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U.S. Senate hangs in the balance as candidates make final push in Georgia

Lawmakers returned to Washington, D.C this week, but control of the U.S. Senate still hangs in the balance. It all comes down to two senate runoff elections tomorrow in Georgia. Lisa Desjardins reports on the final push for control of the Senate.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now let's talk about what happened this week, lawmakers returning to Washington this week, control of the U.S. Senate still hanging in the balance.

    It is all coming down to two Senate run-off elections tomorrow in Georgia.

    Our Lisa Desjardins is back with this report on the final push.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For weeks, a platoon of the powerful has been flying one by one into Georgia, including the current president and the one about to become president. But don't be fooled. This is a ground war..

  • Dan Coats:

    We have knocked on millions of doors already, made millions of phone calls.

  • Ella Witt:

    We have already reached 711,000.

  • Allison Adams:

    One of the field agents said he made like 1,500 calls. That's amazing to me.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It is a political doubles contest with the highest stakes, Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler defending their seats against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. If both Democrats win, their party takes over the Senate.

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    We are the last line of defense.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republicans faced a late campaign challenge, when Perdue had a COVID exposure and entered quarantine last week.

    But, meanwhile, dozens of groups have deployed, everyone from the national parties to the New Georgia Project, focused on underrepresented groups, to the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List.

  • Ella Witt:

    We have brought in our most seasoned field directors from all across the country into the state of Georgia.

  • Klaire Gumbs:

    And you have got people from California, Virginia and New York who just want to help.

  • Dan Coats:

    With more than 1,000 combined staff and thousands of volunteers.

  • Latosha Brown:

    Out of all of my years of doing this work, I have never experienced what I'm experiencing on the ground.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    LaTosha Brown co-founded the Black Voters Matter Fund four years ago to foster more Black turnout and registration. Nearly a third of Georgians are Black. Only Mississippi has a higher proportion. Asian-Americans and Hispanics, together about 14 percent of the Georgia population, are also key this election.

    But the Black vote effort is particularly large, with 60 different organizations involved.

  • Woman:

    I went to early-vote this morning.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The groups are creative, as seen in Facebook videos, voter drives in parking lots and with New Year's collard greens, as well as showing up in courthouses to protest proposed cuts from voter lists.

    In early voting, many of the counties with the biggest turnout have large Black populations. That may be about more than the Senate. Some four million Georgians filed for unemployment in the pandemic. Brown says the Black community was hit hard by the economic and health crises.

  • Latosha Brown:

    We're seeing Black voters who are literally disturbed with what is happening in this state and really committed that they're going to get out and vote.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Democrats also feel good about new voters; 72,000 voters, including those who just turned 18, who have registered to vote since November. But Republicans say they match all of that.

  • Dan Coats:

    This is the largest grassroots operation ever built in the state of Georgia.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The Trump Victory Campaign and Republican National Committee have teamed up for a mammoth operation, a $20 million vote effort with thousands of people involved.

  • Dan Coats:

    As soon as they vote, we will stop knocking their door and call on their phones.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And in case voters aren't getting enough attention, there are also the ads.

  • Woman:

    I have tried to keep the way that he acts under wraps for a long time. And, today, he crossed the line.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They have taken an ugly and sometimes personal turn recently.

    Ad spending in the race is near half-a-billion dollars, more than the Trump campaign spent for its entire 2020 ad budget, according to the government transparency Web site Open Secrets.

    Voter Pat Miller of Milton, Georgia, and her family are ready for it to stop.

  • Pat Miller:

    Well, I think we are all really burned out, regardless of which side we're voting on, with all the commercials.

    And, quite frankly, the candidates could have done themselves a favor and saved a lot of money by cutting down on their advertising. I think people decided on this one a long time ago which way they were going to vote.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Which brings us to Republicans' Trump card. The president last visited the state in early December.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Everything that we have achieved together is on the line.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Like then, his visit tonight is less about winning minds then about getting out his voters.

    But some Republicans fear the president's electricity comes with electoral confusion. He continues to rail against Georgia's voting system, which has led some conservatives to say they are boycotting the Senate races.

    Buzz Brockway is a Republican and former state House representative.

  • Buzz Brockway:

    What's that small percentage of people who have just decided to throw up their hands and say, forget the whole thing? How — is that a small number or a larger number?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    More than three million people have voted so far by mail or in-person. That is a state record for a run-off.

    With the eyes of the country on Georgia, Miller offered some words of assurance.

  • Pat Miller:

    I just want people outside of the state to know that we're taking it seriously. Whether you agree with us or don't, we are all taking this very seriously. And I think the turnout so far is evidence of that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

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