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Day Before Georgia Runoffs, It's Crunch Time For Campaigns, Organizers

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump openly pushed Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to overturn the state's election results. Raffensperger calmly said no. This was recorded in a phone call obtained by Georgia Public Broadcasting. Georgia is on a lot of minds. Tomorrow, there are two Senate races that will determine which party controls the Senate, and both parties are going all out. Emma Hurt with WABE in Atlanta followed canvassers over the weekend.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Leading up to November, Democrats across the country basically abandoned door-knocking because of COVID. But for the Georgia Senate runoffs, they've picked it back up at full speed.

Where are we going next?

ANJALI ENJETI: Oh, we got to head back this way.

HURT: In a hilly, quiet neighborhood in the northern Atlanta suburbs, Anjali Enjeti and her two daughters are chasing down Democratic votes like they have been all week. One family only just mailed in their absentee ballots, and Enjeti is worried they might not arrive in time.

ENJETI: Monday night, Tuesday morning, look and see if the ballots have been counted. And if not, go to the polling place Tuesday, cancel them and vote in person.

HURT: Enjeti, who lives nearby, adopts their cause.

ENJETI: You guys have my cellphone number. Keep me updated. I'm going to text you Monday night.

HURT: Enjeti and her daughters aren't just looking for any Democratic voters. They're part of an unprecedented effort during these runoffs focused on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Linh Nguyen has been doing targeted AAPI organizing for years across the country. She says these runoffs are the first time the party has the data and the resources to fully invest in the community.

LINH NGUYEN: I think for the first time this year, especially in a Southern state like Georgia, I think, like, the Democratic Party, actually, like - we finally saw. It's like, okay, like, we - the AAPI community, we could absolutely be the margin of victory, right?

HURT: The hundreds of millions of dollars the runoff campaigns and outside groups have raised are being spent like this to turn out every last voter possible. It's not just door-knocking. It's texting, phone calls and an inescapable barrage of radio, TV and digital ads to reach anyone who might be eligible to vote. Enjeti again...

ENJETI: So it feels like we're finally getting the attention we deserve, especially, you know, Black communities that have been doing this for a really long time and have really led the charge and have really come up with the strategy that we needed to get out the vote in communities that are typically ignored. And a lot of us are following their lead.

HURT: Just 20 minutes away from where Enjeti was canvassing the day before, Michael Joyce is in another hilly, quiet, suburban neighborhood door-knocking for the Georgia Republican Party.

MICHAEL JOYCE: I've walked 13.1 miles yesterday, and I was joking that I should put the 13.1 sticker on my car now that I'm doing that on a daily basis. So...

HURT: Joyce normally works for the Republican National Committee in D.C., but he and hundreds of others have been deployed to Georgia for the runoffs and are working intense schedules.

JOYCE: You know, there's people throughout the entire state doing exactly what I'm doing, which is just knocking on doors for about eight, nine hours a day and then making phone calls into the evening. So people are bought in, they're invested, and they care about what happens here in Georgia.

HURT: In November, there were about a hundred Republican staff on the ground in Georgia. Now, the massive, coordinated GOP runoff operation is 10 times as big, plus thousands of volunteers. Joyce says he regularly stops by a house with other campaign flyers already piled up. Larry Sollars is a Republican voter in the neighborhood.

LARRY SOLLARS: We've been inundated. I mean, all the ads on TV that you see, everything on the Internet that you see is all about the election. We get probably four or five flyers a day.

HURT: In terms of ground game in Georgia, however, Republicans are at a disadvantage. As the party that's dominated the state's politics for decades, they haven't had to mobilize voters like Democrats have recently.

HEATH GARRETT: We are a few years behind Stacey Abrams and the Democratic ground game.

HURT: Heath Garrett is a Georgia Republican strategist. He argues there are actually more disaffected Republicans to go after than Democrats.

GARRETT: We just have not - over the last eight years, we've not gone and found them, and we've not gotten them registered, and we've not motivated them to go vote. That started to happen in this runoff for us as Republicans.

HURT: The fight for control of the Senate isn't coming cheaply. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates nearly $800 million have been spent on these two Senate races.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF HANDBOOK'S "FOGGY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.