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Georgia voters weigh in ahead of the Biden-Trump debate

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Just under 12,000 votes separated Joe Biden and Donald Trump when they last shared a ballot in Georgia. Now the two rivals are preparing to share a debate stage this week in Atlanta as they fight for the slice of Georgia voters who could swing the election. WABE's Sam Gringlas reports.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Woo (ph).

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: When the heat index tops a hundred, the Wills Park pool in Alpharetta is like a magnet. On this summer Saturday, a DJ bumps Taylor Swift near the snack bar. Kids spring from a tall diving board, competing for prizes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Inaud***).

GRINGLAS: Prasad and Mansi Vichare are keeping an eye on their kids splashing in the pool. Both identify as political independents. Both feel the debates are kind of pointless.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE BLOWING)

PRASAD VICHARE: I think, to be honest, they're a waste. But that's just my opinion.

MANSI VICHARE: I'm indifferent. I'm indifferent. They're going to have to say what people would like, not say what people would not like. So I feel like it's somewhat vague sometimes. And so I don't know if it's really that helpful.

GRINGLAS: Nearby, Kerry Webster is reading a novel on a lounge chair in the sun.

So there's a debate coming up in Atlanta.

KERRY WEBSTER: Yeah.

GRINGLAS: Do you think you'll watch? And do you think that'll make...

WEBSTER: Probably not.

GRINGLAS: ...A difference?

WEBSTER: I don't know. I tell you, I mean, I'm just not motivated, you know? I don't know that I feel like my vote makes a big difference.

GRINGLAS: But Webster lives in a state and a suburban community that helped decide the presidency in 2020. So she's exactly the kind of voter Biden and Trump need to persuade. She doesn't like her choices for president. And though she voted for Trump last time, now he's a felon.

WEBSTER: He's a conniver. He's just not a good person, you know? He's really not. But the economy was better, you know? And Biden - I feel like I don't know that he does a whole lot, you know, for us. I hate to say.

GRINGLAS: Madalyn Ford is concerned some voters just don't get the stakes. Ford says she's voted for Republicans and Democrats but never Trump. At 73, she worries about the country her grandkids will inherit and says she won't miss the debate.

MADALYN FORD: This is really important for Biden. He's better get a good night's rest. I don't think he's got dementia, but he's old, and this is super-important.

GRINGLAS: Polls suggest Biden has gained ground with older voters, particularly women. But support from younger voters of color - long Democrats' bread and butter - appears to be softening. Millennial Deanna McKay says she struggled with whether her vote matters. McKay voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. She says she'll watch the debate with an open mind.

DEANNA MCKAY: Socially Biden but, like, financially Trump. And that's kind of a tough place to be because these aren't the two candidates that I would choose.

GRINGLAS: McKay says she cares about affordable housing and reproductive rights, though she says she doesn't directly blame Trump for the fall of Roe v. Wade, despite his three appointments cementing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Our Trump headquarters, the first one in Georgia, is officially open.

GRINGLAS: The campaigns are gearing up to reach voters like McKay.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you all so much for coming out.

GRINGLAS: The Trump campaign recently opened its first field office in a tidy building south of Atlanta.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Please come check out the office, meet our staff. And most importantly, sign up to volunteer to reelect our president. Republicans up and down the ticket...

GRINGLAS: After Biden flipped Georgia blue in 2020, Republicans swept every statewide office in the midterms except for the Senate seat held onto by Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock. Democrats see a strong ground game as crucial. This week they opened an Atlanta campaign office with a Juneteenth block party. Vice President Kamala Harris, lately a regular in Atlanta, came to help.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAMALA HARRIS: Somebody asked me if I was moving here. I said, maybe (laughter).

GRINGLAS: Supporters enjoyed barbecue and snow cones. Voter Val Akre (ph) says she's fired up for Biden-Harris but is approaching this campaign season cautiously.

VAL AKRE: I'm very nervous. I'll be honest. You know, there's a lot of disinformation out there, disengagement out there. So, I'm, you know, doing everything on my part that I can to get people engaged.

GRINGLAS: Akre says she'll be watching when Biden and Trump debate this week a few miles away. For NPR News, I'm Sam Gringlas in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sam Gringlas
Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.
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