Early voting begins in some Georgia counties as Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker sprint to December 6 runoff



CNN

The weeklong early voting period begins Saturday in some Georgia counties, as Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker enter a one-week post-Thanksgiving sprint to the Dec. 6 runoff election.

As of the 2021 runoffs, control of the Senate is not on the line, with Democrats already winning 50 seats and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote for the party.

However, the stakes remain high: A Warnock victory would give Democrats a majority, more than is required by the power-sharing deal now in place. Democrats hold majorities in the committees, allowing them to more easily advance President Joe Biden’s nominees.

Georgia’s Supreme Court handed Warnock a victory Wednesday, allowing counties to cast early ballots Saturday. Democrats said they expected 22 counties to do so — some in more densely populated areas around Atlanta, DeKalb and Fulton, as well as Chatham County, home to Savannah.

That ruling followed a legal battle sparked by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s interpretation of the state’s 2021 voting law. He said the new law restricted weekend voting after holidays.

That 2021 law cut the timeline for runoff elections in half to four weeks and limited the early voting window to at least five days instead of the 16-day minimum that was in place when Democrats won two Senate runoffs in the state. January 2021.

22 of the state’s 159 counties allowed voters to cast their ballots on Saturday.

At a polling place in Atlanta, Boston College student Emma DeMiliou said she wouldn’t have been able to vote in person if early voting sites hadn’t opened.

“This is the only time I’ll be in Georgia and be able to vote. I leave tomorrow, so I’m really glad I was able to make it,” he said, adding that he may have tried to scramble for an absentee ballot.

Warnock continued to outscore Walker as he entered the final stretch.

Warnock raised about $52.2 million from Oct. 20 to Nov. 16, a period that included the end of the general election and roughly the first week of the runoff. Walker raised $20.9 million during that time, according to his campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission. Warnock ended the season with more than $29.7 million in the bank, more than three times the $9.8 million left in his rival’s coffers.

Warnock is set to bring a top Democratic surrogate: Former President Barack Obama, who will travel to Atlanta on Thursday for a rally before the final day of early voting.

So far, Obama is the only president or incumbent to visit Georgia before the race.

Walker’s campaign has not scheduled trips to the state by President Joe Biden, who tried to woo Warnock, or former President Donald Trump, who was in office two years ago when Republicans lost two Senate runoffs. On Saturday, Warnock Sen. Appeared at a rally in Sandy Springs, outside Atlanta, with Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Sens. of Texas. While Trump allies, including Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are out in force for Walker, the former president has not campaigned with the candidate he appointed.

Other Republicans, meanwhile, are rallying around Walker with the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, pumping more than $10 million into the race since the general election.

Along with the new influx of outside spending, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who was up for re-election earlier this month, made his first appearance with Walker on the trail after beefing up the former football star throughout the fall.

Kemp defeated a Trump-backed primary challenger in May and then outspent Walker by more than 200,000 votes in the general election — a sign of both his crossover appeal to moderate Democrats and Walker’s difficulties in rallying Republicans.

Still, Democrats said they doubt Kemp could protect Walker in a runoff election where Walker is the only Republican on the ballot.

“There are a lot of people who voted for Raphael Warnock and Brian Kemp,” said Jason Carter, the 2014 Democratic candidate for governor and grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.

He called Warnock a “unique man,” saying he “got more votes than Herschel Walker and he got more votes than any other Democrat.”

“People admire him. And they think of him as Raphael Warnock first, and his political party and everything else second,” Carter said.

A new potential flashpoint in the runoff election emerged Wednesday. The Georgia Supreme Court, in a separate legal battle, reinstated the state’s six-week abortion ban.

It’s a policy victory for Republicans, who enacted that ban and defended it in court, but it may come at a political cost, which energized Democrats and turned moderate voters in Roe v. Reversal of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Wade. His favoritism is on track for the party’s surprisingly strong showing in this year’s midterm elections.

In the midterms, according to CNN exit polls, 28% of Georgia voters said abortion was the most important issue for their vote — second only to inflation at 37%.

Among those who identified abortion as an important issue, 77% supported Warnock, compared to 21% who voted for Walker – the reverse of inflation, an issue that favored Walker by a 45 percentage point margin.

Fifty-three percent of Georgia voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and of those voters, 75% supported Warnock. 87% supported Walker, with 43% saying it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Already, both parties have pumped more than $40 million into television advertising in the runoff. According to ad tracking firm AdImpact, Democratic groups spent about $25 million, while GOP groups spent about $16 million.

In an effort to unite Republican factions, the Walker Super PAC is sending out mailers promoting Kemp’s support and trying to tie Warnock to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. “You stopped Stacey. Discard Warnock now,” he read.

“Who do you want to fight for in the United States Senate? Do you want someone who represents our values ​​like Herschel Walker, or do you want someone who stands with 96% of Joe Biden?” Kemp said at a rally last weekend in Cobb County, borrowing a familiar attack from Walker.

Kemp echoes that line of attack in a new television ad released by the SLF. The governor and McConnell’s group are also linking to get-out-the-vote efforts. SLF is promoting Kemp’s state operation, which pivoted with a $2 million cash injection to help Walker.

Warnock’s campaign is trying to win over Republicans who effectively chose Kemp over Trump.

The Warnock campaign’s new ad features a woman who describes herself as a lifelong Republican and voted for Kemp this year, but says she won’t support Walker in a runoff because of Walker’s “lack of character.”

Warnock has campaigned on some of Walker’s safe havens: his hometown. At the event in Wrightsville, where Walker played his high school football, Warnock asked voters to separate the sports hero from the political candidate.

“I saw what your favorite son did on the football field. I don’t mind giving credit where credit is due. That brother can dazzle you on that football field. He created a lot of excitement and did a lot for the great University of Georgia. And he deserves credit for that,” Warnock said. “But tonight, we’re on a different field.”

At the same time, the Republican has faced some backlash over his own ads — along with University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who first appeared with Walker, and running against Leah Thomas, a transgender swimmer at the center of the debate surrounding trans women’s participation. It has been frequently attacked in sports and in the conservative media.

“For more than a decade, I struggled a lot. Four practices in the morning to be the best. But my senior year, I was forced to compete against a biological male,” Gaines says in the ad.

The release comes days after a gunman targeted the LGBTQ community at a gay club in Colorado. One in five people who died was a trans man.

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