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These States Could Flip From Red To Blue During The 2020 Election

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As this election season enters its final days, the presidential candidates have been in predictable places - swing states like Florida, where President Trump and Joe Biden spent time yesterday. Both will be in Wisconsin today, but their running mates head today to less predictable places. Vice President Mike Pence will be in Arizona. Arizona Senator Kamala Harris goes to Texas. Now, what that tells us is there are some reliably red states that the campaigns are seeing as competitive. I mentioned Arizona and Texas. Georgia is another one. And we have reporters in all three states this morning.

And I want to begin with Emma Hurt of WABE. She joins us from Atlanta. Emma, good morning.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So Georgia's seen a lot of action from candidates in recent days. It must feels - feel like there's a really important election happening there.

HURT: Yeah, something like that. It's been really head-spinning. So on the Democratic side, Joe Biden came on Tuesday. And he was the first Democratic presidential candidate to come to Georgia this close to an election in more than 20 years. Jill Biden was here on Monday - her second trip. Kamala Harris was here last week.

And President Trump on the Republican side is expected to come on Sunday. And he's already been here three times since the summer, as have - his children have visited and Vice President Pence as well. And this is all a big deal because in 2016, no presidential candidates came to Georgia after the primary, and Trump won by 5 points.

GREENE: So what is different? Why are they treating Georgia differently this time?

HURT: Yeah. There are a couple of layers to this, particularly if you look at Biden's decision to visit. First up, we've got all this polling showing that Georgia is a toss-up. And historically, margins have been narrowing here. In 2018, the governor's race was settled by just 55,000 votes. But also, the early voter turnout we're seeing has been - seems to have been a factor. Like around the country, we're seeing record-breaking numbers, but within that turnout, some numbers in particular look good for Democrats, like a big increase in young voters, for example. And it's also not just the presidential race that's close in Georgia this year. There are two Senate races. And Biden called that out directly this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: I can't tell you how important it is that we flip the United States Senate. There's no state more consequential than Georgia in that fight.

HURT: You know, one of those Senate races, a special election, is pretty likely to end up in a runoff, and the other very well might end up in one as well. And these factors are energizing Democrats but also energizing Republicans who are fighting to keep control of Georgia.

GREENE: Talk about why these margins are closing. I mean, are people changing their minds politically?

HURT: Georgia is changing. You know, demographically, it has been for a while. The Atlanta metro area in particular has grown a lot and is expected to keep doing so. We've had a lot of in-migration from other states. And a lot of this growth has been in communities of color. Atlanta's majority minority, and Georgia is getting there. And then all these new people are being registered at unprecedented levels. There are about a million new registered voters this year compared to 2016.

GREENE: All right. Emma, I want to turn from Georgia to Texas. Ashley Lopez from KUT is in Austin. Hi, Ashley.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Hey.

GREENE: So is this the case in your state, too? Is the race closer there partly because, as Emma said, more people are voting and the parties are saying that this could be closer than they think?

LOPEZ: Well, yeah. That's definitely a big part of what's happening. I mean, Texas has historically had some of the lowest voter turnout in the country, but we've been leading the nation during almost all of early voting at this point. More than 8 million people have already voted here. I mean, I should note that this is largely in-person early voting because state officials extended early voting to three weeks this year. It's usually two. And just like in Georgia, notably, a lot of young people have been voting here. Texas is a pretty young state. So this is, like, a big catch for Democrats and definitely a big change in the electorate because, obviously, like, young voters historically also don't vote in high numbers.

And then, of course, there's that, like, suburban political change that's been happening throughout the country. In Texas, that's particularly true. Like, many of the counties, particularly around here in Austin - some of the suburban counties near us have been seeing, like, record turnout. They've already blown through their 2016 voting totals, and that includes Election Day 2016. And that - like, some of them blew through it last weekend. So turnout has actually been pretty staggering here.

GREENE: But reality check - Texas has not shown up for a Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter 1976. It's been a while. I mean, how much have demographics changed in this state?

LOPEZ: Well, first, it's just grown a lot. The state has gotten a lot bigger since 1976, something like 130% bigger population-wise. And as that population has grown, it's also gotten more racially diverse. Latinos make up a huge chunk of that growth in those past few years - several decades, I guess I should say - and not just in big cities, but lately, like, those suburban counties that I was talking about have also gotten more racially diverse.

And, you know, like in Georgia, you know, this wasn't mentioned, but in 2018, there was a very exciting race in both those states. So here in Texas, we had a U.S. Senate race that was really exciting and brought a new - a bunch of new voters into the fold. And, you know, Democrats, even though they didn't win that U.S. Senate race, you know, because they got so close, it seemed to have electrified Democratic voters in a big way. And I don't think that seems to have gone away. But, I mean, of course, we'll know for sure soon whether that enthusiasm has, like, kind of stuck around.

GREENE: When the votes are actually counted - that's the important moment.

LOPEZ: Right, yeah.

GREENE: Well, let's go to Arizona. I want to bring in Jimmy Jenkins from member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Jimmy, apart from Bill Clinton's win in '96, Arizona hasn't voted for a Democrat since 1948. I mean, does Joe Biden really have a chance there?

JIMMY JENKINS, BYLINE: Seems possible, David. Like in Georgia and Texas, Arizona's population has been growing. People are moving here from places like California with a higher cost of living. They're moving here from lots of different places in the Midwest, and they're bringing their values with them. More voters are turning out this year in Arizona. We now have close to 4.3 million registered voters. That's up nearly 700,000 from this time in 2016. Early vote totals have exceeded 2016 numbers statewide.

We also expect a huge turnout from the Latino community, potentially hundreds of thousands more voting this year than in 2016. Latinos make up roughly 30% of Arizona residents. And there's been a lot of activism over the past decade and an aggressive voter registration campaign by Latino organizers. And many of them tell me, when it comes to the presidential election, Latino voters may be lacking some enthusiasm for Biden, but they are simply fed up with the years of oppression and demonization that they see coming from President Trump.

GREENE: More Latino voters turning up at the polls, more people living in Arizona in general - I mean, would you say this has changed the issues that voters care about in general?

JENKINS: Yes. There has been a big change since 2016. And even in just the past year, Arizona voters' priorities have shifted dramatically from immigration to education as the No. 1 priority. So with that shift, more Arizonans appear to align with Joe Biden's platform than with President Trump.

GREENE: Jimmy Jenkins from KJZZ in Phoenix. KUT's Ashley Lopez in Austin, Texas. WABE's Emma Hurt in Atlanta. Thank you all.

HURT: Thank you.

LOPEZ: Thanks.

JENKINS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.