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Polls close in Georgia’s runoff elections with control of the U.S. Senate on the line

All eyes are on Georgia, where polls closed in two runoff elections that will determine control 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:

    All eyes tonight are on the state of Georgia, where polls closed two hours ago in two run-off elections that will determine control of the U.S. senate.

    We are watching the results as they come in between Democrat Raphael Warnock taking on incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler.

    And you can see, with 60 percent of the expected vote in at this hour, Warnock is leading 51 percent to Loeffler's 49 percent. It's close.

    And in the other race, Democrat Jon Ossoff taking on incumbent Republican David Perdue, and here again, with 61 percent of the expected vote in, Perdue is leading — or, rather, we should say it's now tied. Ossoff was ahead a moment ago. Now we see it is a virtual tie between David Perdue, the Republican, and Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, but, of course, continuing to watch these numbers as they come in.

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

    So, Stephen Fowler, you have been watching this for days. You're watching it tonight. What are these numbers telling you?

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, the numbers are telling me that it is definitely the early vote and the absentee vote that are going to be the difference-makers here.

    We're expecting about four million votes, and that's a low turnout on Election Day. So, what we're seeing right now is that many of the counties have the same margins that they had in the presidential race for either President Trump or President Biden, but the raw votes are lower in some of the rural counties, which means that, if you're David Perdue, you're not going to be able to eat into as much of the lead over Jon Ossoff.

    Or, if you're the Democrats, it means that you might get to hold on a little extra more because you have got places like Atlanta that are coming in strong.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, at this point, are there parts of the state yet to come in that advantage one side or another, Democrat or Republican?

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, for now, what we have seen is that about two-thirds of the absentee ballots, of about the million absentee ballots that have been counted already, those are going to be coming in later from the bigger, larger, more Democratic counties.

    It still remains to be seen how many people on Election Day voted. And if they did, that will probably come in from the more rural Republican parts of the state. So, those are the two big pieces of the puzzle left to help us figure out how the night is going to go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Stephen Fowler, we have been looking at this AP voter survey, interviews with voters done in the last few days, people who said they were definitely voting.

    And, among other things, it's showing the black vote in this run-off up 3 percent above what it was on November 3. Advantage Democrats? What does that tell you?

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, exactly.

    What it tells is that, with all of the money and spending and campaigning in this race, Democrats have made it a priority to focus in Southwest Georgia, in Georgia's Black Belt, which is a very big area of Democratic voters for them that don't typically see investment or politicians come by.

    And I think you're seeing that pay off here, because you know that you're going to get Democratic votes in Atlanta. But these other smaller parts of the state maybe have less incentive to turn out, especially in run-offs. And you're seeing them show up in force.

    I just saw Randolph County in Southwest Georgia is at almost 100 percent of its November vote, and they voted by Democrats in a wider margin than they did for Joe Biden. So, you add those kinds of counties up, pair it with the Metro Atlanta that is rapidly diversifying and shifting blue, and that could be a winning coalition, when everything is said and done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Turnout so critical, and especially in a place like what you just described.

    Stephen Fowler, just quickly, we see the younger vote, youngest vote margin looking a little bit better. Does that say anything? Or do they make enough difference in the overall vote?

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, I think, when you're looking at the margins of a race like this in a state like Georgia, which is truly as purple as you can get, it's cliche, but every vote counts.

    And I think that also too goes to what the Democrats have done, trying to mobilize the youth vote.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how long — I mean, you have been telling us for days, Stephen Fowler, that this — we weren't going to know this result early on, it's so close.

    But you were telling me just a moment ago that these numbers are coming in faster than you had expected. What are you seeing on that front? As we know, so much focus on Georgia, and the president saying that the November election was fraudulent.

    What are you seeing in terms of the vote count, how it was counted?

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, the state changed rules this year, and they required counties to begin processing absentee ballots last Monday.

    That's opening up the envelopes, checking the signatures, making sure that the ballot isn't spoiled or damaged, and doing everything but hitting tabulate and count. And so that's a time-consuming process that took place before the first vote was cast today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in other words, you're expecting to see results faster, sooner, maybe in the next day?

    All right, Stephen Fowler, Georgia Public Broadcasting, thank you. We will be watching too.

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