Warnock, Walker rally with closers as Georgians vote in droves to build Senate muscle

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by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

December 2, 2022

Sen. Raphael Warnock’s reelection bid received a late boost Thursday from former President Barack Obama, who urged supporters to show up once again in force at the ballot box despite the lower stakes in this year’s runoff.

“Some folks are asking, ‘Well if Democrats already have control of the Senate, why does this matter? What’s the difference between 50 and 51?” Obama said. “The answer is ‘a lot.’”

Keeping 51 seats, he said, would give Democrats “more breathing room on important bills,” blocking one person from holding up as has happened with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III.

And it would help Democrats going into the next election cycle when the map favors the GOP, blocking Republicans from building a filibuster-proof majority that Obama argued would free them up to pass a national abortion ban.

“That one vote in the Senate could make all the difference,” Obama said. “But there’s one more reason, and it’s the biggest reason. Fifty-one is better than 50 because it means Rev. Warnock will keep representing you.”  

The popular national Democratic figure’s spirited speech at the Pullman Yards entertainment venue in Atlanta marked Obama’s second Georgia visit in about a month. He stumped for Georgia Democrats in late October as part of a five-state midterm swing, although Warnock is the only Democrat running statewide who emerged from the state’s Nov. 8 election. Supporters cheer for Sen. Raphael Warnock at the Pullman Yards in Atlanta. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Former First Lady Michelle Obama also weighed in for Warnock this week, recording robocalls urging supporters to turn out once again in what is still a close race.

Obama also peppered the crowd with quips about Republican challenger Herschel Walker, as he did in October.

“Since the last time I was here, Mr. Walker has been talking about issues that are of great importance to the people of Georgia, like whether it’s better to be a vampire or a werewolf.

“This is a debate that I must confess I once had myself – when I was seven. Then I grew up,” Obama said.

Obama also used his speech to urge people not to tune out due to frustration over the pace of change, evoking the memories of the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis and 106-year-old Atlantan, Ann Nixon Cooper, who lived long enough to cast a ballot for Obama.

“If Ms. Cooper didn’t get tired, then I can’t be tired. If John Lewis – even in his 70s – wasn’t tired, I’ve got no excuses – I can’t be tired. And if I’m not tired, you can’t be tired,” he said.

‘You deserve a senator who actually lives in Georgia’

Warnock has made his runoff campaign about competence and character, featuring some of his Trump-endorsed challenger’s more bizarre campaign comments in a new TV ad. And he’s made appeals to voters from both parties, a nod to the split-ticket voting seen at the top of the ballot in Georgia last month.

“I believe in my soul that Georgians know that Georgia is better than Herschel Walker,” Warnock said with one of his biggest applause lines of the night Thursday.

“You deserve a senator who cares enough about the people to actually know the issues. You deserve a senator who will tell you the truth. You deserve a senator who actually lives in Georgia.”

The incumbent has kept a busy schedule since he finished nearly 38,000 votes ahead of Walker but fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

Before the rally with Obama, Warnock spent the afternoon at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, where the Black Law Student Society held a campaign event for him on campus. The sitting senator has been a familiar sight at college campuses as he tries to rally the state’s youngest voters to the polls.

‘That means you don’t know no stuff either’

Walker has kept a lower profile during the four-week runoff, and he’s avoided mainstream reporters’ questions at his campaign events, where the press is kept at a distance. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham stumps for Herschel Walker in Woodstock Dec. 1, 2022. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

At an event Thursday night Woodstock, Walker did not take questions from reporters but did a live spot with Fox News host Sean Hannity with the crowd in the background.

Walker was joined by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Woodstock, along with Congressman-elect John James of Michigan, retired Marine Corps Col. Ghannon Burton and former Trump spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was listed as an attendee but did not speak.

Graham echoed Obama as he sought to convince the crowd to turn out and make sure their loved ones do the same even though the Senate will remain under Democratic control regardless of Tuesday’s result.

“The bottom line here is this is the last election of the 2022 cycle. What does it matter if there’s 50 versus 51? A hell of a lot,” he said. “If it’s 50-50, we have the same number on the committees, we share the same amount of money. If it’s 51-49, they’re in charge of everything.

Walker delivered a speech in his typical freewheeling style and hit his familiar talking points — if elected, he will be tough on America’s enemies and work to eliminate “wokeness” from schools and the military. He sought to characterize Warnock as a wolf in sheep’s clothing interested only in personal gain and out of touch with average Georgians.

“I remember he was on the podium saying to be a senator, you got to know some stuff,” Walker said. “I’m going to tell you, he don’t know no stuff. I’m going to tell you all the stuff he don’t know. All the things he voted for — they told Joe Biden that he was headed in the wrong direction, and all of a sudden, Sen. Warnock voted with him 96% of the time. That means you don’t know no stuff either.”

Walker’s campaign has been beset by allegations of past impropriety, including domestic abuse, lying about his business bona fides and paying for former girlfriends’ abortions despite a public anti-abortion stance. In recent days, he has come under fire for allegedly claiming a homestead exemption in Texas applicable only to primary residences while running for office and voting in Georgia, and a Daily Beast story published Thursday details new allegations of abuse from a former girlfriend. Herschel Walker speaks to supporters in Woodstock, Dec. 1, 2022. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Polls continue to show a tight race. In an Emerson College poll released Thursday, Warnock had a thin lead, 48.7% to 47.3%, with 4% undecided. When the undecided voters were asked which candidate they were leaning toward, Warnock’s lead grew to 51.6% to Walker’s 48.4%.

The early vote totals look promising for Warnock, with Black and female voters, who typically lean Democratic, turning out in greater proportions than white or male voters. Voters between 18 and 24 are also outperforming past runoff turnout so far.

“Warnock’s base lies with voters under 50 – a 55% majority support him for re-election – whereas Walker holds a similar 55% majority among voters over 50,” said Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling. “The early vote breaks for Warnock by about 29 points, 63% to 34%, whereas those who have yet to cast their ballot break for Walker by eight points 52% to 44%.”

The Senate runoff conjures up memories of the 2020 election, when Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff’s wins handed Democrats control of the narrow chamber. But this time, the stakes are not quite as high after Senate Democrats were able to defy the odds and retain the 50 seats needed for majority status.

Still, interest in the outcome remains high. Some early voting locations in metro Atlanta have reported two hour or longer wait times as Georgians turn out in the abbreviated early voting period. By Wednesday, more than 1.1 million people had cast a ballot, which is about 16% of the state’s voters.

Election day is this Tuesday. Friday is the last day of early voting.

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