TURES COLUMN: Warnock, Walker take different approaches to runoff

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, December 6, 2022

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Georgia’s Senate Runoff Election may not decide party control of the upper branch of the legislature, but the battle is no less fierce between the Democrats and Republicans. Senator Raphael Warnock has chosen to focus on voting rights and the importance of participation in politics, while Herschel Walker is tackling the abortion subject and LGBTQ issues head-on.

I covered Senator Warnock’s rally at Emory University in Atlanta. He praised the young people there for their “impatience.” He added “we need that impatience. Just don’t get discouraged by the sometimes slow pace of democracy.” He called upon those in person to reject passivity as well as “those who traffic in division.” He not only discussed his public housing and Upward Bound experiences growing up. He defended expanding Medicaid, Pell Grants, and resolving student debt, and “Dreamers,” who are “living in the only country they’ve ever known.”

But with the greatest emphasis, Warnock focused on voting, noting that Georgians “would have to choose between January 5 and January 6” he included, noting the date of the runoff in 2021, and the insurrection attempt the following day, in emphasizing the importance of the ballot. As it stands, Chatham, Muscogee County and others are allowing early voting on weekends, thanks in part to Warnock’s lawsuit, but also court rulings and people speaking at public hearings.

Walker disagreed with Warnock’s efforts to enable early voting on the weekends. “You don’t change the rules in the middle of the game,” he said, as reported by Fox News. “They’ve known this, and it’s sad that right now they’re making it harder on the voters by bringing questions into the election system. His base is likely to skip Early Voting, to the detriment of the Republicans.

Thanks to a court ruling, and the choice of several counties (mostly blue, but a few red ones like mine), Saturday and Early Voting, turnout has been high, something that’s likely to benefit Warnock. 

His events like the GOTV concert with Dave Matthews were a hit with crowd.

I spoke to a reporter who covered Herschel Walker’s event in Cobb County earlier that day (I didn’t get the invite). “It was a lot of old people there, and they were very pro-life,” the reporter from New York told me. “Very enthusiastic too.” Not sure that was the best issue to focus on.

Walker also decided to go very strongly for the most conservative base of the party with a long speech on LGBTQ issues. In his speech in Carrollton, Yahoo News, posted that Walker gave a speech highly critical of transgender people.  

Such words may fire up a crowd in a conservative county. But perhaps his campaign was unaware of the shooting in Colorado Springs the previous night, described as a hate crime, which led to at least five deaths and 20 wounded by a shooter allegedly in tactical gear.  Instead of expanding his voting appeal, Walker appears to contract it.

Earlier this week, I was interviewed for a story about the runoff by the Savannah Morning News, covered by USA Today and other publications.  When asked about what should be the campaign strategy, I suggested both candidates think about reaching out to the center, focus on independents, Libertarians, and maybe moderate members of the other party. A Republican strategist also quoted suggested that it would be better to play to the base in a special election, where turnout was likely to be lower.

Clearly both candidates are seeking to fire up their base for the final battle on December 6.  But Warnock’s message has sought to reach those voters beyond his base, while Walker’s campaign prefers an appeal to the core members of his voting bloc. This runoff will be an excellent hypothesis test about Georgians, special elections, and voting turnout in America.