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Biden and Trump made general election pitches in Georgia

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Tomorrow the 2024 presidential primary season continues, at least on paper, with several states voting. One of them is Georgia, where both former President Donald Trump and President Biden campaigned on Saturday in an unofficial kickoff for the general election. NPR's Stephen Fowler is in Atlanta covering the weekend's events for us. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey, there.

SCHMITZ: So President Biden visited Georgia as one of the first two stops of his, following his State of the Union address on Thursday. Now, I'm guessing he chose Georgia for a good reason.

FOWLER: Absolutely, Rob. I mean, it's a state he won by just 12,000 votes in 2020. He was the first Democrat to win the state's electoral votes in a generation. Georgia's electorate is rapidly growing, rapidly diversifying and rapidly shifting towards Democrats on the strength of Black voters and other non-white groups in metro Atlanta specifically. His coalition here also includes a notable amount of independent and moderate Republican suburban voters turned off by Donald Trump.

That said, these groups have some dissatisfaction with the president, and it's part of what's driving lower poll numbers during this time period, which is still quite far from the election, I'll add. So depending on your perspective, Biden's either shoring up support with key constituencies or pointing out to the haters that these groups are - to borrow the campaign slogan for the event - on board with Biden.

SCHMITZ: Now let's turn to Donald Trump. He held his campaign event in northwest Georgia Saturday night, and it was his first rally in the state since he was criminally processed there for charges related to the 2020 election. So Stephen, what did his speech tell us about his strategy heading into this year's election?

FOWLER: Well, in many ways, Trump's rallies are the same no matter where and when they are - thousands of loyal supporters, bombastic policy proclamations like mass deportations and a complete shutdown of the U.S. border, riffs on news of the day. I mean, Trump also regularly rails against the nearly 100 criminal charges against him. That's extra relevant in Georgia, where a grand jury handed up more than a dozen charges last year after his failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Here he is talking about Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who's overseeing that case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: So corrupt Fani Willis hired her lover, Nathan Wade, so they could fraudulently make money together. Let's make money, darling. Let's see, who can we go after?

FOWLER: I'll note here, this sidebar is about accusations the prosecutor has a conflict of interest and financially benefited from prosecuting Trump and others, which the DA's office has denied. But really, it's emblematic of the personal vendettas that pepper Trump's message and the messiness that surrounds these criminal cases and the campaign.

SCHMITZ: Now, the presidential primary races may be pretty much wrapped up before Georgians finish voting. Is there anything else we should be looking at in tomorrow's results?

FOWLER: A few things - I mean, one, I've talked to Democrats who say they're joining the movement to express displeasure with Biden's handling of conflict between Israel and Hamas by leaving their ballots blank. It's a last-minute grassroots effort, so areas where we see those non-votes show up will have to be a focus point for Biden in the next eight months.

The other big data point will be how many votes Trump doesn't get, more specifically, in Atlanta's northern suburbs. These voters are some of the ones who supported both Georgia's Republican governor Brian Kemp and Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock in 2022. They aren't a fan of Trump's direction he's taking the Republican Party and could be one of the deciding factors in who wins the state. That said, Rob, it is a long way until people actually have to vote. But understanding Biden's and Trump's strengths and weaknesses through the lens of Georgia's results will help you understand the rest of the road to November.

SCHMITZ: That is NPR's Stephen Fowler in Atlanta. Thanks, Stephen.

FOWLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRAKE SONG, "STORIES ABOUT MY BROTHER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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