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The Latest On 2 Critical Georgia Races

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So let's go to Georgia now, which will be the focus of attention in the coming weeks as two Senate races there appear headed to runoffs in January. Democrats had a forceful showing in what has long been Republican territory. And NPR's Debbie Elliott has been watching the races there, and she is with us now.

Debbie Elliott, welcome to you.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks so much.

MARTIN: So is Georgia now a battleground state?

ELLIOTT: Well, this election would certainly indicate that it's more in play than it has been in a long, long time. Both presidential candidates were campaigning there late in this race. That is very unusual in a state where Republicans have long dominated federal races. You know, the last time a Democrat won Georgia in a presidential election was Bill Clinton back in 1992.

In the presidential race right now, they're still counting. But Democrat Joe Biden has a slight lead. It's likely within the margins for the Trump campaign to seek a recount, so we'll see how that shakes out. But in the Senate races, both of the Republican incumbents in Georgia failed to get more than 50% of the vote, which means runoffs now and two races that could end up determining control of the U.S. Senate.

MARTIN: So tell us a bit more about those races, if you would.

ELLIOTT: Well, in one, you have incumbent Kelly Loeffler. She faces Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock. Loeffler is a wealthy businesswoman and political donor. She was appointed to fill the seat of Senator Johnny Isakson. He resigned at the end of last year for health reasons. The Democrat, Warnock, is the pastor of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.

And this race was pretty much destined for a runoff from the start because it was a special election, a crowded, open field. And Loeffler had a really strong challenge from Republican Congressman Doug Collins. So that kind of left nobody with a majority of the vote, sending it to a runoff. A lot of money coming in on this race, a lot of interest from national Democrats who think that Raphael Warnock, Pastor Warnock, has an opportunity here.

Again, in the other race, the results are not official yet. We have to remind our listeners of that. But it also appears that Democrat Jon Ossoff has forced a runoff against Republican incumbent David Perdue. Now, if you remember, Ossoff made a big splash in a 2017 special election for Congress just outside of Atlanta. You know, he raised a record amount of money at the time and came really close to flipping a seat that had been in Republican control since 1978.

So you've got these twin runoffs. Expect a flood of money coming into Georgia for this from both the national parties and from the outside groups who want to, you know, have a say in who has control of the U.S. Senate.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, as briefly as you can, Republicans, the question - a big question for Republicans throughout this cycle has been, how closely do they tie themselves to President Trump? Now that President Trump has been defeated, what happens to that conversation? Do you have any sense of, where are the two Republican nominees going to position themselves in relation to the now soon-to-be-former president?

ELLIOTT: You know, it will be very interesting to hear because that has been their message from the get-go - is, we're the ones that are aligned with Donald Trump. Will that message now change, given the outcome of the election?

I kind of doubt it because their base in Georgia is still a very pro-Trump Republican base. You have to remember that Republicans do still control all the statewide offices in Georgia, including the governorship and the legislature. And just like we've been hearing from around the country, a lot of Trump supporters right now are pretty angry and upset and are waiting for all the legal wranglings to, you know, be complete before they accept the outcome of this election.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Debbie Elliott.

Debbie, thank you.

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