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Georgia Vote; Soon: Polls Close In Georgia, Control Of Senate At Stake. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 5, 2021 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:56]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Live pictures coming in from Atlanta, Georgia right now. Check it out. It's a beautiful city.

The balance of power here in Washington, the nation's capital, is now being decided by voters in Georgia, as they cast ballots in two crucial Senate run-offs.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is CNN's coverage of our election night in America continued.

We're closing in on the first results out of Georgia. Voting ends about an hour from now. In one race, Democrat Raphael Warnock, a pastor at Martin Luther King Jr.'s former church, is running against GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler, a co-owner of a WNBA team.

Also facing off tonight, Democrat and former journalist Jon Ossoff is challenging Republican incumbent David Perdue, a former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General.

Remember, Democrats need to win both, both seats to retake control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in six years. That would give incoming President Joe Biden greater ability to pass his agenda, with Democrats in charge of both chambers of Congress and the White House.

Republicans need to win just one of the two seats to keep control of the Senate. That would give Mitch McConnell and the GOP greater power to push back against the new president of the United States.

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

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thanks, Wolf.

All eyes are on Georgia, as the 2020 election continues on this fifth day of 2021. We're right now monitoring key polling places in this last hour of voting.

Right now, let's check back with our correspondents in Georgia.

Kyung Lah is covering the Democratic Senate candidates.

Kyung, what's the message inside the Democrats' campaigns tonight? KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm hearing this

from a senior Ossoff campaign aide, as the clock is ticking, with just hour left, the internal messaging is to remember that they are expecting a huge Republican lead.

That is what Democrats are telling each other, to not pay too much attention to those first returns that come in, and to keep the spirits high. The reason why, Democrats fully expect that the first votes that will come in with be from those smaller conservative counties.

They are saying that what they need to do is to simply wait. I'm hearing from the Democrats that they are -- quote -- "expecting to be wildly down tonight." The expectation is that the majority of votes today from the Democrats, they believe that the expectation will be that the GOP will win the day of in person voting, and that they are hoping that people inside will just simply wait for the four big counties, Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, and Gwinnett.

So, those are the four counties they're looking at that. And until then, they say just brace for what they are going to go through tonight -- Jake.

TAPPER: That's right. Democrats banked a lot of votes in those early votes and also vote by mail.

Let's go to Ryan Nobles at the Republican candidates' headquarters.

And, Ryan, President Trump, obviously looming large over these Senate races like Nosferatu. What are you learning?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a great way to put it, Jake.

And the Republican operatives I have talked to agree. They truly believe that, win or lose, that President Trump will be the difference for these Republican candidates.

And you can just see is the way that these Republican candidates behaved throughout this entire campaign. They made a tactical choice to side with the president in every single turn. That meant leaning into his baseless claims about election fraud. It means coming in at the 11th hour and saying that they support the effort to object to the Electoral College results.

It even meant contradicting prior positions they had taken, like their support for the omnibus spending bill, which only had a $600 direct payment to Americans. It meant not supporting the veto override of the National Defense Authorization Act, which President Trump vetoed, which both David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler supported.

Republicans basically made the calculated assessment that there was no path to victory without having undying loyalty to President Trump. The question now is, was that the smart decision?

Republicans believe that, if Loeffler and Perdue are able are able to make it over the hump, that it was a wise choice, and maybe it tells us about the future of Republican politics. But if they fall short tonight, it could mean that perhaps President Trump isn't as popular in this state as once thought, and, also, that there's a potential that they turned off independent and moderate voters.

[18:05:25]

Jake, it's a question we're not going to know the answer for maybe not tonight, or maybe even for the next couple of days -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan, thanks so much.

Let's go to David Chalian now, who has more, in terms of exit polls,

David, what are you learning about today's voters?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, we're going to take a look at two of the biggest issues.

Just to remind everyone, these are preliminary exit poll numbers, Jake. And these exit polls are exit polls that represent all the voters, whether they voted by mail absentee, whether they voted in person early, or whether they showed up at the polls today. It's all included in this exit poll of Georgia voters.

In terms of priorities, take a look at Perdue voters here. These are people who said they voted for David Perdue today or in this election in the run-off. Rebuilding the economy, 69 percent of them say that is the higher priority over only 25 percent of Perdue voters that say the priority is containing the coronavirus.

Compare that with Ossoff voters. It's a totally different universe; 79 percent of Ossoff voters say containing the coronavirus is the more important thing to be doing right now. Only 17 percent say that is true for rebuilding the economy.

We're also seeing how the economic pain caused by COVID is disproportionately impacting these different electorates. Among the Perdue voters, again, among Perdue voters in this race, only 9 percent say they are experiencing severe financial hardship, 40 percent moderate financial hardship, and half of Perdue voters say no financial hardship at all in their world caused by COVID.

That is a very different story than Ossoff voters. Look at this; 21 percent of us voters say they're experiencing severe financial hardship. Another 39 percent say moderate, and it's just 38 percent that say they have not experienced any financial hardship at all.

I mean, these are really different kinds of voters that are showing up in these record numbers today -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, David Chalian, thank you so much.

And that's fascinating, because what you have there, Dana and Abby, is Ossoff voters, Democratic voters, saying that they have been more severely impacted by the coronavirus, financially impacted, but also saying that reopening the economy is the secondary priority to getting in control of the virus. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is.

And it's just a snapshot reminder of how -- unfortunately, how partisan this virus is, and has been almost since day one, largely because people who are in charge made it that way. And by people, I mean the president of the United States, I mean, from not wearing a mask and making that partisan for whatever reason. It still boggles my mind.

Something that is as basic a health issue as that is partisan and really still is makes no sense. But the fact that these voters, people who are going to the polls, either early or today, in this run-off election, this pair of run-off elections, have such disparate views of the virus and the health concerns vs. the economy is exhibit A.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is also a state that has a really large African-American and less large, but significant Hispanic population.

And those are two groups that have been disproportionately hurt financially, but also health-wise, by this virus. They have been getting sick at disproportionate rates, dying at disproportionate rates.

So, it doesn't surprise me that, when you look at Ossoff voters, you will see that people are both worried about the health impacts of the virus and also worried about the financial impacts. But when people -- when it comes down to it, I think the folks who are dying and getting sick at disproportionate rates recognize that you can't have a job if you're not alive.

And I think that that is what you're seeing in these numbers here. On the other hand, when you looked at -- earlier, John King was showing us on the Magic Wall where Georgia is in this pandemic, it is worse now than it has ever been in that state.

So, I would be curious to see whether there has -- whether that produces any sort of shift in how people vote, considering that things are so much worse now than they were when they had an earlier spike over the summer, and things were very, very bad in that state.

TAPPER: Worse in Georgia, worse...

PHILLIP: Everywhere.

TAPPER: ... pretty much across the United States right now, which makes it all the more remarkable that, tomorrow, Congress is going to spend its time dealing with Republicans trying to undermine the results of the election, instead of coming together, Wolf, to try to get a hold of this pandemic and have the economy recover.

[18:10:19]

BLITZER: Yes, thousands of Americans are dying every single week. It's a horrendous, horrendous pandemic. And it continues. John, we're looking at Georgia right now. So much is at stake right

now, especially as the new administration is about to come into office.

You're looking at some key places that we should be watching. Polls close, what, in about 15 minutes from now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

So, in about an hour, we should start to get the first votes. And before I go through the counties just again, broken record from November, we need to be careful. Some counties will show us early votes, right? They -- it's going to be faster this time.

So, we will see some early votes. You might see a Democrat taking a lead in a county that's normally Republican. You might see the flip side. We're seeing Election Day votes only at first. So, a Republican might take a lead in a place where Democrats -- we need to be patient and get through the night, take a few hours to get context.

But this will fill in starting in about an hour. Let's go back to 2020, and let's use -- this is the presidential race. Joe Biden wins by 11,000 votes. Let's use this as our guide for places we want to watch.

Just today, we have heard from our correspondents on the ground that, here in DeKalb County, just outside of Atlanta, to the east of Atlanta, that turnout today exceeds turnout in the presidential election. That's incredibly unusual in a run-off election. Normally, after a presidential election, turnout drops down.

Well, turnout is up here. So, Democrats say wow, that's great for us, right, because, look, Biden 83, Donald Trump 16 percent. Just look at the Senate race here in the Ossoff-Perdue race, Ossoff 81, Perdue 17, if you round up.

So, if you're the Democrats, you look at DeKalb County, and you say, wow, we're doing what we need to do. But this is why -- Georgia has 159 counties. Do not get caught up and what you might see on the Internet or you might hear from a friend about any one county, because there are 159 in all.

Our correspondents on the ground are also telling us that, in Forsyth County, turnout is up today, exceeding what happened in November, Election Day turnout higher than -- well, look, Jon Ossoff got swamped in Forsyth County. This is a place that is absolutely critical for Republican turnout.

We can look at the presidential race. It's the same thing, 2-1 for Donald Trump. So, turnout is up here too. It may be that both parties are turning out their voters. We have also heard -- and we showed some pictures earlier today -- we don't know the final numbers yet. But you saw some pictures on TV of long lines in Cherokee County.

This is a place we will watch tonight. Is the Trump base turning out? Is this divide among Republicans, the fight between the president and state officials like the governor and the secretary of state, is it impacting Republican turnout? Cherokee County is a place we will see, because you see it here.

That's how it played out in the presidential race. It was one of the reasons it was so close, because the president did so well. And look at David Perdue, the same thing.

One other thing, Wolf, when you come back in, the bulk of the vote comes out of here, the Atlanta metropolitan area. It's the largest part of the state. So, what will happen today? I just showed you DeKalb. Now let's come in on Fulton County, and let's look at this.

This is very important tonight. Does the animus toward Trump in the suburbs, does it carry over tonight -- to tonight? He's not on the ballot this time. So, you see right here, Fulton County, yes, it's Atlanta. That's what it's known for.

But there are also suburbs to the Southwest, suburbs to the north of Atlanta that are incredibly important. And traditionally, in Georgia, those suburbs are Republican, or they lean Republican, or at least Republicans are competitive to keep elections close.

Look at this. David Perdue in Fulton County, 146,000 votes. You say, well, he only got 28 percent of the vote, but, in a close election, look at his 146,000 in the presidential race, the president 137,000 and change.

David Perdue did better than Donald Trump in Fulton County. He did better in the suburbs around Atlanta. That is a traditional Republican vote. Does that happen today? Same thing happened over in Cobb County. The president gets 42 percent of the vote, 165,000 votes right there. Well, Senator Perdue gets 169,000.

You may say, well, it's only 4,000 votes. In a close election, 4,000 votes is a ton of votes. So we're going to watch Democratic turnout in Atlanta. We're going to see if these Republican Senate candidates without Trump on the ballot can do a traditional performance in the suburbs, as opposed to a Trump era getting -- Republicans getting shellacked in the suburbs.

And we will look over here as well, Chatham County. This was key. When Joe Biden -- remember, Donald Trump was leading and leading and leading. Three days into the count in Georgia, President Trump was still leading. This is one of the places where the late mail-in ballots and the early voting, as it was counted later, brought Joe Biden back.

So, we will look out there as well. A lot to count, Wolf, and we will get to it pretty soon.

BLITZER: Any indication, John, they're going to count the early votes better this time, earlier this time? We're not going to have to wait two, three, four, five days?

KING: We do expect, for most of the counties, it will happen more quickly, because it was optional. On Election Day back in November, because of the pandemic, because it was so unusual, because you had every state, but including Georgia, trying to quickly adapt -- some people are voting early by mail. Some people are voting early, showing up in person. Then you had the big Election Day turnout in the middle of a pandemic with safety concerns.

It was left up to the counties to decide, do you count Election Day votes first? Do you process those other ballots? They have been told this time to try to do it. So, most of the counties have said they have already processed, meaning checked to see if they are legitimate, have them in a stack for that.

[18:15:05]

And then at 7:00, they can start counting them. So we do expect, in most places, that will be done more quickly. But we should also learn from 2020 and elections in recent years, let's just wait, see how it plays out, count votes.

BLITZER: The old-fashioned way. We will wait to see the votes actually counted.

Stand by. We're less than an hour away right now from the first results in the Georgia Senate run-offs. And we will have new exit poll information. That's coming up.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The clock right now is running down on one of the most consequential Senate run-off elections in U.S. history.

[18:20:03]

As we near the first votes out of Georgia at about 40 minutes from now, we have more exit poll results coming in.

So what's the latest, David? What are you learning?

CHALIAN: Well, we asked voters to sort of weigh in on how they perceive the ideological positions of each of the candidates.

Let's run through them. David Perdue's positions on the issues, what do you think? Forty-nine percent of voters in these -- in these run- off say, it's about right; 35 percent say too conservative. Only 9 percent, obviously, would say too liberal.

Take a look at Jon Ossoff, his opponent in the race. And here's where I think you start to see the attack line from David Perdue and from the Republicans that the Democrats in these races are way liberal and socialist. Look at this; 46 percent say about right, but a higher number here say that Ossoff is too liberal, 44 percent, than say too conservative for David Perdue, only 4 percent too conservative.

We see a similar thing in the other race. Take a look here. Kelly Loeffler's positions, 49 percent say they're about right, 35 percent too conservative, 9 percent say too liberal. And, again, with Raphael Warnock, we see some of that liberal label having some staying power; 46 percent say his issues -- his position the issues about right. The same number, 46 percent, say Raphael Warnock's positions are too liberal; 3 percent say too conservative -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, David, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

Meanwhile, we have some new reporting coming in from our correspondents on the ground in Georgia.

Drew Griffin is joining us from Atlanta right now.

I understand, Drew, you have some new information on election misinformation that's swirling out there online. What are you learning?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's just the conflicting messages largely aimed at Republicans that have been getting inundated in their mailboxes and in their social media sites.

According to Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan group which analyzes the social messaging, the number of Twitter posts surrounding the Georgia election has doubled in the last week. Not unsurprising. What is surprising is that four of the top five Twitter posts around this election, Wolf, are from Donald Trump himself.

And all four of them involve unsubstantiated or incendiary claims about voter irregularities or voter fraud in the state. One of them actually, I have to point out to you, said -- this is from President Trump -- "When are we going to do signature verification in Fulton County?"

I'm here in the Fulton County election center. They're on break right now, a dinner break. But there's a whole section of this group of people devoted to just that, signature verification.

So, President Trump either woefully ill-informed on this or is simply deliberately lying. But the confusion and the misinformation comes in if you are a conservative, and you have been brought into Parler, which is a kind of a conservative Twitterverse for the conservatives who are kind of protesting social media.

On Parler, the hashtags #boycottGeorgiaelection, #boycottGeorgiarunoffs and #boycottGeorgia are just flying off the handle; 6,800 different posts with that hashtag have been sent around telling many in Georgia to boycott this election.

That could be troubling for Republicans. But, again, they're getting this mixed message from the White House on down. Do we trust this election enough to vote? Or do we just somehow boycott this election because we don't trust the process that's about to take place right behind me? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, this is so, so disturbing, all this disinformation, misinformation that's out there. Drew, we're going to get back to you.

I want to go from Atlanta to Savannah right now.

Martin Savidge is on the ground for us over there.

Martin, hovering over all of this, as we have been reporting, is this coronavirus pandemic. How is it impacting this election, from your vantage point?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's having a huge impact.

But before I get to that, Wolf, I just want to give you the very latest information we just have received now. There are two polling places in two precincts in Chatham County now that are going to extend their voting time. In other words, they're going to go from the state closing time of 7:00 p.m. to now one of them will go to 7:33. And the other will go to 7:35.

That's due to some technical issues they had this morning. So the Board of Elections here went to a judge and was able to get that order. The judge said, OK, because of those technical difficulties, they would extend by about a half-hour the voting.

As to coronavirus, yes, it's, of course, always in the background and in the back of the minds of voters here. And just today, there was a precinct -- it's actually the Islands Christian precinct. It's a church and two people walked into that precinct this morning and identified to the manager that they were COVID-positive.

[18:25:00]

Now, there is a protocol that's been in place here in Chatham County to handle just that kind of circumstance. In some precincts where they have a lot of room, they actually have a separate space set aside with a separate screen for such people.

This precinct was so small, they didn't have that. So what they did was they evacuated the entire precinct. They allowed the couple -- it was a husband and wife -- to come in to cast their ballots. And then, as soon as they were done, they went through a thorough clean and disinfection of the entire precinct. Took about 15 minutes for that. And then they reopened again for the general public to vote.

So, it just shows you that these are extraordinary times. But, despite that, extraordinary efforts are being made so that everyone, everyone can cast their ballots and vote -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So important. Martin, important information you're giving us.

Thank you very, very much -- Anderson, back to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Yes, Wolf, thanks.

Former President Obama has tweeted out, telling people that in Georgia that, as long as they are in line by -- they're still in line before -- I will read it you word for word: "Georgia voters, if you're in line before the polls close at 7:00 p.m., stay there. You have the right to vote, no matter how long it takes. If you have questions, call the Georgia voter protection hotline." Gives the number. "Let's bring this home."

David, how late do you think -- I mean, at what point tonight, do you think we're going to start to get a sense of where things are going?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the question is, will we get a sense tonight? I think we will get a sense tonight if this thing is very close and whether we're going to go into overtime, as some of the election officials seem to believe will be the case.

I think that, if they're -- if there's a trend -- now, remember, Ossoff lost, Perdue won by 88,000 votes. If this thing is on the same track county by county, we will get a sense of that.

The harder one to read may be the second race, because they didn't have a one-on-one in the -- they had this jungle. Probably, there were 20 candidates or something.

But what was interesting about the exit poll that David just read on who was too liberal, just right, too conservative, so on, the Loeffler numbers and the Perdue numbers were identical. The Ossoff numbers and the Warnock numbers were identical.

And it makes you wonder if people are going to -- it's unusual for there to be a split in a situation like this, whether if one of them is ahead, that both of them are likely to win on either side.

So, we will just have to look.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This election has been nationalized to such a degree that it's almost as if, in a way, they're interchangeable, these candidates, to many people, because the Republicans are claiming that both of these candidates are dangerous radicals, and that they are the firewall against socialism in this country.

This race, these races, are incredibly important. As we know, control of the Senate is at stake. The Biden agenda is at stake. You could argue the Biden presidency is at stake in all of this.

But these -- the Republicans have been very successful, I think, in saying, these are the people -- these people stand between you and radical socialism. The problem that the Republicans have is the president of the United States, who has complicated issues for them, because he's telling people that elections are rigged.

We have seen from these exit polls that people who have turned out to vote or sent in their ballots believed that it's going to be a free and fair election, and that their ballots will be counted.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Can I say something about the name-calling? I was talking to some people at Black Voters Matter. And they're saying that the actual -- the name-calling against Warnock in particular is actually driving a lot of their turnout, because they know Warnock. And they know that he is somebody who has stood up for poor people, who has stood up for working people. He's not any kind of a radical.

And so they're actually saying, Trump coming -- believe it or not, Trump coming and continuing to sort of stir the pot is actually helping to lift some of the turnout. And trying to get to the end of this race to get people to come out who haven't already, it's actually the name-calling.

Every time she mentions him, she says the radical, the radical. And they were saying in these big events, when that happened, you would just -- the whole room would just go nuts, so angry and want to go fight even harder.

COOPER: Rick, do you think the president's -- the visits, but also the rhetoric he's been doing about the election in general, does it motivate Republicans in Georgia to go out and vote and make it right? Does it make people stay home?

I mean, there's no way to judge it, I guess, unless -- well, we will see tonight.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, the president is a great motivator.

I mean, he...

JONES: On both sides.

SANTORUM: On both sides.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: I think we saw that in the November election. He can turn out people on both sides.

COOPER: Right.

SANTORUM: And I think he's turning out -- from all indications, this is going to be an historic election in Georgia, where you're going to see massive turnout here.

COOPER: Right.

[18:30:00]

SANTORUM: And the concern Republicans have is the massive turnout, will it happen on election day, which is needed for Republicans, because if you look at all of the early modeling that was done, the Democrats walking into Election Day had a pretty nice lead going into it. And can the president get those people energized? And from what it

seems to be and from the exit polls, the answer is yes. The question is, is it enough? I think we're going to have a close race. But I'm feeling better now than when I -- when I did when I sat down here.

COOPER: Yeah.

BORGER: Can we just say to everyone, be patient, because as with during the presidential election, you may see results that look one way early on because ballots start to get counted --

COOPER: There's going to be those suspicious midnight, you know --

BORGER: Those midnight dumps?

COOPER: Those dumps of voters -- votes.

BORGER: It might look one way at 7:00 at night and look another way --

COOPER: It is hard to be patient, given what is at stake. This 48-hour period is just this extraordinary period that we're going to be covering.

AXELROD: It really is, and the stakes really can't be overemphasized. The fact of the matter is, it really does matter who runs the United States Senate, who gets to control what reaches the floor, and who the committee chairs are.

I mean, you know, Senator Santorum can speak to this, it's going to be a narrow margin either way and that's going to create situations that are challenging for both sides, but who has essentially the gavel is really, really important. It's going to describe, how -- you know, what Joe Biden can do as president of the United States in many ways.

SANTORUM: Well, the real key question that conservatives and Republicans talk about is, not just who has the gavel, because historically, having a 50/50 control of the Senate didn't really give you much control. However, if the Democrats use this 50/50 control to abolish the filibuster, for example, then all of a sudden, 50/50 becomes just as powerful of a majority as a one-vote majority in the House, which is an absolute majority.

JONES: That's your fear. And here's our fear on the other side, is that, you know, if Mitch McConnell continues to act the way that he acted under Obama and the way that he tends to act, you basically have complete obstruction, the inability for Joe Biden to solve some of these problems. The reason people are out there voting right now, they need those survival checks. They need a better rollout on this vaccine. People need real help.

I think the fear that we have is, if you don't have control of the Senate, you're going to have exactly what you've got right now, an economy that is faltering, gridlock in Washington, D.C., a botched rollout on the vaccine, and real pain.

And so, you got fear on both sides. They're afraid of socialism. We're afraid of the pain that we have right now not being addressed even by President Biden.

BORGER: If anything -- if anything is going to get done at the Congress, it's going to be at the 40-yard line no matter who takes control. Obviously, Joe Biden wants control for the reasons that David laid out, not the least of which is getting his cabinet.

AXELORD: His appointees.

BORGER: Not -- right, not the least of which. But the question to me right now is so interesting, is Mitch McConnell. He's really mad at these people who are fooling around here, these -- the 12 or 13 folks who are causing him heartburn right now. And he said the vote we cast is the most consequential I'll ever cast. We know where he is on this Electoral College shenanigans.

So, is the Republican coalition going to be with Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz? Or is it going to be with Mitt Romney and Susan Collins and Senator Murkowski? Who knows?

COOPER: We are on the final countdown to the end of voting. But the first results in the Georgia Senate runoffs. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Polls close right at the top of the hour in this high stakes double Senate runoff in Georgia. We're standing by for the first votes. Stick around.

In the meantime, I want to go back to David Chalian who is getting more exit poll information.

What else are you learning?

CHALIAN: Yeah, we're looking at different demographic groups and how they have confidence in the vote count both in November and today. Look here in Georgia, in these runoffs. Among white voters, among white voters, was the 2020 presidential election in Georgia conducted fairly? Only 40 percent of white voters in this election say yes, 57 percent say no, that it was not conducted fairly back in November.

Compare that to black voters, Wolf. This difference is really astonishing. Eighty-eight percent of black voters in these races say, yeah, the November 2020 presidential election was conducted fairly. Only 9 percent of African-American voters say no, it wasn't.

What about confidence in the tallying of votes in this election? Well, look here. Among white voters, 63 percent say they are very or somewhat confident that their votes will be counted accurately today in these runoffs. Look at black voters, 93 percent say they're very or somewhat confident that their votes are going to be counted accurately.

You see a much more confident electorate among African-Americans than you do among white voters in Georgia as it relates to the conducting of the election, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very, very interesting indeed.

All right. David, stand by.

We're getting new information from Georgia's secretary of state's office.

CNN's Amara Walker is in Atlanta for us.

You were at this news conference I understand, Amara. What did you learn?

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, 20 minutes before the polls close and the overall message from Gabriel Sterling is that it has been so far a very smooth election day.

[18:40:08]

Just in the past hour or so, he did say that we are seeing lines approaching about an hour during this rush hour traffic. And he also mentioned that there are some polling sites in four counties, Houston, Cherokee, Paulding, and Forsythe, where they have been granting extensions to the voting time. So you'll now be seeing some polling sites there that will stay open until 7:04, as late as 7:40 to make up for some delays.

Also Sterling mentioned there was an accident near a precinct in Ware County that caused delays for about 45 minutes for voters to actually get to the precinct. So it's unclear at this time whether or not the county will go to court and request an extension.

But all in all, so far, Gabriel Sterling is saying things are moving steadily and smoothly. We should get the first flood of returns between 7:30 and 9:00 tonight. That is when we'll have a better idea of what the turnout looked like today on Election Day. We already saw a record breaking turnout in early votes, 3.1 million votes cast.

Gabriel Sterling saying, look, I don't want to make any predictions or estimates, it's hard to tell how many people are going to turn out or have turned out so far today. He's hoping to see between 600,000 to 1.1 million people voting here in Georgia in the Senate runoff today.

Back to you.

BLITZER: Today, more than 3 million did it early.

Amara, stick around, we'll get back to you.

John, we're going to get a ton of votes, but not necessarily a decisive amount. We're going to have to wait a while.

KING: We're going to have to wait a while. And again, if you were with us back in November, this will be a little different because all the localities in Georgia have been told this time, be prepared, process your early votes, process your absentee ballots, process them. You can't count them until the polls closed at 7:00, but process them so you can them right away, as opposed to setting them aside in November because they were overwhelmed with the pandemic.

But it's interesting, what Amara just said is important. Again, don't believe or don't make a bet on any one piece or two pieces or three pieces of anecdotal evidence. But what she just said in the report from Mr. Sterling, the election administrator, is very important, because what did she note? She said, in Forsythe County, there were lines there, long lines there waiting, they're going to keep some precincts open. Forsythe County, a big Republican county, absolutely critical to Republican chances tonight.

Another county she mentioned where there were lines is Cherokee County. Again, look at this, in the Senate race here, more than two to one there. Same in the presidential race, some more two to one. Turnout in these counties absolutely critical.

The Republicans expect when it comes to early voting, in-person or mail-in, that the Democrats, when those votes are counted, will have an advantage. So, today, turnout is critical. Lines in Cherokee County.

Again, there are 159 counties in Georgia, I'm not saying go make a bet in Vegas on this. But it's important.

Where else did she mention? She came down here and she mentioned Houston County, again, not as big a margin but a Republican county where they say there are lines of people wait to go vote, that's very important there.

And the fourth county she mentioned was up here, just west of Atlanta, northwest of Atlanta, Paulding County.

Again, all four of the counties I just mentioned, Wolf, reliably Republican places, Republicans saying it's essential that they have those lines as the polls, that they have a high Election Day turnout to counter the Democratic advantage in early voting. Those four counties do not tell us the full picture, but if you're a Republican and you're trying to ask, are we doing what we need to do, those are the places you're looking, especially Cherokee and Forsyth, larger counties.

We're looking, are we getting our Election Day turnout? So, if you're looking for nuggets, just to keep you in the game, and you're a Republican, you'd be encouraged by that.

But remember, the polls close soon. We have a lot of votes to count.

BLITZER: We certainly do, and we will be counting them together with everyone else.

All right. John, stand by.

We're getting closer and closer to the end of voting across most of Georgia right now. We're awaiting the first votes, and the last word on who controls the United States Senate. It's all ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:48:50]

BLITZER: Take a look at these live pictures coming in from Atlanta, Georgia. Beautiful shot indeed.

We're closing in on the first results in the Georgia Senate run-offs. Polls across most of the state right now will close right at the top of the hour. Two crucial contests at stake, pitting Democrat Raphael Warnock against GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Jon Ossoff against Republican incumbent David Perdue.

We could soon get our first sense of whether Democrats are on track to win both seats and take control of the U.S. Senate building on President-elect Biden's historic victory. Remember, Republicans need to win only one of the seats to stay in charge of the Senate, allowing Mitch McConnell and the GOP to hold on to a center of power right here in Washington.

Jake, the polls are about to close in these two very important Senate races.

TAPPER: That's right, Wolf. As voting winds down preparations to count the ballots are under way. We're inside processing centers in Atlanta and DeKalb County.

Right now, let's go back to our correspondents covering the campaigns.

Kyung Lah, one of the Democratic Senate candidates made a short stop a while ago.

[18:50:00]

LAH: In the very last hour, we're told that Jon Ossoff stopped by a precinct, a heavily Democratic precinct to talk to voters and wave at them and do some line warming. This is a last hour ditch effort in this precinct to try to keep the faithful in line. We're seeing tweets now from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris urging anyone who is in line to stay in line. If you're in line at 7:00 p.m. in the state of Georgia, you can stay in line.

We're told from the Ossoff campaign, from there, he is going to be heading to sit and watch the returns with his campaign.

As far as the Warnock campaign, he will also be in the Atlanta area. His campaign says they believe what has broken through and will ultimately get him across the finish line is the message of the new south. That Warnock represents the new south. He would be the first black senator from Georgia. Jon Ossoff would be the very first Jewish senator from Georgia.

They believe that those positive inspirational messages are what got Democrats out and will ultimately lead to a Democratic victory. So, again, polls close at 7:00. We're seeing a flurry of messages from the Democrats to stay in line, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kyung Lah, thanks so much. Now to CNN's Ryan Nobles at the GOP candidates' headquarters.

And, Ryan, Republicans are sending a message to voters tonight as well.

NOBLES: Yeah, that's right, Jake. You know, we have talked all night about how important election day is in terms of turnout for the Republican candidates and that means right up to 7:00 and past 7:00 if need be. The Republicans I'm talking to say in particular that they've been impressed by the surge in turnout in key Republican counties in the 5:00 p.m. hour after many people have ended their work day. There were long lines in some key counties particularly in the northern part of the state where President Trump was last night.

And then in the southeast along the coast where there are some key red counties as well. What they are, much like was said, the Democrats there are encouraging Republicans if they get in line before 7:00 to stay in line because as long as you are there before the polls close you are able to vote.

In addition to that, Jake, Republicans are focused on the fact that there have been court ordered mandates that extended the time that voting can take place in certain precincts in several counties, so they want to make sure to reach out to all the Republican voters and say if you haven't cast that ballot there is a good chance you're going to have an opportunity before 7:00 tonight.

So the Republicans, we emphasized this all night, they need to get their voters out on election night. That is why they are not stopping their push to get them to the polls before they close which now looks to be well after 7:00 tonight -- Jake.

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

Now let's check in on the voting with Amara Walker. She's been getting information on what comes next.

What are you learning from the Office of Secretary of State Raffensperger?

WALKER: Well, the overall message has been that the voting has been going quite smoothly, and towards the end of the day in the last hour or so, they've been reporting longer lines at four different counties.

The news, though, was that there are some polling sites in four different counties that have been granted not very long extensions closing from 7:01 to about 7:40 tonight. Those four counties granted extensions at a precinct is Gwinnett, Columbia, Tift, and Chatham Counties. Tift -- a precinct in Tift County that will remain open until 7:40 tonight to make up for some delays.

We know that there are three counties where some precincts have also requested extensions. They have not yet been granted. But Sterling did say that typically these extensions are granted by the court. And so, these counties include Cobb, Gilmer, and Cherokee. So, that's the latest. Overall things have been going smoothly. The

polls are closing in the next ten minutes and we should be getting a pretty good idea of just the turnout in the next couple hours. Back to you.

TAPPER: All right. Thank you so much. I am really eager to hear what that turnout number is because at the beginning of the day, I was told by Republicans and Democrats that the higher the turnout today, the better for Republicans. Usually, people think better turnout is good for Democrats.

But Democrats have banked so much on the early vote and the vote by mail and the thought was if turnout is around 850,000 or less, Democrats have a shot because it's going to be disproportionately today's vote Republican but if it is 900,000 or more, then Republicans will probably have a pretty good night.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I think that's probably about right because of, you know, we were even talking about the in-person early absentee vote being in record territory.

[18:55:03]

You know, over 3 million votes cast even before today but if Republicans can have a pretty significant lead today, they can catch up and that's what they're hoping for.

And I think Democrats are realistic about this. They're realistic that Republican voters, the most reliable ones, the ones who care about party control of the Senate are going to show up today. Those are the people who are easier voters to turnout frankly than many voters, Democrats have to rely upon typically in most elections, younger voters, people of color in particular who are just very difficult constituencies to get out to vote.

BASH: And that's the key here is, I mean, it is cliche to say it's about turnout, but even more than on a normal election in a runoff election, it's not about whether or not you necessarily like the person or whether you're necessarily deciding between two ideologies. It's what do you feel like voting on January 5th?

And that's why we heard from Stacey Abrams in the last hour about the effort they have made, the remarkable effort they have had under way for years but particularly in the last several weeks. Republicans have, you know, lots of paid staff on the ground, lots of effort with surrogates, with a lot of money. I mean, there's no shortage of money on both sides.

But the Republicans in particular understand that this is a very different terrain, Georgia, than it has been in a very long time, which is why they -- it's the only show in town -- but why they devoted so many resources to getting out the vote.

TAPPER: So, we are all eagerly awaiting, Wolf, that number today. How many people voted today in Georgia? Wolf?

BLITZER: And that will give us a good indication of what potentially could happen.

Let's go over to Pamela Brown. She's at the CNN voting desk watching all of this.

More than 3 million Georgians voted early and now we'll see how many voted today.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I just spoke to Gabriel Sterling who is the voting systems manager there in Georgia. And he tells me we'll see a flood of results between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time, and that's because polls close in just a few minutes in a majority of places in Georgia, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

We do know a few of the polling places will stay open a little later in the 7:00 p.m. hour due to issues in some areas. But the big question when you think about that of course is what are you going to see when we see those results?

And here's what we know. We're going to take a look, a closer look at Atlanta, Metro Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs particularly Cobb and Gwinnett Counties. We know that they will tabulate early votes first. That, of course, would seem to favor the Democrats. They plan to report votes by 8:00 p.m. tonight that first wave.

And then you look at DeKalb County. They plan to count absentee ballots first. Again, that would favor the Democrats. Then they're going to process the in-person election and early voting in-person votes. They tell us their officials there in DeKalb tell us a majority of the results will be counted tonight. The deadline for final results there is on Friday.

But what is interesting to note is my colleague, Nick Valencia, is reporting tonight that there were more in-person voters today in DeKalb County than there were in November on Election Day then. So, that's worth noting. And, of course, these are also counties we're keeping an eye on because these are counties that Biden won during the general election. This is where Democrats are looking closely to try to drive that turn out.

BLITZER: We're going to look for all sorts of indications on who is up and who's down. Everybody stand by.

John King, you're looking as closely as anyone right now with the magic wall to help.

KING: Right. And so, this is the 2020 Senate race between David Perdue and Jon Ossoff. In just a moment -- a few moments, the polls close and we'll start to fill this in. Places where the precincts were kept open will wait a little bit.

Where we're going to look for, well, let's use the 2020 map and just think about it. Pam just mentioned and it is very important the Atlanta and the suburbs around it. This is the bulk of the population of the state, the key to Joe Biden's victory, and also a dramatically big challenge tonight. Can those Republican candidates David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have a

traditional Georgia race in the suburbs? Will they do as Georgia Republicans traditionally do in the suburbs here or will they suffer as President Trump did when he was on the ballot from the suburban revolt we've seen throughout the Trump presidency? Without Trump on the ballot Republicans are hoping they will do better there.

Another giant question is because of the president's attacks on the governor, attacks on the system, attacks on the secretary of state, will some Trump voters stay home and say I don't trust the process? Where we're going to look for that? Well, one places we'll look for is right up here along the northern border up here, Murray County up here, Whitfield County where the president had his rally last night. Does the Trump base turn out?

And again, it's anecdotal but it is important to note, we have heard already that there are long lines in Forsyth County, that's a big Republican county, and long lines in Cherokee County. That is key to Republican turn out today.

Wolf, we know where we're going to watch and pretty soon, we get to count them.

BLITZER: We'll get the actual results. That's so significant.

We are just moments away now from the end of voting across most of Georgia. Control of the United States Senate is at stake.

[19:00:00]