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Georgia's Role In Determining The Balance Of Power In Washington

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Georgia became a swing state in the presidential race, and Georgia should get ready for a lot more attention now because - and I'm not exaggerating - the state may help shape the balance of power in Washington. On January 5, there will be runoffs in both U.S. Senate races there, and those races will likely determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Emma Hurt with member station WABE in Atlanta has been covering both of these races, and she joins us this morning. Hi, Emma. You've been busy.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Good morning. That is true.

GREENE: It's an understatement, probably. So remind us who's running here.

HURT: So Senator David Perdue is the Republican senior incumbent, and he ran in 2014 as an outsider, a businessman, although his cousin is a former governor of Georgia. And he's running against Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, who owns an investigative journalism company and nearly flipped a Republican congressional seat in 2017. And then Senator Kelly Loeffler is the other Republican incumbent. She was appointed about a year ago - a political outsider, wealthy businesswoman whose husband founded the company that now owns the New York Stock Exchange. And she's running against Reverend Raphael Warnock, also a political newcomer, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is Martin Luther King Jr.'s home church in Atlanta.

GREENE: I mean, I can imagine how both of these races are just being thrust into the national political spotlight. We've been focused so much on the presidential race. Now that President Trump has lost, we have President-elect Biden. I mean, how are the campaigns in Georgia framing all of this in January?

HURT: Yeah. I mean, just for background, I think Perdue is well known as a close ally to the president. And Senator Loeffler hasn't been a senator for very long but has loudly touted her 100% voting record with Trump on the campaign trail. But right now, both of them are basically moving on and hitting the campaign ground running, really characterizing this election as the last line of defense against giving Democrats basically a rubber stamp for all the policy they want. And on the Democratic side, I think it's definitely about the importance of winning the Senate policywise. But it's also still a lot about Trump with these two, you know, closely allied Trump Senate - closely allied senators, especially since it seems like Georgia has voted Trump out.

GREENE: Although reality check for Democrats who may be optimistic, Georgia has not had a Democrat in the Senate since 2005. So do Democrats have a reason to be optimistic here?

HURT: They're definitely more optimistic than they've ever been since it looks like they may have won the state at the presidential level. But there's this history with runoffs in Georgia, a reality check, as you said, that Republicans have always won them statewide. That being said, the last one was in 2008. Obama had won the White House. Both chambers had already flipped. There wasn't really much to fight about or much national interest. And this year, it's completely different. Andrew Yang says he's moving to Georgia to help campaign. And I do want to point out, though, that Perdue and the Republicans combined in Loeffler's special election outperformed Democratic turnout in both these races.

GREENE: All right. All eyes are going to be on these races that you'll be covering January 5, these two runoffs in the state of Georgia. Emma Hurt with member station WABE, thanks so much.

HURT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.