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Biden-Trump rematch kicks off in battleground state Georgia

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Joe Biden and Donald Trump are in Georgia today, essentially kicking off the general election campaign in one of the handful of states that will decide which one of them gets a second term in the White House. President Biden won Georgia by about 12,000 votes in 2020 by stitching together a broad coalition of voters who may or may not show up for him again in 2024. Former President Trump responded to that by trying to overturn that election, which led to criminal charges in Georgia and elsewhere and has also narrowed the Republican tent in the competitive state.

Joining us now from Atlanta to talk about all of this is NPR's resident Georgia expert, Stephen Fowler. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: We got some campaigning behind you. Always good to hear that. You're at a Biden rally. You know, it's just a few days after a state of the union address that had more of a campaign-y tone. Before that speech, a lot of Democrats had been really worried about Biden's chances. How are the people feeling that you're seeing?

FOWLER: Well, we're at this old railyard just east of downtown Atlanta. It's a popular spot for Democratic events. Biden came here in 2020. Obama came for Senator Raphael Warnock in 2022, though this is the smallest configuration thus far. Still, it's really the first chance Georgia voters who backed the president have to show their support this election cycle.

(CHEERING)

FOWLER: There are plenty of people excited to another Biden campaign. There are stickers and signs for on board with Biden, people chanting they're ready for four more years. And everyone here seems to agree that the road to the White House runs through Georgia.

DETROW: People cheering right when you said they're excited on cue. You know, I will note that President Biden just gave an interview to MSNBC where he walked back using the phrase an illegal during the state of the Union when talking about a person in the country illegally who had allegedly killed a young woman in Georgia. Biden said he should have said undocumented. He said that he sees the way that he and Trump talk about immigrants as a key difference between the two.

Let's talk about the polls for those two men for a moment. Biden faces an uphill battle in Georgia and other states, and there are concerns among Democrats that he's not going to be able to excite that same coalition that got him elected before. What are people saying about the challenges that Biden may have there?

FOWLER: Well, Scott, if you're the type to kind of hyperventilate and fixate on polling eight months out, there's several different groups that are feeling down about Biden in these surveys, like Black voters. And there's criticism on the left of how Biden is handling the conflict in the Middle East. I talked to Ruwa Romman, who's a first term Democratic lawmaker or a millennial and the only Palestinian American elected official in Georgia. She's worked for a decade on getting out the vote in Atlanta's rapidly growing nonwhite community and says there are signs some of that broad coalition might not head to the polls in November, partially because of low enthusiasm for yet another Trump-Biden election.

DETROW: So what does Romman think about Biden specifically, and is she supporting him in the primary?

FOWLER: So she voted a blank ballot in the Democratic primary and says she could not, in good faith, tell her community right now to support the president because of the Israel-Gaza conflict. But she says there's still time for Biden to regain support for the different groups that voted for him in Georgia and for those groups to mobilize voters on his behalf.

RUWA ROMMAN: It requires all of us, all of us to come together and do this work to flip a state like Georgia. We're a broad coalition, and a lot of us firmly believe that our protection and our ability to thrive rests on our collective work together.

FOWLER: I will note, Scott, a group of political action committees representing Black, Latino and Asian American voters endorsed Biden today and announced they'll spend $30 million to get out the vote in these communities.

DETROW: Let's talk about Trump now. He's also in the state today, and as I mentioned, he's currently facing criminal charges in Georgia for that failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Has any of that affected his standing with voters in Georgia?

FOWLER: I mean, among his supporters, no. In fact, you could say it's only increased the intensity of that commitment. The baseline policy support is believing Trump had the 2020 election stolen from him. Here's Gabriel Sterling, who's a Republican and a top election official in the state.

GABRIEL STERLING: The underlying idea that President Biden wasn't honestly elected is still holding firm with a large percentage, too large of a percentage of Republican voters.

FOWLER: Looking at the elections since 2020 in Georgia, the anecdata points to election denial not doing well in Republican primaries or in a general election matchup like the crucial U.S. Senate race between Senator Raphael Warnock, who we heard from, and Trump-backed Herschel Walker in 2022. I mean, Trump's speaking just an hour and a half up the road in Rome to a crowd that is very loyal, which is a good description of the state of the state GOP, which has turned away some moderate voters from supporting the party.

DETROW: Georgia has a primary Tuesday. That'll give you some key evidence. There's going to be a lot more campaigning days like today going forward. What will you be looking for to get a sense of how this race is standing in this key state?

FOWLER: Well, one big thing - I'm watching how many people vote for Nikki Haley despite suspending her campaign because many of those come from the college-educated, white, northern suburbs of Atlanta that Trump and Biden both need to win. I mean, at the end of the day, the road to the White House probably will run through Georgia because of those key demographics.

DETROW: That's NPR's Stephen Fowler in Atlanta. Stephen, thanks so much.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.
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