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Georgia voters head to the polls to decide control of the U.S. Senate

All eyes are on Georgia, where voters went to the polls on Tuesday to decide the fate of the U.S. Senate. Stephen Fowler, a political reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Only five days into the new year, and it's already Election Day, at least for voters in Georgia, who are deciding who both of their U.S. senators will be.

    All eyes are watching the Peach State, because it will also determine which party controls the Senate. The stakes are high, and the candidates spent today making their last-minute appeals for votes.

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    I will just make this plea.

    If you voted in November, whatever you feel about the efficacy of this election process in Georgia — and it does have some problems, and we will get that fixed — we can't do much until after this election, unfortunately. But, if you voted in November, please get out and vote.

  • Raphael Warnock:

    We have seen amazing turnout in this state. Over three million folk have already voted. That's good news.

    So, tell your neighbors, tell your friends, tell your family members that today is Election Day. You heard from those of us who were running, but now it's time for us to hear from you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we turn again to Stephen Fowler. He is a political reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting and the host of the "Battleground: Ballot Box" podcast.

    Stephen Fowler, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, what are you hearing? What — how are things going today?

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, today has been mostly quiet. There have been very few lines in many of the polling places across the state.

    There have been very few problems as well. One notable problem, a county had coded the wrong access cards to be able to start up the voting machines, and so they had people vote by paper ballot while they got that fixed.

    But it's not record-setting, overwhelming, long-line turnout across the state. And, depending on how you look at it, that can have two very different outcomes when all is said and done and the polls close.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what do you mean?

    I mean, I think the conventional wisdom has been that Republicans were counting on a high voter turnout today.

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, that's right.

    I mean, early voting, the Democrats are using absentee ballots more, especially because Republicans and President Trump say you shouldn't trust absentee ballots. So, Republicans did need a high turnout, and for most of those people turning out today to be Republicans, to be competitive.

    Two districts that I'm watching is Northwest Georgia, where President Trump had his rally last night — they were behind in early voting, and so needed a big turnout today — as well as long the coast, which is another very GOP-heavy district that would be what puts them over the top.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we saw — Stephen Fowler, the Associated Press does so-called voter surveys, talking to voters in the run-up to this election.

    And we looked at some of early numbers. We saw that the Democratic vote was very slightly down. We saw that the percentage of the Black vote was up a couple of points, percentage points from what it was in November.

    Are you taking anything away from these early numbers you're seeing?

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, the Democratic Party and both Democratic Senate candidates have put a lot of time and energy and effort into getting out the Black vote. They're a reliable Democratic base in Georgia, and especially in Southwest Georgia.

    It's not a place candidates typically travel to or spend money in. That's a very, very important constituency that we see in early voting numbers are showing up to the polls and showing up through absentee ballots at rates similar to what they did in November.

    And so part of the reason you see the Black vote up is because of intentional effort that those campaigns targeted in a race where really every single vote is going to count.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Stephen Fowler, what are the campaigns saying? Are you get anything sense from them about how worried they are, whether they're feeling confident?

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, both campaigns and both sides of the campaigns are cautiously optimistic.

    Nobody feels that this is going to be a blowout for either side. And because there are so many absentee ballots to be counted and so many early votes to be counted, it isn't going to be readily apparent at 7:01 who is going to be the next U.S. senators from Georgia.

    But, really, it's going to turn up — really, it's going to come down to who doesn't show up today. Democrats need their metropolitan Atlanta area voters to still head to the polls, even though they had an early voting lead. And, in Northwest Georgia in particular, Republicans need those people to show up.

    So, it's really going to come down to who didn't get mobilized enough.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, again, so much focus on Georgia.

    The president of the United States, President Trump, as we all know, has spent so much time and energy pointing to what went wrong in Georgia, why he — he claims, of course, that he won in November, even though he did not.

    Is there at this point still a lot of focus on potential irregularities in voting?

  • Stephen Fowler:


    I mean, we talked to people across the state today that were showing up and voting using in person voting machines, even though they didn't quite trust the system. You have Kelly Loeffler saying just before the Trump rally she's going to object to Electoral College votes for Georgia.

    David Perdue, who won't be able to be there because his term ended Sunday, also objected. And you have state lawmakers that are already preparing legislation to roll back voting laws to kind of crack down on what they see as widespread fraud, even though our Republican secretary of state says there's no evidence of that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, clearly, just in the few seconds we have, some confusion surely in the minds of some voters, given all the talk about problems in November, but still asking people to turn out.

  • Stephen Fowler:


    I mean, it's a very conflicting message, because, before the November election, President Trump said don't trust absentee by mail. Now they're saying don't trust the voting machines. And those are the only two ways to vote in Georgia, and that's leading to some people maybe staying home.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are going to be watching it closely. I know you are. And we will be coming back to you as we watch these returns come in.

    Stephen Fowler, Georgia Public broadcasting, thank you.

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Thank you.

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