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GOP Infighting Endangers Party's Chances In Georgia's Runoff Elections

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Two Senate seats are on the line in runoff elections in Georgia. Those campaigns are underway while Republicans are still fighting over the November election. President Trump is continuing to question the integrity of Georgia's election system, the very system that Republicans need supporters to use on January 5. From member station WABE in Atlanta, Emma Hurt reports.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Republicans have advantages going into these elections. Historically, they've always won runoffs in Georgia. And Republicans in both races earned more votes than Democrats in November, which Senator David Perdue reminded hundreds at an outdoor rally in North Georgia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID PERDUE: We held the line already one time on November the 3. Thank you for that. But today we're the last line of defense.

HURT: But as Perdue and Kelly Loeffler campaigned about their upcoming runoffs, the November election was still top of mind for the crowd, which interrupted Perdue's speech with chants of, stop the steal.

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PERDUE: This is the last line of defense. This is my last word to you today.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Stop the steal. Stop the steal. Stop the steal.

HURT: Perdue and Loeffler have called on Georgia's Republican secretary of state to resign over the election without evidence. President Trump has also criticized him and called out Republican Governor Brian Kemp - this even though the state's election officials have repeated there's been no evidence of widespread fraud and even though Republicans need their supporters to trust the system again and vote in January, as Vice President Mike Pence said at that rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Vote, Georgia. Vote to reelect David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to the United States Senate.

HURT: It's a mixed message. We're not happy with the way things went in November, but we need you to vote again in six weeks. Erick Erickson is a conservative talk show host based in Georgia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERICK ERICKSON: We could be handing Chuck Schumer control of the Senate by the Republican disarray. It's a little bit frustrating to see the Republicans squabbling with each other over this one. Frankly, there is no sign that the election was stolen in Georgia.

HURT: Kristen Jones is from Canton. She came to the rally with her four children and has a lot of questions about the January election.

KRISTEN JONES: How can we expect that this election is going to have any integrity? That is a big concern that I don't feel like anyone's addressed.

HURT: Jones says she will still vote, but she knows someone who vowed never to do so again after November. A pro-Trump Georgia lawyer, Lin Wood, recently tweeted that if the, quote, "unlawful election" isn't addressed, he won't vote in the runoff. And this is the risk for Republicans who want to win in January, says GOP strategist Brian Robinson.

BRIAN ROBINSON: You're seeing many Republicans now speaking out and saying, if we undermine faith in our election system, if we tell people that perhaps their votes didn't count, we are going to suppress our own vote.

HURT: Still, he maintains Republicans have the political advantage in these runoffs because while Democrats have accomplished their goal of defeating Donald Trump, Republicans still have a lot on the line.

ROBINSON: Republican voters are terrified of what's coming down the pike if Biden, Pelosi and Schumer control all the levers of power in Washington.

HURT: Democratic State Senator Jim Jordan argues Democrats have an X-factor this time around - hope. Biden narrowly won the state.

JEN JORDAN: That light at the end of the tunnel, I think, is really going to push a lot of Democrats who may - would normally say, well, why does it matter? They know that it absolutely does and that they could be kind of the one vote that pushes it over.

HURT: After a hand count of the ballots last week, a machine recount requested by the Trump campaign has begun. It will be the third time in less than a month that Georgia's presidential ballots have been tallied.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF TANGERINE DREAM, WOODY JACKSON, THE ALCHEMIST, OH NO AND DJ SHADOW'S "LOS SANTOS AT NIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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