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Election Day Closes In On Republicans And Democrats


We are hearing closing arguments now, the final case Republicans and Democrats are making before tomorrow's election. Steve Inskeep went to two weekend campaign rallies. They were in different states, for different gubernatorial candidates, but each rally featured a presidential headliner. And we begin in Atlanta, Ga.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: But there's a big line right there.


Producer Ashley Westerman and I walked outside the basketball arena at Morehouse College.

Are you the very first person in line?

BARBARA MCKEE: Very first person.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK. What's your name, if you don't mind my asking?

MCKEE: I'm Barbara McKee.

INSKEEP: Barbara McKee, how long you been standing here?

MCKEE: Well, since about 8:30 last night, 8:45.


MCKEE: Last night, yes.


She was using a walker. She has cancer.

Why was it so important to be first in line?

MCKEE: Because Stacey is an advocate for Medicare. So it's very important that she get in because I'm on Medicare.

INSKEEP: Stacey is Stacey Abrams, Georgia's Democratic candidate for governor.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting) Stacey. Stacey. Stacey.

INSKEEP: Jackie Stewart and Nikita Hammond want a Democratic governor and a Democratic Congress.

What is one thing you want the next Congress to do?

JACKIE STEWART: Health care.

NIKITA HAMMOND: No, no, no, no. The first thing Congress needs to do is protect Mueller.

INSKEEP: Oh, the Mueller investigation, the Russia investigation.

HAMMOND: Yes, they need to protect Mueller. Once they protect Mueller, then they can do everything else.

INSKEEP: Some people who filed inside were dressed up in three-piece suits and heels.

This is Forbes Arena. We've got in ahead of some of the crowd, which is now filling a kind of mosh pit on the basketball floor in front of the stage, people filling the stands as well.


INSKEEP: American flags, giant American flags, have been set up along with big signs that say simply, vote.


RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Hello, Democrats.

INSKEEP: Raphael Warnock is pastor of the church where Martin Luther King once preached.


WARNOCK: God calls us to faith and action. So we recommit ourselves, oh, God, tonight to the work of justice and to the art of democracy. We thank you for sending us servant leaders...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting) Stacey. Stacey. Stacey. Stacey. Stacey. Stacey. Stacey.

STACEY ABRAMS: My name is Stacey Abrams, and I intend to be the next governor of Georgia.

INSKEEP: She wants to be the nation's first black female governor. Atlanta star power was in the room - the rapper 2 Chainz, the actor Chris Tucker, Kandi Burruss of "Real Housewives Of Atlanta." The crowd was racially diverse, young and old. At least one person identified as trans, and one woman wore a peach-colored headscarf. Peach - it's Georgia.


ABRAMS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: In a conservative state, the candidate for governor wore a purple blazer and sometimes sounded centrist.


ABRAMS: When I was the House minority leader, I blocked the largest tax increase on working families in Georgia history.

INSKEEP: But she's more progressive than past Southern Democrats, promising to expand Medicaid and spend on public schools.


ABRAMS: That's why I intend to be Georgia's public education governor.

INSKEEP: She has also advocated voting rights.


ABRAMS: And the thing of it is, I've had to do this against Georgia's homegrown architect of voter suppression.

INSKEEP: Abrams' opponent is the Georgia secretary of state. Brian Kemp is overseeing his own election and was criticized for cutting many people from voter rolls. Kemp accused Abrams herself of failing to register them properly, but she made fair elections part of her message.


ABRAMS: I know that we can't wait for change. As someone said, we must be the change we want to see.

INSKEEP: The Democratic candidate never mentioned the president, at least not the current president.


ABRAMS: State of Georgia, the 44th president of the United States, President Barack Hussein Obama.

INSKEEP: He wore a dark blazer and an open-collared shirt, and he'd gone hoarse during a round of campaign stops. People shouted they couldn't hear him.


BARACK OBAMA: Well, there's only so much I can do because my voice is starting to go. So you just got to pay real close attention. Making sure working families get a fair shake is on the ballot. But maybe most of all, the character of our country is on the ballot.

INSKEEP: The former president noted that Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare. But now that it's more popular, Republicans are pledging to protect a key part of it.


OBAMA: Suddenly, they are saying that they're the ones to protect people with pre-existing conditions. They - I want everybody to pay attention to this - they have literally been doing the opposite of what they're now saying.

INSKEEP: Obama finished his closing argument urging his supporters to turn Georgia blue.


OBAMA: God bless you, these United States of America.

INSKEEP: And we got a night's sleep before heading to the airport the next morning.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Zone 2, you're welcome to board.

INSKEEP: Well, that's our zone. We finished the Democratic rally here in Atlanta, and now we're boarding a flight to Pensacola, Fla., to attend a very different rally with a different president.

Where Democrats met in a gym, Republicans told supporters to meet the president at an airport in Florida.


INSKEEP: We're in the sunshine. We're in a field. It's on the edge of the Pensacola airport.

People parked here on the grass to line up for shuttle buses to the Republican rally.

Whoa, just got hit by a giant beach ball that says 2018.

We found Will Beasley at the front of the line, where he had been since the day before.



BEASLEY: Great to meet you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Just one quick question, though.

BEASLEY: I want to ask you a question first.


BEASLEY: Can I ask you a question?


BEASLEY: What is your favorite thing about Donald Trump?

INSKEEP: I'm not going to talk about that 'cause I'm a journalist. I try to keep my opinion out of it.


INSKEEP: OK, what is your favorite thing about Donald Trump?

MATTHEWS: Because everything that he said he was going to do he has done. He's a wonderful president. There's nothing that you can say bad about him.

INSKEEP: That's Will's wife, Miranda Matthews.

What is one thing you want the next Congress to do?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Build the wall.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Close the borders.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Build a wall. Pass the middle-class tax cuts.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Close the borders.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: And hold the corruption in the government accountable.

INSKEEP: Farther back, Delores Morris is comfortable with the Republican candidates for governor and senator, but there was no doubt who she had come to see.

DELORES MORRIS: This is on my bucket list, to see a president before I pass away.

INSKEEP: And she's glad that president is Trump. She sometimes winces when he talks but rejects the idea that he is divisive.

MORRIS: He says things that are - that might be critical, but they're not critical in a way that's bad. It's just telling the truth.

INSKEEP: Although I'm thinking about something like that caravan that he's talking a lot about now.

MORRIS: Specifically what about that caravan?

INSKEEP: Well, I'm thinking about the way that it's pretty far away, but he acts like it's an imminent threat. And he says the Democrats are behind it.

MORRIS: Behind it - I believe they are behind it.

INSKEEP: Why would Democrats be behind this thing that Trump can use as a big election issue?

MORRIS: Well, we know that they were behind a lot with the Supreme Court nominee, all of that - things that happened.

INSKEEP: She does not believe the story of a woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

School buses ferried this crowd of thousands to an airplane hangar.


MEL PONDER: Good evening, everybody. If you would, we'll begin this evening with prayer.

INSKEEP: Mel Ponder, a state representative and pastor, requested a moment of silence to remember recent shootings in Pittsburgh and in Tallahassee.


PONDER: Bless our first responders and those called into harm's way, Lord. Lord, we release your peace and your blessings into this place, and we pray all this in Jesus' name. And everybody said amen.


INSKEEP: It was a crowd overwhelmingly white, casually dressed, a lot of red Trump hats and T-shirts. A father held his daughter on his shoulders to watch Air Force One taxi up to an open door of the hangar. Vice President Mike Pence came down the steps and climbed to the lectern.


PONDER: Introduce to you the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.

INSKEEP: The president called out a celebrity in attendance, a boxer whose fights Trump's casinos once hosted.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Evander the Real Deal Holyfield. Where's Evander? What a great champion. What a great champion. Evander - I've made so much money on Evander.

INSKEEP: And he acted as master of ceremonies, introducing Republicans running for senator and governor.


TRUMP: You have only one choice - Ron DeSantis for governor. He's going to be a great, great governor. Ron, come on up.

INSKEEP: DeSantis is a veteran and former congressman in a red tie much like the president's. And he promises to keep taxes down.


RON DESANTIS: I'm also the only candidate that can say that I've never been - had my palms greased by an undercover FBI agent while I've been in office.

INSKEEP: That's a reference to Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate. He's mayor of Tallahassee, where the FBI is investigating city officials' links to real estate developers. After delivering that line, DeSantis turned to the president, who still owns a real estate business.


DESANTIS: And we have such a good opportunity to bring more investment to Florida. Mr. President, I just want you to know when I become governor, I'm going to go to Don Jr. and Eric, and I'm going to try to bring The Trump Organization to Palm Beach.

TRUMP: Good.

DESANTIS: We can save you a lot of money.

INSKEEP: When the president took back the microphone, he took aim at Gillum, who is seeking to become Florida's first black governor.


TRUMP: I will say this. Andrew Gillum is not equipped to be your governor. He's just not equipped. It's not for him. It's not for him.

INSKEEP: The president promoted the strong economy and the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. But he grew most animated as he spoke of the caravan, which he linked without evidence to Democrats.


TRUMP: They want to invite caravan after caravan. And it is a little suspicious how those caravans are starting, isn't it? Isn't it a little? And I think it's a good thing maybe that they did it. Did they energize our base or what?

INSKEEP: He told his listeners they face danger.


TRUMP: They want to turn America into a giant sanctuary city for violent predators and ruthless gang members like MS-13. No, thank you. You can have them.

INSKEEP: And he told citizens of this southern state that people were trying to destroy their history and American heritage.


TRUMP: So I'm asking every citizen from every party, every background and every race, color and creed to reject the Democrat politics of anger and division, reclaim our proud and righteous destiny as Americans.

INSKEEP: Listening to closing arguments in succeeding days revealed something about each party's candidates and core voters. In Atlanta, Democrats were most clear about what they want. In Pensacola, Republicans were most clear about who they want and also what they fear.


TRUMP: Thank you, Florida. Thank you.


LONDON BACH CHOIR: (Singing) I saw her today at the reception, a glass of wine in her hand. I knew she would meet... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.