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Georgia Republican Campaign Strategist: Trump Messaging Boosts Democrats

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to turn now to someone who's been working to get Republicans elected in Georgia. Jay Williams is the founder of the Stoneridge Group. He has worked on elections in Georgia and at the national level for about two decades now. We should mention that Williams has also worked with the Georgia United Victory super PAC, which has supported Republican Georgia Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler.

Jay Williams, thank you so much for joining us.

JAY WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: We just spoke with the CEO of the New Georgia Project about their efforts. So what are you seeing on the ground? Where do you think the efforts are most visible?

WILLIAMS: Well, on the ground, I think you've got a significant number of, you know, folks going door to door, which is a little bit different than how the Democrats, I believe, did it in the general. So, you know, they've been really pouring a lot of resources into that, and it's actually showing up in the numbers.

And so, you know, what Republicans are doing is they're doing a lot of door to door, too. But it doesn't work as well, in my opinion, with Republican voters in how they're motivated to go vote, so it'll be interesting to see who gets more of their folks out to vote on Tuesday.

MARTIN: And huge amounts of money being spent, as - by my count, about half a billion dollars...

WILLIAMS: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Has been spent on the double runoff. What effect is the money having on this election? Can you tell?

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, look - I mean, you've got every commercial slot filled with ads, and I think there's probably an ROI there that's probably diminishing after a period of time with the number of ads. I think something that people often don't realize is that in a runoff, typically speaking, you're not doing a lot of messaging about, you know, here's my taxes plan, or here's something that I want to do on health care. It's a base versus base election, and it's all about motivating your base to show up or getting the other side's base to not show up. And so a lot of the advertising is generated around that.

But, you know, I mean, at some point, you know, $200 million on TV or whatever amount it is, you know, has a diminishing impact. And especially over the holidays - I mean, you're talking about Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's travel, people doing things. And so it's hard to get through to people. But at the same time, I think they probably, you know, have gotten through to every single person in Georgia. If they don't know there's a runoff election, I don't know that they've, you know, opened their eyes since November 2 or 3 or whenever the election was.

MARTIN: And what effect do you think President Trump is having on all this? I mean, he's been pushing for months false claims - we have to say they're false - that election results in Georgia and elsewhere were fraudulent. He's been in spats with the governor and the secretary of state, who are both Republicans and who would - you think would normally support him, especially support him on a lot of policy issues. He even called on Governor Kemp to resign. What effect do you think he's having on all this?

WILLIAMS: Well, what I think it has is it prevents the Republicans from having a unified message about how bad the Democrats are, if you want me to just, you know, boil it down for you. If you've got Republicans fighting with themselves, you know, it makes it a lot easier for the Democrats to unify and get across the finish line. And again, we're seeing that in the numbers. We're 5% down over where we were matching the Democrats in the general election.

So typically, Democrats perform really, really well in absentee voting. I'm not going to get into particulars on why I think that is. But at the end of the day, you know, Republicans do really, really well on Election Day. And we're down 5% or so based on the numbers of where we were at in the general election.

I think a little bit of that is because Republicans have been so distracted with fighting with themselves. You know, I mean, I think every person that's involved with that plays some type of, you know, role in that. And, you know, if you would have told me November 5 or 4 or whatever it was - if you would have told me the day after that Biden would win the presidency, I would have said Republicans would have won these two Senate seats fairly easily - not by five points or six points, but I think they would have won both of those races.

Unfortunately, I don't know that that's going to be the case this time just because we spent a lot more time talking about our own friends than we have talking about our enemies.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, if Republicans don't prevail in this...

WILLIAMS: (Laughter).

MARTIN: And I apologize. I'm asking you to speculate based on no facts. But does this say anything about the future of the party?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, what I tell people is, you know, Donald Trump's probably going to win no matter what happens, just because, you know, if they win, you know, he's going to claim credit for it, and if they lose, he's going to - you know, he's going to blame other people, and it's going to - you know, it's going to rile some people up.

And so I don't know that the Republicans are going to be as introspective simply because of the way they've operated during this runoff. But we'll see. I mean, I still think Republicans can win. I think, you know, if they do that - and I think a lot of that stuff's going to be forgotten, honestly, and the lessons that we should learn are going to be forgotten. And, you know, if we lose, hopefully there'll be some introspection and looking at ourselves in ways that we can win races and do it strategically.

And I don't necessarily subscribe to all the voter fraud claims, but I do believe that there's some merit to some accusations. But at the same time, I mean, there's a time and a place to bring those up. And when those are brought up, I think if Republicans are more strategic, they stand to gain more ground.

But at the end of the day, you know, it's going to depend on how Biden operates as president. What happens if the - you know, the Senate's 50/50, one, and what type of legislation they pass? Are they going to try to pack the courts and those kinds of things? I think you're going to see a swing back to the Republicans in general in two years if the Democrats kind of go far left. If they're more pragmatic, we might - Republicans might have more trouble, you know, overtaking the Democrats in the House or the Senate.

MARTIN: That is Jay Williams. He is the founder and managing principal of the Stoneridge Group. That is a political strategy firm in Georgia. And he's a veteran, as we said, of campaigns in Georgia and nationally.

Jay Williams, thank you so much for your time. And Happy New Year.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me. Happy New Year to you, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUMIPA BEATS' "IMPETUOSO INSTRUMENTAL BEAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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