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Cruz Tells Ga. Voters To Turn Out For Runoffs Despite Presidential Results

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is a big week for democracy. Tomorrow, Georgia holds two runoff elections that decide control of the Senate. Wednesday, Congress formally ratifies the presidential election results. Joe Biden received 306 electoral votes, as affirmed by all 50 states and dozens of lawsuits. But Congress' ratification of those results will not be unanimous. Numerous Republicans will go on the record against a democratic election. They've said they plan to object to the choice of the people. They will instead amplify President Trump's baseless claims of fraud.

In a lengthy phone call on Saturday, the president made more false claims to the secretary of state of Georgia. Having promoted false conspiracy theories, the defeated president asked Brad Raffensperger to join him in an actual conspiracy. He said they were both Republicans, so Raffensperger should, quote, "find" exactly enough votes for Trump to win Georgia by a single vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state. And flipping the state is a great testament to our country.

INSKEEP: Our colleague Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting obtained the full recording. In it, Raffensperger declined to change the results, saying the president had his facts wrong.

We focus now on one of the Republicans who are promoting the president's drive against democracy. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is leading a group of senators who will object to the election on Wednesday. Cruz has also been campaigning in Georgia's democratic election. So what does Cruz say about that phone call? NPR's Sarah McCammon reports from Atlanta.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Even in Georgia, it's chilly this time of year, but not too cold for an outdoor campaign event.

TED CRUZ: Georgia's got two Senate seats on the ballot on Tuesday.

MCCAMMON: During a stop outside Atlanta, Texas Senator Ted Cruz warned about what he says will happen if Republicans lose control of the Senate.

CRUZ: All across the country, the forces of darkness...

MCCAMMON: ...Are focused on Georgia, Cruz claimed. He alluded to unfounded and repeatedly debunked claims of election fraud by President Trump and other Republicans. But he told conservative voters those claims should not keep them from showing up for this election.

CRUZ: If you're mad about what happened on Election Day, the answer is - show up on Tuesday and win a resounding victory.

MCCAMMON: Without evidence, Cruz has cast doubt on the results of the November election. He's gathered a group of senators to object to Biden's certification as president-elect. That's despite repeated affirmations by the courts and many Republican officials that the election was legitimate. Among those officials is Georgia's own Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who's been the subject of repeated attacks by President Trump since certifying Biden's victory in Georgia. In a recording obtained by Georgia Public Broadcasting, Trump can be heard pushing Raffensperger to add more votes to his tally and overturn the legitimate vote count.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And there's nothing wrong with saying that - you know, that you've recalculated because...

MCCAMMON: In the lengthy exchange, Raffensperger and other Georgia officials repeatedly pushed back on the president's false statements.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And even if you cut them in half, cut them in half and cut them in half again, it's more votes than we need.

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER: Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.

MCCAMMON: Campaigning in Savannah on behalf of Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock after the recording surfaced, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris called it the voice of desperation and an abuse of power by President Trump. Meanwhile, Republicans dodged questions about the recording. After his speech outside Atlanta, I asked Cruz to respond.

CRUZ: My focus - I've been here campaigning on the ground. Now this is my third trip to Georgia during this special election. I was here yesterday...

MCCAMMON: I asked about the November election.

CRUZ: I understand, but I'm going to answer what I think matters for the voters of Georgia. And what matters for the voters of Georgia is the special election that is happening on Tuesday for the United States' Senate - that is, control of the Senate.

MCCAMMON: Asked whether he will accept the results of that election, Cruz walked away from reporters.

CRUZ: And so it all comes down to turnout on Tuesday. All right. Thank you, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: About the runoffs, though - do you think you'd trust the results of the runoffs?

MCCAMMON: Political strategist Rick Tyler is a former aide to Cruz's 2016 campaign for the Republican nomination. He opposes Trump, and he says Trump is complicating Republicans' message in Georgia.

RICK TYLER: How do you stand up in front of people and say, go vote for my two Republican candidates while at the same time you're saying the whole system is corrupt and it's rigged and your vote doesn't matter? That's not reconcilable, and it makes no sense.

MCCAMMON: But Tyler says Republicans like Cruz are likely to keep repeating Trump's message, however irreconcilable, in an effort to keep the support of Trump's base.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.