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Analysis shows lower turnout cost GOP Georgia Senate runoffs; Republican strategists blame Trump

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GOP strategists argue Trump's claims of election fraud discouraged his supporters from voting.

Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Last month, Democrats won both Georgia runoff Senate elections, handing President Joe Biden's Democratic Party full control of Congress to ram through his agenda. New analysis from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows that Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler lost their bids for re-election because many Georgia Republican voters stayed home rather than turn out to vote.

According to voting records, more than 752,000 Georgia voters who cast ballots in the presidential election did not show up to vote in the runoffs two months later. The AJC analysis found that more than half of the voters who stayed home were white, rural voters in areas that lean Republican. Meanwhile, 228,000 new racially diverse, younger voters who did not vote in the November election and lean Democratic did vote in the runoff. The analysis suggests the discrepancy in turnout led to Democratic victories.

After Democrats swept both runoff elections for U.S. Senate in Georgia last month, Republican strategists blamed former President Donald Trump's refusal to concede the election as a contributing factor to their loss. These strategists say that Trump's insistence that the election was rigged convinced voters that there was no point in showing up to vote, dampening turnout and leading to the Democrats' victory.

"Telling everyone that the race was stolen when it wasn't cost the Republicans two Senate seats," Georgia resident and conservative radio host Erick Erickson told NPR. "The going all-in on the cult of personality around President Trump hurt them as a result. They had to play up this, 'There's no way Donald Trump could have lost. It had to be stolen from him.'"

At least some Republican voters who spoke to the AJC about why they didn't vote said they felt discouraged because they believed the election was stolen.

"What good would it have done to vote? They have votes that got changed," 61-year-old Craig Roland said. "I don't know if I'll ever vote again."

Another voter said she didn't think the Republicans had earned her vote after Trump lost Georgia by fewer than 12,000 votes.

"I don't feel anybody was worth voting for. They're all crooked in my opinion," Mary Lambert, a 39-year-old from Ringgold, said.

According to the AJC, the drop in Republican turnout was most severe in northwest and South Georgia, the areas where Trump held rallies to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue. During those rallies, Trump went off-message about the need for Republicans to win the Senate seats, spending a significant portion of his speeches attacking Georgia Republicans for failing to prove his claims that the election was rigged for Democrats.

Republican strategists who were reportedly close to the GOP Senate campaigns complained to NPR that Trump's attacks and his demands that Loeffler and Perdue support his claims about the election created havoc for the senators.

"It was a hostage situation every day," said one Republican strategist familiar with the campaigns who only agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.

"We were always trying to guard against the tweet [from Trump]," the strategist said.

"Every week we had some new sort of demand," said another strategist involved with the campaigns. "Calling for the hand recount. The signature match. A special session. $2,000 [coronavirus relief] checks. Objecting to the electors."

"It was, 'If you do not do this, the president will actively work against you and you will lose,' " he recalled.

Polling conducted by the AJC found that more than three-quarters of Republican voters in Georgia believe there was widespread fraud in the presidential election, while only 4% of Democrats thought so.

Georgia election officials maintain that there is no evidence of significant, widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. The AJC notes that state officials reviewed the results of the presidential election "with machine recounts, a manual audit of every ballot, an audit of voting machines, and an audit of absentee ballot envelope signatures."

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