction.
I would rather focus on the economy now and Ukraine now and things like that.
Stephen Fowler, Georgia Public Broadcasting:
There is a fight for the future of the Republican Party in Georgia. Donald Trump is still a very popular figure within Georgia Republicans. But what that popularity means is going to be on the ballot.
Stephen Fowler covers state politics for Georgia Public Broadcasting.
A poll from earlier this year showed three out of four Georgia Republicans still believe there was widespread fraud in 2020.
For there to be a conspiracy to overturn the election or to rig the election would have to take an incredible number of Republicans colluding against their own party. And this is the most scrutinized election system and elections in the entire country.
And, still, for thousands and thousands and thousands of people, it's not enough.
The Associated Press analyzed every case of voter fraud in the six battleground states, including Georgia, that former President Trump contested. It found fewer than 475 cases — quote — "a number that would have made no difference in the 2020 presidential election."
Gov. Brian Kemp:
We have been there on Friday night wondering, how are we going to get through this?
After the 2020 election, Governor Brian Kemp signed a much-criticized election law to rollback changes that were made during the pandemic, things like expanded ballot drop boxes and easier absentee mail-in voting.
But he rejects the idea that the 2020 election was stolen or that he could have or should have changed the outcome.
Does it frustrate you that you have to keep litigating the last election?
No, it does not frustrate me being governor of Georgia. This is the greatest state in the country to live, work and raise our families. People have their individual views. That's part of the primary process.
I have been involved in those fights before.
Kemp's defense of the 2020 election seemingly hasn't hurt his campaign. He's currently well ahead in the polls, and many of his supporters welcome his move away from the conspiracy.
Holly Gardner, Georgia Voter:
Well, I'm going to be very honest with you. I don't think the election was stolen.
Holly Gardner is a retired school principal. She says she doesn't quite understand the grip Trump still has on so many in her party.
It's like a cult, a cult that I don't want to be a part of. I don't — I don't understand it. I really don't. I can't imagine someone having that much influence on me as an American voter.
Shane Mumma is the head of College Republicans at Vanderbilt University and a big Kemp supporter.
Shane Mumma, College Republicans, Vanderbilt University:
This is the man our party should support. And I think it's childish that the former president wants to derail his campaign based on that he doesn't support some lie and actually stood up for election integrity.
But those false allegations are not slowing down.
This is organized crime.
Dinest D’Souza, Conservative Commentator:
Do you have video evidence?
Four million minutes of surveillance video around the country.
A new documentary called "2000 Mules" is out claiming to have video and cell phone data proving so-called mules committed voter fraud in 2020.
We talked with some voters, like Mike Mastowski, outside a screening of the film in Holly Springs, Georgia.
Mike Mastowski, Georgia Voter:
We have been looking for the smoking gun for a year now. And when this movie came out a week or two back, my wife and I came and watched it. And I said game over.
But multiple news organizations, including The Washington Post, NPR, and the Associated Press, have debunked the film, saying it's wildly misleading, full of dubious claims, and that it's supposed that evidence is full of gaping holes.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, after reviewing materials sent by the filmmakers, said a probe was not justified.
Brian Kemp sold us out and allow radicals to steal the election.
Former Senator Perdue continues with his unfounded claims of fraud.
Senator, you have repeatedly said that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen.
And why do you still believe that?
Because of the hard evidence. Why do you guys not look at the hard evidence?
At a meet-and-greet with supporters in Covington, Georgia, we asked if constantly spreading these baseless claims might make his own voters afraid to vote.
But half of the 350,000 Republicans who have voted in this primary so far in the first 2.5 weeks did not vote in '18. You make your own conjecture about what that is. These people are upset, and they're not going to go away.
But for the people who actually run elections in Georgia, combating this avalanche of lies and accusations has become a full-time job.
Joseph Kirk, Election Supervisor, Bartow County, Georgia:
There are certain folks out there that I will never be able to convince of how this really works, even if I show them step by step. That's when it gets really frustrating.
You're going to fill this out first.
Joseph Kirk is the election supervisor of Bartow County, an area that former President Trump won by more than 50 points.
And then that gets plugged in here.
Kirk tries to educate voters as much as possible about how elections work and how secure the process is.
And then your initials right that.
But he says some of his poll workers — that's who's being trained here — have been threatened and harassed, and he's had to beef up security to protect them.
violence against election officials should never happen. That's not a political issue. That's just a decency issue.
And these are your neighbors, your friends, your community, people that are volunteering their time to serve their country and facilitate this process.
Thank you, Georgia. Thank you very much.
This week's primary in Georgia will be another measure of just how much influence the former president and his lies about the election still have on Republican voters.
Watch the Full Episode
William Brangham is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour in Washington, D.C. He joined the flagship PBS program in 2015, after spending two years with PBS NewsHour Weekend in New York City.
Mike Fritz is a video journalist and producer for the PBS NewsHour.
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