LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
So Georgia was a reliably Republican state for most of the past three decades, but this year - not so much. The presidential race has come down to about a 10,000-vote lead for President-elect Joe Biden, with a recount being planned. That's in Georgia. Georgia could help increase the size of Biden's victory and decide control of the Senate, as NPR's Sarah McCammon reports from Atlanta.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: The mood was jubilant in Freedom Park as elated Atlanta-area voters scattered themselves around the lawn, wearing masks and Biden-Harris T-shirts, while passing drivers honked their horns.
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MCCAMMON: Damian Denson was sitting on a hillside, wearing a campaign shirt from a disappointing election for Democrats two years ago, when Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the governor's race to Republican Brian Kemp after a contentious election.
DAMIAN DENSON: So today feels like redemption and vindication. And so I'm so excited and happy about the results.
MCCAMMON: Like many of Abrams' supporters, Denson was angered that Kemp, then Georgia's secretary of state, had purged hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls. Since then, Abrams has led efforts to register hundreds of thousands of new Georgia voters and helped raise tens of millions of dollars for voter mobilization. Denson credits that work with turning the state from red to purple.
DENSON: This is the new Georgia. It's just so exhilarating and exciting. And I think having an election turn like this shows the nation that this is the South. Yeah. We're diverse, too.
MCCAMMON: Georgia's increasing diversity, fueled by a mix of immigration and people moving to cities like Atlanta from around the country, is a big part of the story. Amy Steigerwalt is a political science professor at Georgia State University.
AMY STEIGERWALT: We've always had the largest middle-class Black population in the country. But what we're also seeing is growing Hispanic and Asian American communities. And importantly, those communities are also becoming much more actively engaged in the political process.
MCCAMMON: In the form of increased voter registration and participation among those groups. Georgia's Democratic Party chairwoman, Nikema Williams, was just elected to Congress, replacing the late civil rights activist John Lewis. Williams says everything came together for the party in 2020.
NIKEMA WILLIAMS: And so this year, we were at the perfect intersection of the racial unrest in the street, of a presidential election cycle and coming off the aftermath of the 2018 gubernatorial election.
MCCAMMON: Those shifts could force Republicans to retool their message, says Rusty Paul, a former chairman of the Georgia GOP and current mayor of Sandy Springs, Ga., outside Atlanta. He says Trump's demeanor was off-putting to some of his suburban constituents.
RUSTY PAUL: We've got to broaden the base. I mean, we have been relying on a shrinking base of voters in the state of Georgia for too long. It's predominantly white. It's much older. It's blue-collar.
MCCAMMON: That's a problem national Republicans had been talking about just before Trump's ascendance in the party. The next big test of each party's message to Georgia's changing electorate comes in January. That's when voters go back to the polls for two Senate runoff elections, which could decide control of the Senate and, with it, President-elect Biden's ability to carry out his agenda.
Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Atlanta.
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