(December 2, 2022 / JNS) Will Republican voters back their party’s nominee—former football star Herschel Walker—in Georgia’s Senate runoff on Dec. 6 against incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) is the question those following the race are asking.
Both candidates failed to achieve the over 50% of the vote needed to avoid a runoff in the general election earlier this month, with Warnock slightly edging Walker by 49.4% to the Republican challenger’s 48.5%—a difference of just 36,465 votes.
But while Republicans had hoped to take both houses of Congress in the midterm that heavily favored them, their underperforming candidates failed to win the crucial Senate seats that could have flipped the Senate and given Republicans control of both Houses of Congress. Instead, the best Republicans can hope for, if Walker pulls out a victory on Dec. 6, is for the Senate to again be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans as it has been during the past two years. With a Democratic administration in the White House, Vice President Kamala Harris is called upon to break tie votes, giving Democrats control.
If Warnock wins the runoff, giving Democrats 51 seats, the party would have more power in how many members it can have in committees and a strong incumbent seat.
Jewish organizations have also been heavily involved on both sides of the race, with the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) saying that it has deployed its entire “Victory Team” to Georgia to help the Walker campaign.
“RJC volunteers are conducting extensive Jewish grassroots outreach—making phone calls, knocking on doors, sending text messages—with an emphasis on early voting, which began earlier this week,” Sam Markstein, RJC national political director, said in a statement.
“Utilizing the most advanced, cutting-edge data operation in Jewish politics, RJC will be actively turning out Jewish voters for Herschel Walker and defeat Raphael Warnock—a rubber stamp for the disastrous Biden agenda that has resulted in skyrocketing costs of living, an unprecedented rise in crime, and foreign policy that has abandoned Israel and emboldened Iran,” Markstein continued. “Remember: Warnock called Israel a ‘land of violence and bloodshed’ and even praised notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan after Farrakhan called Jews ‘termites.’”
Like the RJC, Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) has been advertising in Georgia’s Jewish community and taking part in Warnock’s turnout operation.
Mark Mellman, a political pollster and chairman of DMFI, said that while the runoff results will probably again be close, the Warnock campaign and its allies have invested significantly in a turnout operation, compared to much less by Walker.
Mellman also said that not having control of the Senate in question will most likely be “demotivating” and “demobilizing” for Republican voters.
Walker, who won Georgia’s GOP primary after an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, underperformed compared with other Republicans running for office in Georgia, especially the state’s Republican, Governor Brian Kemp. In the gubernatorial election, Kemp beat Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams by nearly 300,000 votes and garnered over 200,000 votes more than Walker.
Walker’s failure to match Kemp’s performance has been mostly attributed to numerous personal controversies and his support from Trump. A third candidate in the race, Chase Oliver of the Libertarian Party, got 81,278 votes.
Political analysts expect the results of the runoff between Warnock and Walker to remain close, but still give Warnock an edge as the Walker campaign has failed to put a dent in Warnock’s popularity.
But there are still some unanswered questions, including which way the voters who chose Oliver will lean in the runoff, if they even turn out at all. The other question is whether Walker can convince any of those who voted only for Kemp to overcome their objections to him and cast a ballot in the runoff for the sake of turning the seat red. Or, with the control of the Senate no longer in question, will they just stay home?
Kemp has been campaigning with Walker extensively and has even turned over his campaign team to aid Walker.
Republicans have even appealed to Georgia voters to vote early in the counties that have had early voting from Monday to Friday.
The emphasis on early voting is a departure from the 2020 elections, where Republican suspicions of early voting and former President Donald Trump’s rejection of the 2020 election results contributed to handing both of the majority-Republican state’s U.S. Senate seats to Democrats.
The RJC has also been busy sending out numerous emails to its supporters asking them to contribute to Walker’s campaign, which has been significantly outspent by Warnock.
Yet DMFI’s Mellman said he believes many Republican voters are “more likely to stay home because they’re demotivated and demobilized by the serious character questions about Walker on the one hand, and that’s not counterbalanced by saying, ‘Oh but this is about control of the Senate.’ And you have a very well-financed, well-oiled democratic turnout machine and you don’t have that on the Republican side.”
Both the Democratic Senate Majority PAC and the Republican Senate Leadership Fund have recently invested heavily on their respective sides, making it the most expensive race of the 2022 cycle.
According to Open Secrets, the Senate Majority PAC has spent a total of $52.5 million in support of Warnock and against Walker, including $15 million in the three weeks since the election. Most of the money went towards ads highlighting accusations of domestic violence by Walker’s ex-wife.
The Senate Leadership fund has spent $53.7 million on the race, including $15.3 million during the runoff. Their ads criticize Warnock for going along with President Joe Biden’s agenda, which it accuses of reckless spending and driving up inflation. It also has attacked Warnock for filing eviction notices against low-income residents of an apartment building he is tied to.
Warnock has raised more money during the election cycle than any other candidate running for federal office, a total of $150.5 million through Nov. 16—three times more than the $58.3 million Walker’s campaign raised in the same period.
Even without the balance of the Senate in question, Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said that the race is very valuable for both parties.
“Just from a governing standpoint, 51 [senators] is easier to corral for Democrats. They would have real majorities on the committees, they’d have an easier time getting their nominees through,” Kondik said. “And also, I think democrats really need a little bit of a buffer heading into 2024 when they face a very challenging Senate map.”
That map, he said, would see Democrats defending 23 of the total 34 seats contested in vulnerable states, while Republicans are only defending 11.
“It’s going to be hard for Democrats to hold the Senate next [election cycle] but it’s particularly hard if they lose control with just losing one seat,” he said. “At least if Warnock wins, that gives them an extra seat to play with as they try to defend themselves next cycle.”
And the scandals against Walker keep on coming, enough that Kondik said he cannot keep track of them.
“There’s always so much with Walker that it’s hard to keep tabs on the day-to-day. He’s just got to hope for a Republican-leaning turnout and party loyalty,” Kondik told JNS. “But you know, his campaign has been an endless string of gaffs.”
Mellman said, “There are questions that sort of strike at the heart of what Republicans care about, like for example, choice,” referring to accusations by multiple women that Walker paid for them to have abortions.
Most recently, it was discovered that Walker signed a statement that his primary residence was in Texas rather than the state he’s running in.
“So either he’s not a citizen of Georgia and not eligible to run, or he lied saying that his principal residence was in Texas, which got him a tax deduction. And to get a tax deduction, you have to make a sworn statement that you live in Texas,” said Mellman.
Attempts to paint Warnock as a left-wing extremist by Republicans and by conservative Jewish organizations worried that he would not be pro-Israel have not stuck, despite real fear when Warnock won in 2020 due to his associations with Farrakhan and former President Barack Obama’s onetime pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Instead, Warnock’s record has been like any Democrat who is not overtly anti-Israel, and possibly pro-Israel, owing to his support of elements of the 2022 and 2023 appropriations bills that provided additional funds for Iron Dome interceptors for Israel as well as an increase in security grants to U.S. nonprofit institutions, such as synagogues and community centers, that are at risk of terrorist attacks.
Both recent polls show Warnock ahead in a runoff, including one by the AARP released on Nov. 22, which showed Warnock leading Walker by 4 points and another by Emerson College Polling released on Dec. 1, showing Warnock leading by 2 points. Both results are within the margin of error.
“I think it’s real close. I think again at this point, a Walker win would probably be a little more surprising than a Warnock win, but I don’t feel super strongly about it one way or the other,” said Kondik. “I’m really curious to see what the final early voting numbers are and what the sort of racial breakdown is.”
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