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Former Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler Has Created A Conservative Voting Initiative

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Former Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler lost her seat in January in the Georgia runoff elections that sent two Democrats to Washington. She says she lost in part because of massive Democratic organizing in the state, an effort led in part by Stacey Abrams. Now Loeffler is starting a new Republican group to try to catch up. From member station WABE in Atlanta, Emma Hurt reports.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: When she acknowledged her loss in the 2018 race for governor, Stacey Abrams made clear what her next focus would be.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STACEY ABRAMS: Today I announce the launch of Fair Fight Georgia, an operation that will pursue accountability in Georgia's elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls.

HURT: Since then, Fair Fight has turned into a voter mobilization, advocacy and litigation juggernaut working in 20 states. It's a major funder of the Georgia Democratic Party and spent $25 million during the Senate runoffs alone. Democratic organizing like this is what Kelly Loeffler says she faced on her Senate campaign.

KELLY LOEFFLER: We had about a thousand people on the ground, thousands more volunteers. But what we saw on the other side of the ballot was even more. They had thousands more staffers, thousands more volunteers.

HURT: Georgia Republicans have been waiting for a while. They haven't needed a big voter mobilization effort. Democrats, meanwhile, have been building one through groups like Fair Fight. Loeffler says catching up is essential to Republicans' future in Georgia.

LOEFFLER: If we don't register more voters, if we don't engage more Georgians, bring more diversity to our party and instill more trust and confidence in our elections, I'm not sure it matters who runs for any race in 2022 and beyond.

HURT: So she has created and funded Greater Georgia to tackle those goals.

LAUREN GROH-WARGO: They will not be able to replicate our efforts.

HURT: Lauren Groh-Wargo is Fair Fight's CEO.

GROH-WARGO: Our efforts are grounded in what's best for the people of Georgia, and voting is just a means to get there. The Republican Party doesn't know what it stands for.

HURT: Jay Walker, a longtime Republican strategist, acknowledges his party's message needs work after recent losses.

JAY WALKER: Our message basically was, the other side is really bad. They are, but that can't be a message.

HURT: Yes, the party needs robust voter engagement, he says. But Republicans also have to get back to talking about what they stand for.

WALKER: It would be like having a really nice sports car with no gas in it. A message is the fuel.

HURT: Part of that post-2020 Republican message and one of the tenets of Loeffler's group is improving trust in elections. A lot of GOP voters don't trust the system because of false claims of widespread fraud. As a result, Republicans at the state capitol are pushing for voting restrictions. Many of those bills are being considered today.

CAROLYN HUGLEY: There's an old saying in the Black community. I can't hear what you say for watching what you do.

HURT: Democratic State Representative Carolyn Hugley says these election rules contradict Republicans' other stated goal of recruiting new minority voters.

HUGLEY: Now, you can't tell me that you want me to be involved in what you're doing but at the same time try and put in barriers for people who look like me to participate in the process.

HURT: Loeffler isn't actively lobbying for any of these bills. She says she wants more voices to be heard and argues improving trust in elections shouldn't be controversial. Groh-Wargo with Fair Fight isn't worried about Loeffler's Republican effort.

GROH-WARGO: They are pushing up against demographic change and a really built-out, sophisticated, thoughtful, well-funded, progressive and democratic ecosystem that is years ahead of them.

HURT: Jay Walker, the Republican strategist, says, not so fast.

WALKER: The Republicans are ready to fight, man. They woke us up. We realized that they can win in the state of Georgia now, and we don't want that to happen anymore.

HURT: He's looking forward to the fight.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF GRACE JONES SONG, "PRIVATE LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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