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Election Night In America Continued; High-Stakes Election Will Determine Control Of Senate; G.A. Exit Poll: Majority Say 2020 Election Was Conducted Fairly; Final Hours Of Voting Under Way; DeKalb County Surpasses November's In-Person Election Day Voting; GA Voting Rights Activist Stacey Abrams Speaks With CNN. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 5, 2021 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[17:00:18]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Control of the United States Senate is on the line right now as voters in Georgia have their say in two high stakes run offs. We're live here in Washington and in Atlanta. You're looking at live pictures from Atlanta right now. Other cities across Georgia on this election night in America continued.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN election center.

We're counting down to the end of voting in Georgia about two hours from now and we're just moments away from revealing the first results from our exit polls. Georgians are choosing between Democratic pastor Raphael Warnock and GOP senator and businesswoman Kelly Loeffler.

The other race fits Democrat and former journalist Jon Ossoff against Republican incumbent and former Reebok CEO David Perdue.

Democrats need to win both seats to win control of the U.S. Senate that would give them a clean sweep of the White House and both chambers of Congress as the Biden presidency begins. Republicans need to win only one of the Georgia seats to keep control of the Senate. That would allow Mitch McConnell and the GOP to hang on to a base of power here in Washington.

As we count down to the first results, let's go back to Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Wolf, voters in cities and towns and small coves all around Georgia, from Peachtree Avenue all the way to Peachtree Road have the singular opportunity to shape the balance of power here in the nation's capitol.

Let's go to our correspondents following the campaign. CNN's Kyung Lah is in Atlanta.

Kyung, what are the Democratic candidates doing in these final hours?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're looking at the clock. They're seeing the window close and I'm told by both of their campaigns that they are using every available minute to get their voters out, watching that clock again.

We are hearing from the Warnock campaign, a senior aide says that he has been doing what they are characterizing as, "marathon call ends." He is specifically targeting black radio, gospel radio, local T.V. interviews, trying to reach anyone those eyes and ears to the polls. He's focusing on the markets of Atlanta, Albany, Columbus, Macon, Savannah and Augusta.

As far as the Ossoff campaign, he is in the middle right now of 25 local media interviews, again, black radio, local T.V. as well. And they also were able to push out 1.5 million direct calls from the campaign to voters trying to get them to the polls.

This sort of direct contact is where the Ossoff campaign is focused their resources. They say they were outspent on television. But they believe this will pay off in direct voter outrage as far as where the two candidates will be tonight, Jake. Even though they've run this coordinated campaign, they will be in two separate locations, watching the returns after the polls close. Their campaigns also have separate war rooms as they look at what is going to be unfolding tonight. Jake.

TAPPER: All right Kyung Lah with the Democrats. Thanks so much.

Now let's go to Ryan Nobles, who's at the Republican candidates headquarters.

Ryan, what are you learning?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Election Day is always important if you're a political candidate, but in this era of early voting, it becomes less and less important. That's not the case for the Republicans here in Georgia.

While voters have been casting ballots for more than two weeks in the state, the Democrats put -- had much more success in turning out their voters during that early voting period. That means that Republicans needed their voters to come out in big numbers here on Election Day. And that's traditionally the way Republicans prefer to vote in person and on Election Day.

And we're told that in a briefing from Karl Rove, who is the head of the battleground of Georgia fund, this is a fundraising organization that helped to funnel money into the state that they're targeting 1 million total votes cast on Election Day as the target that they need to reach in order to be successful today.

They feel confident according to their models that they're going to be able to reach that number. But before the returns come in, and there -- they don't exactly see who's voted for whom, they feel if there are a million votes cast total. That is a good sign for Republicans as they hope to hold on to these two seats and control of the United States Senate. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan, thank you so much.

Now, let's go to David Chalian who has the first exit polls. David, what are you learning?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Jake, given all the controversy we've seen in the last couple days, we asked Georgia voters in this runoff election, do they think that the 2020 presidential election in Georgia was conducted fairly. A majority of voters in these Georgia runoffs 56 percent say yes, the 2020 presidential election in Georgia was conducted fairly, 41 percent say no.

[17:05:17]

But Jake, there was a partisan split there. Ninety-three percent of Democrats say it was fair, 76 percent of Republicans say it wasn't. Obviously a big partisan divide.

We also asked about how people felt in terms of confidence level that their votes in this election today in the run offs will be counted accurately. Forty-two percent of the voters in Georgia are very confident, 31 percent somewhat confident, add those together 73 percent, nearly three quarters of voters in these runoffs have confidence that their votes are going to be counted, tabulated and totaled up accurately. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, David Chalian, interesting stuff.

And Abby, I mean, that's unbelievable, the partisan divide there about whether or not the presidential election was conducted in a fair -- in a fair way, which by the way, all the top Republican election officials in the state say it was, 93 percent of Democrats say it was fair 76 percent of Republicans in Georgia say it was unfair.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's somewhat of a reversal from what things were like just before the November election, when you were probably more likely to find Democrats who said they had concerns about the fairness of Georgia elections.

As we were discussing earlier, Democrats have a lot of concerns about Georgia being a state where it is more difficult than it should be in their view for people to vote. But now, the President has turned Republicans against itself, frankly, it -- they are being cannibalized by this myth, that somehow there was rampant fraud that no one can find, and that it's so pervasive that everything is in question.

I do think it's a good sign for Republicans that the people who did show up still believe in the system, it means that they're probably getting their most diehard supporters out to vote. And that's probably a good sign for them. That's what they want. They want the people who they really can count on who are going to show up today in person to kind of counterbalance a democratic advantage and the early vote.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Or they at least believe enough in the system.

PHILLIP: Right. Yes. BASH: I mean it talk about a mixed message. I mean you have the president, nevermind for weeks, but in particular last night going to Georgia to give the final push, to go to a very specific northern part of the state where I'm told Republicans were, you know, it's a Republican country. But Republicans were a little bit worried that the turnout wasn't as high as it should be in early voting, and certainly they were worried about the numbers in the data that they were doing internally. That's why he went there.

And yes, he said, go out and vote. And yes, he said, you know, vote for these two. But then at the same time, he talked about how the, you know, the election was rigged, and so on and so forth.

So, if you're a Republican voter who believes in what they're hearing the lies that they're hearing, and believes in Donald Trump, but wants to vote for these senators, I mean, it's how do you go there and cast this vote without being completely conflicted and, frankly, confused by the messages you're hearing from your leaders.

TAPPER: One of the most bizarre situations I've ever seen in politics. One of the top election officials from the state of Georgia coming out yesterday --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

TAPPER: -- and giving a press conference, rebutting point by point, Wolf, all of the nuttery that Donald Trump, outgoing President Trump, had cited on that call with Secretary of State Raffensperger, including the idea that Raffensperger doesn't have a brother who works for a Chinese tech company, it doesn't exist. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. All that stuff, as you say, so, so bizarre and crazy.

John, the demographics of Georgia over the years, you've covered politics a long time. So have I. They've clearly changed. That's one of the reasons why Biden won the state a few weeks ago.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is why numbers, math changes in registration, participation. The President nuttery, Jake's word, is a good term.

Let's just, look, this is the presidential map. We're counting Senate races tonight. But as you noted, Georgia flipped, Arizona flip. Those were the big flips, not since 1992, not since 1996. And a Democrat carried those states for president. Some of that is anti-Trump animus, the president is unpopular, even with moderate Republicans, particularly in the suburbs.

But let's zoom in on Georgia, Wolf, and talk about what you just talked about. The state is changing. It's a sunbelt state, the population is shifting. And a lot of ways, let's look at some of them.

And as you go through them, here's one, this is happening all across America. And you see this. Now I'm explaining this to you, the lighter you see this, that means the population is going down. Where you see it's a little darker, that means the population is going up. So what do you see? Generalizing a bit, but the population is shrinking in these smaller rural areas. More people are moving closer to the cities, the cities, the suburbs and the excerpts. Over time in most places, not everywhere, but in most places in America overtime that benefits the Democrats. People will live closer to the city, the closest suburbs more and more over the last 20 years, especially the last few years voting Democratic.

[17:10:01]

So some of it is general population shifts away from rural areas to the cities and the suburbs. That's what's happening.

But another thing you see happening in Georgia here is look at the registration of black voters from 2016 when President Trump carried the state quite handily to 2020, where he lost quite narrowly. The lighter colors are declining in black registration. The green is the growth and you see some deep green up here. But you see a lot of green in the Savannah area over here. In the Atlanta area in the suburbs, that was the bedrock of Joe Biden's narrow victory.

So you see, this has been a concerted effort by Georgia Democrats, especially Stacey Abrams and others. This has been 2016 to 2020.

One of the test tonight, Wolf, is Democrats say that even since the November election, they've registered 10s of 1000s of new voters, African Americans and young voters. So we'll see how that turns out. But you see these demographic shifts here, especially in the up in the Atlanta area, more black voters registered, they tend to vote Democratic.

Here's another thing to keep an eye on if these elections are very close. Remember Andrew Yang, the former Democratic presidential candidate, CNN commentator, he went down to Georgia for a little bit to try to register Asian American voters in the state. Very tiny slice of the population, but in close elections that can matter.

And look, you see the purple colors, the deeper the purple, the more registration you do see over the last four years down here, Chatham County Savannah area around there, and especially up here in the Atlanta metro area in the suburbs, you do see some increase in Asian American voters. So, that is a key question. It's a small voting population. But in a close election, a couple 100 here, a couple 1000 there can help.

So you come back out to the map and you look at it this way, again, Joe Biden won the state by just shy of 12,000 votes, a perfect storm, if you will, for the Democrats. Georgia is trending toward the Democrats. Call it a purple state, if you will, but it still leaves red. That's the challenge tonight.

Can Democrats recreate this with new voters, motivating people to turn out? Or is Georgia still in a traditional race without Trump on the ballot, does it go back to it's still what I would call slightly Republican leaning DNA? That's the test.

WILLIAMS: Yes. And at stake right now, it's a huge stake, the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Remind U.S. a little bit about how significant what's happening in these two senate run offs will be here in Washington for the incoming Biden administration.

KING: Let me come over a little closer to you. Here's where we are right now, as Congress comes in tomorrow. A 50 Republican senators, we know that's done, 48 Democratic senators that includes two independents who caucus with the Democrats. So it's 50 to 48.

The only two left to be decided are these two races in Georgia. So, there's Joe Biden have control of the Senate floor. Is it Chuck Schumer deciding which committees hold which hearings?

Well, for that to happen, Jon Ossoff has to win and Pastor Warnock has to win. That would get you to 50-50. Democrats need them both.

50-50 means soon to be vice president Kamala Harris would break the ties wouldn't be easy. Democrats still be the narrowest of Senate majorities. But Chuck Schumer controlling the Senate, the Democrats, having the committee chairs is a whole different world for Joe Biden and his agenda than Mitch McConnell and the Republicans.

Again, Democrats need to win them both tonight. If Republicans win just one of the two, that means Mitch McConnell keeps control.

BLITZER: Whoever's the majority leader in the U.S. Senate, you know the rules as well as I do. They control what comes up for a vote and what doesn't necessarily come up for a vote. A lot of power that Senate majority leader has.

KING: Had power.

BLITZER: That's why this is so, so important.

We're watching all of this unfold. We're standing by. We anticipate more exit poll results coming in and the two Georgia Senate run offs.

We're waiting also for the first results that's coming up fairly soon. We're diving deeper into deeper on the issues, the driving issues. We'll be right back.

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[17:17:20]

BLITZER: Check it out. Take a look at these pictures from Georgia right now. A long line of voters in Cherokee County, not far from Atlanta.

You're looking at live pictures right now in the last rush to cast ballots in the two Senate runoffs. We're waiting the first results. The voting ends less than two hours from now.

Let's go over to David Chalian, who's looking at the exit poll results here at the CNN battleground desk. Give us some more information what we're learning from these exit polls.

CHALIAN: Well, Wolf, we're taking a look at the makeup of the electorate and how it compares to the November general election. So let's go through some demographics, on gender. Take a look, the electorate in these run offs 54 percent female, 46 percent male, that is a little more male than it was in November, but so slightly well within any kind of margins here. It looks very similar to November.

We see a similar thing on race. Take a look at how it breaks down on race in these runoffs. Sixty-two percent of the electorate in Georgia is white, 29 percent black, that is almost identical to what we saw in November, 5 percent Latino, 2 percent Asian and 2 percent other racial or ethnic groups.

Age is one place where we actually see a little bit of difference from November. But I want to remind you, these are early exit polls, these numbers are going to change throughout the night as more interviews come in.

But as of these early preliminary data, take a look here, only 13 percent of this electorate is 18 to 29 years old. In November, that number was 20 percent. And at the other end, 65 years old or older, a quarter of the electorate today is 65 or older. But back in November, that was down at 19 percent. So this is an older electorate, which probably is giving some comfort to Republicans looking at the makeup of the electorate.

And then finally, just party I.D., how do you identify Democrat, Republican, Independent, very similar to a spread that we saw in November. This time around, it's 39 percent. Republican that was 38 percent in November, 36 percent, Democrat and 25 percent Independent, just a tiny hair less Independent than it was in November.

But again, this looks remarkably similar to the electorate November when David Perdue bested Jon Ossoff by 88,000 votes, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's really interesting. I'm always anxious to see more younger people vote, older people vote in bigger numbers than younger people. That's not necessarily good. Younger people should vote, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Wolf, thanks very much.

David, I start with you, what do you look when you see these numbers?

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Well, first of all, let me just say that if there's one thing that we've learned, it's humility --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

AXELROD: -- when it comes to these things. So I don't take too much from it.

COOPER: Right.

AXELROD: But if I were a Republican, I would be comforted by some of these numbers, particularly the age skew.

[17:20:06]

COOPER: Right.

AXELROD: They tend to do better with older voters that there is a drop off among younger voters. That would be disappointing to Democrats.

But look, this is a closely divided state. And this is going to be a close election.

COOPER: I mean, historically, I was talking to Harry Enten earlier, and historically Republicans have done well in run offs in Georgia.

AXELROD: They've won eight out of eight since 1992.

COOPER: Pretty well.

AXELROD: So, you know, there's reason for Republicans going in to feel some confidence, but the state has changed. And it's really a matter of who.

You know, the wrench in the -- in this whole deal has been thrown in by the president, and all the uncertainty that he's created and the kind of civil war he's touched off between Republicans in Georgia. And, you know, his ambivalence and this notion that maybe the system isn't kosher and not worth participating in is important.

And one of the questions here is, you know, Donald Trump has proven that he can bring Republicans out when he's on the ballot. He's not on the ballot here. And is there a drop off, because simply because, you know, those who are for Trump, and not necessarily that enthused about Republicans just don't turn out.

COOPER: And or some people just turned off by the whole thing, by the ads, by the, you know, the --

AXELROD: Half a billion dollars in ads.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Right.

And half a billion dollars in ads, but you do have more than 3 million people who voted early, which is really kind of remarkable. It's just remarkable. But the people who voted are confident that their votes are going to be counted accurately, when you look at these numbers, very confident 42 percent, somewhat confident 31 percent.

So despite what the President has said about Georgia's inability to count votes, which of course, hurts these candidates, these Republican candidates, despite all of that, these people have voted and said, I think that my vote is going to get --

COOPER: Well a quarter of them say not very confident, not at all confident. I mean, that's pretty fast.

BORGER: Well, then you have to ask that question, did the other people stay home?

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: Because they had no confidence at all.

AXELROD: Right. That's the question.

BORGER: They have no confidence.

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: For me, underneath all this math, is a real movement. The fact that we're sitting here tonight, talking about Georgia in a runoff, with the idea that perhaps Democrats could win is a testament to a people's movement that we sometimes don't talk enough about.

It's not just about Donald Trump, it's not just about these candidates. You have people like Stacey Abrams, Black Lives Matter, fair fight, new Georgia coalition, and others who when nobody was paying attention we're out there knocking on doors and Mila COVID. They've come up with strategies to make these numbers work including, you know, using food, using music, culture, that something is happening here. And if they don't get it tonight, they're going to get it.

And what you're seeing is history in the making, no matter who wins tonight, history in the making. So underneath this map is a people's movement. I think that a lot of reason to be proud of. I'm not going to say who's going to win or lose, like you, I have now learned to be humble in the face of this stuff. By know that no matter who wins or loses tonight, you got a lot of people should be proud tonight in Georgia.

RICK SANTORUM, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd say two other things. And I somewhat agree with you that there's been a great effort on the part of Democrats to turn Georgia. But the reality is demographics have changed. Georgia is a big growing state. And the folks that are coming and growing there are not generally going to be voting Republican. And so that's number one.

Number two, and this is something that -- it's sort of remarkable sitting here as a Republican to have to sort of talk about this, which is money. I mean, the Democratic Party is now and I think will be for the foreseeable future, the party of money. They are going to have, and they did in this election, they have spent Republicans in the state two to one. And I have friends in Georgia, for instance, South Carolina who get Georgia T.V., and they say it's just overwhelming how much the Democrats are on T.V., overwhelming how much they're spending on getting their vote out. So the Democrats --

BORGER: Small donor. Small donor.

SANTORUM: And David and I have been talking about this. The Democrats are now the money -- have had the big tech money, the Zuckerberg and every all the big money. And it's a coalition of the very rich and the poor.

BORGER: That's right.

SANTORUM: And it's a very strange coalition. And Republicans are sort of overwhelmed by all this.

JONES: And both are getting. What's interesting is, yes, the grassroots folks that are giving --

SANTORUM: Yes, I agree with that.

JONES: And then you also have --

SANTORUM: The Bernie Bros.

AXELROD: But some of that money has been used to -- been weaponized against Democrats by Republicans in some of these states and in some of these districts by emphasizing the out of state nature of them. You know, these are liberals from California trying to elect our --

SANTORUM: Rather have the money.

AXELROD: Should lose it with the whole discussion. You know, you said if it's not tonight, it'll be another night. But tonight --

COOPER: Yes.

AXELROD: -- it's going to determine a lot about what the Biden presidency is going to be.

COOPER: Yes, in the next four years, the very least. There isn't a lot of time left for Georgia voters to cast their ballots and decide to fold the U.S. Senate. We are waiting the first results in new details from our exit polls. We'll be right back.

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[17:29:25]

BLITZER: It's all about Georgia right now as we count down to the first results in this truly high stakes double run off that will decide control of the United States Senate.

Let's walk over to Pamela Brown over at the CNN voting desk. You're looking closely. A lot of people voted early and a lot of people are voting today.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and the clock is ticking down to 7 p.m. Eastern Time, Wolf. That is when the polls close in Georgia and that is when all the mail-in ballots have to be in by, with the exception of those military and provisional ballots.

And if you look at the numbers as of yesterday, there was still 368,404 outstanding absentee ballots.

[17:30:03] Now, we don't know whether some people received their ballots and decided to go vote in-person and said we don't have the answer to that. But what we are focused on is the Atlanta metro area, the Democratic stronghold, Fulton County, which is the home to Atlanta and what's going on there.

If you look on your screen, the early in-person voting comprised of 2,007 -- 271,000 mail-in ballots, as you see there, nearly 100,000. We're also looking at the Democratic trend in Cobb County, this is all part of the Atlanta region, the surrounding suburbs there, the absentee ballots issued 146,885 so far returned 108,563. Democrats there are focused on these areas on turnout getting the vote out in these Democratic areas, Wolf. One Cobb County official CNN recently spoke with said not to expect the first wave of results there in Cobb County until 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll be watching every step of the way. Pamela, thank you.

Let's go to Georgia right now. Some of our correspondents are there on the ground. They're watching all of this very closely. CNN's Amara Walker is in Atlanta for us right now. So, what do you see, Amara from your vantage point?

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just got an update from Gabriel Sterling, the voting implementation systems manager and he said, look, voting has been light, it's been steady, thing has been it has been has been going quite smoothly. But he said it's not necessarily an indication of low voter turnout. In fact, it just might mean that poll workers have become more efficient. And, of course, the ballot this time around is shorter than what we saw on November 3rd.

As for Election Day turnout, he says he hopes to see between 600,000 to 1.1 million people turnout today to vote for the Senate runoffs. It'll take a couple of days, he says, to know the final results of the election and the first flood of the results should come in between 7:30 and 9:00 tonight. And that is because the absentee ballots are allowed to be processed 15 days before the election county by county.

One thing to keep in mind, however, Gabriel Sterling mentioned this. He said look, there are 17,000 outstanding ballots from the military and from people overseas that have until Friday to come in. So if we're talking about two or one close race here, those ballots could make the difference come Friday. Wolf?

BLITZER: Every vote counts. Amara, standby.

I want to go to CNN's Nick Valencia, he's joining us from Decatur, Georgia right now. So, what are you seeing over there and a lot of people are really anxious in these final minutes to vote.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, a significant development here just in the last few minutes in DeKalb County. We just got off the phone with a spokeswoman who tells us that DeKalb County has now surpassed all of the in-person voting that it saw during the general election in November. As of 5:22, there's been 51,000 people that have voted in-person in DeKalb County, and that's what 90 minutes left to go or just about 90 minutes until the polls closed.

In November, Wolf, that was 47,561. So already about 3,000 more have voted in DeKalb County. Why is that important? Because if you remember, DeKalb county and Fulton County, which encompasses metro Atlanta was huge in giving a decisive victory here for Joe Biden turning the state blue. The spokeswoman also tells us that they've caught up with absentee ballots so far. That's -- that should be sent over the Secretary of State about 701 as soon as polls close.

And they say the voting has been pretty scattered equally across the precinct. Some have seen as much as 500, 600 people coming out to vote. Some precinct says, you know, small as 90 people have gone out to vote. But a lot is riding on the line tonight. Polls close at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. They will be closing very soon. Nick, standby very much.

I want to go over to David Chalian, who's watching all of this very closely. David Chalian, you're getting some more exit poll results.

CHALIAN: Yes, again, preliminary exit polls. These numbers will change throughout the night. But one of the things that we were asking about is the importance of containing the coronavirus. Take a look here and you will see which is more important to do now. 52 percent of the electorate in Georgia said containing coronavirus is more important than the 42 percent. That said rebuilding the economy, that's even -- it's about what it was in November but a slight bit more saying containing coronavirus is more important.

Has the coronavirus pandemic caused you financial hardship? This is where you see why Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue back Donald Trump's push for those $2,000 stimulus checks. Take a look here, 15 percent have experienced severe financial hardship and that to the 39 percent who say they've had moderate financial hardship, that's a majority of the Georgia voters in these runoffs saying that they're experiencing economic pain due to the coronavirus pandemic. 44 percent say no financial hardship at all.

And then with the growing cases of COVID that are out there, we asked how concerned are you that people, you, your members, your family will contract coronavirus. Look at that. Nearly two-thirds of the electorate in this runoff, 68 percent are very or somewhat worried that they are a family member will contract coronavirus compared to 31 percent not too worried, not at all worried. Wolf?

[17:35:12]

BLITZER: Yes. Well, everybody should be worried this is a deadly virus.

You know, John King, give us a sense of the climate in Georgia. People are voting right now but hovering over everything is this coronavirus pandemic.

KING: It is. Look, we're here on election night, right? So normally, we talked about red and blue. I just want to put this up. The deeper the red here, it's the higher the rate of COVID in these counties across America. And let's just go to the state of Georgia as we look at this and look at all this red. I mean, COVID is everywhere, it is across America. We're in the middle right now of the fall into the winter peak and the surge.

But just look at all this read and look especially where it is, it is everywhere in Georgia, which was at the forefront of the reopening debate. Governor Kemp siding with President Trump back then, they're rivals right now, you might say in some ways, and reopening early. But looking at rural Georgia, the deepest red a lot in Trump country, that's why you see those numbers so hard. Everybody is being hit by this. Everybody is seeing either the personal health care effect or the economic effect of this because as the months have gone on, COVID is everywhere.

And again, it's changing how people are voting. That's why we're seeing all these mail-in ballots, that's why we're seeing in-person early voting. And, Wolf, right now, again, Georgia is going through what the entire country is going through. This is hospitalizations. Let me stretch this out a little bit.

Remember, early on in the summer -- we thought that summer surge was horrific, right? Georgia, Florida, Arizona, California, the South was a lot of it. We thought that was horrific. Look, look at this hospitalizations Monday, more than 5,500 Georgians hospitalized with COVID-19. And look at the trend lines, they keep going up. That's hospitalization. So let me move that over here.

And, again, as people vote today, as they think about what do they want in Washington? Do they want Joe Biden to have a Democratic Senate so that he can get more done? Do they want the Republicans here to put a bridge on Joe Biden? One of the factors is this. This is just happening, this is not normally what we would think of as a political issue, but it just is.

Look at the rising case count here. Let me stretch it out so you can get a better look at it. Again, Georgia largely spared back in March when we went through this. Then the summer surge that we thought was horrific, including in Georgia. Just look at this, 8,000 cases, 8,000 cases plus on average every day. So as people vote today, as they think about what they want in Washington, let me just flip these away.

And look at this, Georgia, like everywhere in America, Wolf, forget red and blue, this pain is everywhere. Democrat, Republican, rural, suburban, exurban, it's horrific.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect some people didn't want to vote in-person today --

KING: Right.

BLITZER: -- because they didn't want to go on those lines especially older voters out there. John, stand by.

The final push to turn off the vote in Georgia is underway right now before the polls close in the crucial Senate runoff. So we're going to talk live with the Democrat and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, that's just ahead.

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[17:42:11]

BLITZER: Check out this beautiful picture of the United States Capitol right now. Control of the United States Senate right now is in the hands of Georgia voters. We're back with our special coverage. We're learning more from our exit polls as we get closer and closer to the end of voting and the first results.

Let's go over to David Chalian. He's getting some more results from our exit polls. What else are you learning?

CHALIAN: We're doing a deep dive here into voters in the Warnock- Loeffler race, Wolf. And you just will not believe what different political universes we are living in these days. And I think it explains what you'll see take place on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

We asked, was the 2020 presidential election in Georgia conducted fairly? Among Loeffler voters in this runoff, 77 percent of Loeffler voters say no, the 2020 election was not conducted fairly. That's why you heard her last night at the Trump rally saying she's going to support opposing the Electoral College count tomorrow in Congress. Only 20 percent of her voters say yes.

Comparing that with Rafael Warnock's voters, it's a totally different picture. 92 percent of Warnock voters in this runoff race say yes, the 2020 presidential election in Georgia that Joe Biden won was conducted fairly, only 6 percent say no.

What about this election? How do they feel about the votes being counted in the runoff? Among Loeffler voters, it's an even split, 50 percent of her voters are very or somewhat confident their votes will be counted accurately. But the other half of her own voters are not at all confident, not very competent or not at all.

Warnock's voters, it's a different story. They have confidence in the system. 96 percent say they are confident, very or somewhat that their votes will be tallied up accurately in this election today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Two very, very different universes indeed.

All right, let's go back to Jake.

TAPPER: Wolf, thanks so much. Right now, we have new reporting from our correspondents covering President-elect Biden and President Trump. First, let's go to Arlette Saenz. The President-elect is following the Georgia vote tonight, Arlette, what are you learning?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, President- elect Biden's team is feeling optimistic about these Senate runoffs with a source close to the transition telling me they feel like the Democrats have a good shot of winning. And this source acknowledged that a win from the Democrats would certainly ease the path to Biden achieving the agenda that he has talked about throughout the campaign. But they also said that much of what they are planning to do will

require bipartisan pushes, even if Democrats were to win, this would be a razor thin majority for them. So they are expecting that they will need to work with Republicans either way. Both Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris traveled down to the state in the last 48 hours trying to show how much importance they're placing on this race.

TAPPER: All right, Arlette Saenz, covering the Biden campaign. Thanks so much.

[17:45:02]

Let's go to our White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Now, Kaitlan, what are you hearing about President Trump's relationship with Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler who's on the ballot today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's been a little troubled at times because remember, of course, she is someone the President associated with Brian Kemp, the Governor that he promised to primary last night because Kemp has refused to do the President's bidding on the election.

But, Jake, we're also learning more just about their direct relationship because after on Sunday when Kelly Loeffler was doing a Sunday show, she was asked if she was going to object to the certification of these votes on Capitol Hill tomorrow, and she wouldn't say she was asked multiple times she deferred, she just said that she was taking it very seriously. But she did not say yes, that she was going to come out and support this effort.

As you were seeing, Senate Republicans weigh their options. And, Jake, were told that the President was unhappy with that reaction that he was displeased. She would not say yes, she was going to support it. He made that pretty clear. And, Jake, you notice last night at that rally the President held in Georgia I was there, he invited Kelly Loeffler on stage. The first thing that came out of her mouth and she was up there, Jake, was that she is going to vote against certifying those results tomorrow when they meet on Capitol Hill.

TAPPER: Yes, this application must be 100 percent. Absolutely. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Joining us now, one of the most prominent Democrats in Georgia, former gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist, Stacey Abrams. Leader Abrams, thanks so much for joining us. In the last hour, the Georgia Secretary of State told me that his office is seeing good turnout in some parts of Georgia, lighter turnout and others. What are you hearing? What have you seen and what might it mean for the Democrats chances today?

STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we went into this election with a pretty strong, healthy margin. But, you know, steady turnout across the state has signaled that people are interested. We haven't seen the day loose, but it's just now five, you know, we're just into the rush hour time when we have more voters who are going to be coming to vote after work. So, I don't think we can prognosticate what's happening, but we do see a very steady flow of voters on both sides of the aisle, which I think means it's going to be a tight race.

TAPPER: You, obviously, are very dedicated to the idea of voter access, fighting voter suppression. Have you seen anything today raising your concerns?

ABRAMS: No. And we had a few challenges where voters were told that they already voted because of absentee ballots. Luckily, we've been very diligent about ensuring that people know their rights. They've been calling into the hotlines, getting information. We've let folks know that if they go to the wrong precinct because of the nature of the races, they should ask for a provisional ballot.

And so, a lot of it is, you know, we think people understand the importance of the race, but they also understand they've got support to make certain their votes count. And fair fight has been working very closely with a number of organizations across the state to ensure that every voter understands their power.

TAPPER: So as of right now, you feel confident that this is a fair and legitimate election based on what you've seen as of right now?

ABRAMS: I do. I think we continue to make progress. Now, let's be clear, we've not fully eliminated voter suppression in Georgia or across the country, but we have made dramatic strides from even June and certainly from 2018. The fact that absentee ballots can be cured, the fact that people know that they have the right to provisional ballots.

But they're not getting them as a perfunctory exchange when there's a challenge, the fact that voters have a belief that they have the right to be heard across the state, especially in our smaller enclaves outside of Metro Atlanta. All of these are really good signals, but we have more work to do.

And especially paying attention to the chatter coming from the Republicans of their intent to start to restrict the rights of voters because they're concerned that so many people are engaged and so many people are turning out. And hopefully Democrats and Republicans can come together and say that voter access in Georgia is a good thing. That high turnout is a good thing. And we will not put new barriers in place or take away opportunities to hear from every single eligible citizen.

BASH: It's Dana Bash in Washington, thank you so much for doing this. I want to ask about what we saw in November, which is obviously, President Trump lost but Democrats also lost seats in the House, didn't pick up the seats that they thought that they would, you know, in November in the United States Senate. What are you looking for tonight, to see if Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock will buck that trend?

ABRAMS: Well, I think it's important to look state by state. And we know that for many Democrats and for many campaigns across the country, Democrats prioritize people's lives over politics. And they took very dramatic steps to curtail the likelihood of increasing the surging COVID. This time because we had good information and we knew what we could do, we saw many more boots on the ground, we saw incredible investment.

Fair fight was able to distribute more than $25 million to smaller organizations to help them with their work and we've been doing this work. It's a multi-generational, multiethnic, multi-county effort where we are everywhere doing everything, and I think that's the signal we need to watch.

[17:50:04]

In 2008, the high watermark for Senate runoffs were hit, that was 2.1 million voters. We passed that last week. We've had more than 3 million early votes already cast. We've already set records. And those records I think portend well for voters who want to see change and want to see Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock joined the U.S. Senate.

BASH: And we heard President Trump in his own words in that recorded call, pressuring the Secretary of State there to find him votes to hand him the state where you are. How is that playing with Georgia voters? Are you hearing from people that maybe weren't considering voting before? Is it swaying anybody?

ABRAMS: I think it's a curiosity, but it's more of the same. We have a failed President who has flouted the law his entire tenure. It's not surprising to anyone that he would do so again, however, we caution everyone who decides that this makes Brad Raffensperger a hero that, we need to remember, this is the same man who inherited and, you know, dealt with and participated in voter suppression when he became the Secretary of State. He is defending the election he was responsible for. He is not defending the rights of voters.

And I think it's very important that we not conflate the two. It is a good thing for all voters that we are protecting this election. But it is a dangerous thing for us to ignore the person who's doing it and to presume that he is on the side of voters because he is not.

PHILLIP: Leader Abrams, this is Abby Phillip. You know, if Democrats want to have a majority in the Senate, they have to have a clean sweep tonight in Georgia. If that doesn't happen, what are the stakes here? What does it mean for President-elect Biden's agenda if Republicans are able to maintain control of the Senate?

ABRAMS: I'm less concerned about the agenda and more concerned about the people. We live in a state that is a fourth the size of California, and yet we have 670,000 infections from COVID. We have more than 10,000 deaths close to 11,000 who've died of this disease. We have 400,000 Georgians out of a job. We have 3.9 million Georgians who've either lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. We have 161,000 facing evictions if we do not restore and renew the eviction protection that was embedded in the last COVID relief package.

Rather than, you know, rather than debating what it means for an agenda, we need to talk about what it means for Georgia, what it means for America. And as vice president, soon to be President Biden said yesterday, he doesn't want anyone who's loyal to him. He wants people who are loyal to the citizens they serve into the Constitution. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have demonstrated that they are committed to the people of Georgia.

David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have done nothing but profit and evade answers. They've done nothing to support the people of Georgia. And so what it means is that we will find ourselves stymied and stuck, and unfortunately, without relief, if we do not get the support and the leadership that will come with Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff joining the U.S. Senate,

PHILLIP: And President-elect Biden is the first Democrat presidential candidate to win Georgia in 28 years. And Democrats like you hope that the state's going to become a real swing state, but, you know, there are clearly still challenges. Is it wishful thinking for Democrats if they lose these two races? And, you know, what do you think would be the lessons learned tonight if Democrats are not successful?

ABRAMS: Well, look, being a battleground means you have to fight for victory. Republicans for 20 years took for granted their successes. We made them fight in 2018, we made them fight in 2020, and we won the battle in 2020. We're going to win this battle in 2021 whether it's by winning these two elections or by forcing Republicans to take seriously the needs of Democrats, the needs of Independence, the needs of the people.

We are going to be able to compel Republicans to actually have to talk about the issues and debate the issues as opposed to having a fait accompli for their ideas. That's what being a battleground means. And Georgia is firmly entrenched as a battleground state. We're going to move towards a permanent Democratic majority, but we've got a ways to go. But I'm incredibly proud of how far we've come and what we've been able to accomplish.

PHILLIP: Well, I think there's no question. We'll all be watching what happens in Georgia tonight, and all the other nights after this. Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, Georgia, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

ABRAMS: Thank you for having me.

PHILLIP: So fascinating --

BASH: Yes.

PHILLIP: -- interview in a lot of ways, but you heard her they're really pushing back hard, hard on Brad Raffensperger, partly because, first of all, Stacey Abrams is not done with politics. She's made that very clear, personally. She herself is such a figure in that state.

But I think, secondly, Democrats, I think are looking down the pike and they're saying, we can't let this episode with Donald Trump, kind of allowing the Republican party to eat itself alive, distract from what they've been trying to draw attention to for many years in Georgia, which is this idea o voter suppression. It's central to their turnout mechanism in these two races, but also in the future as they try to turn the state from red to blue.

[17:55:10]

BASH: Yes, I mean, my question was about the tape.

PHILLIP: Yes.

BASH: And whether or not it's swaying voters. And you were pointing this out earlier, Jake, that she jumped at the chance to talk about the fact that she believes that Raffensperger is not a hero, that what he's defending is his own stewardship of the election, not the election integrity itself, which was really notable.

But, listen, she is somebody who has spent -- she took the long view, she started in 2010 and she has been working incredibly hard to, you know, block by block, bit by bit in order to try to change this formerly ruby red state, to at least a purple state and maybe even a Democratic state. And she's already done it. A lot of other people too, but she was a big factor on the presidential level.

TAPPER: Yes. And that said, I'm not disputing anything. Stacey Abrams, former leader Abrams, has her views, has her agenda on voting rights. And, obviously, it should be an issue in this country that any legal voters should have the right to, and ability, to vote as easily as possible.

That said, it's also worth pointing out that this has been an unusual presidency and unusual post-election period. And it has been very, very difficult for Republicans to stand up for basic decency and basic --

BASH: No question.

TAPPER: -- facts and honesty. And on that issue on standing up for facts of decency and the election in Georgia, Raffensperger had integrity and that doesn't dispute anything else she said.

We were heading into the final hour before voting ends in Georgia, awaiting the first results in the Senate runoffs. Our special coverage continues after this.

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