Nov 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Walker and Warnock fight waning voter interest in Georgia's Senate runoff

Illustration of a peach as the dot in a question mark.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

No other state knows how to do a runoff like Georgia lately, but this year's overtime contest between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Republican Herschel Walker is confounding many political operatives.

Driving the news: With Senate control no longer at stake, a shortened, four-week timeframe without a voter registration window, confusion over early voting schedules and roughly 200,000 split-ticket voters in the general, strategists in both campaigns are scrambling to model just how many — and which — Georgians are likely to show up on Dec. 6.

Flashback: In the twin 2021 runoffs that elected Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) the two argued that electing them would be key for President Biden to accomplish his agenda in the Senate.

Reality check: The Georgia Democrats' turnout machine was less effective in the 2022 midterms — no Democrat won a state-level contest.

  • Turnout among younger voters suffered in comparison to 2018, according to Democratic political consultant and data analyst David Shor.
  • Black and Hispanic voter turnout also fell from 2018 numbers, Emory political scientist Bernard Fraga, who studies voter turnout, pointed out. (But Asian American turnout increased.)
  • "Given the turnout that we saw in November, there's a lot of work to do [for the runoff]," he told Axios.

The intrigue: Walker has a tremendous new tool at his disposal: the door-knocking, absentee ballot program and modeling infrastructure that Gov. Brian Kemp's campaign spent millions building for itself and deployed to secure a nearly 8-point victory.

  • The Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund is now funding the operation on Walker's behalf to the tune of $2 million.

The other side: Warnock's campaign, meanwhile, is adding 300 paid staffers (for a total of more than 900) and new ground game offices in key urban and suburban counties. The campaign tells Axios it plans to knock on more doors during the runoff than it did in the four months before the general election.

  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is also spending $7 million on runoff field organizing.

What they're saying: Walker supporters Rodger Hallam and Carlotta Monningh of Locust Grove, Ga. told Axios they're concerned about turnout.

  • "There was so much hype about the first election with the senator, governor…and now we're looking at just one," Hallam said. "I'm sure not as many people will come out. I hope that they do."
  • "I think people are getting really tired of politics. They want it over," Monningh said.

Between the lines: McConnell told reporters Wednesday that Republicans have "a second chance in Georgia to get it right," compared to November when he said the party nationally underperformed among centrist voters.

  • "50 is better than 49 and we’re going to give it everything we've got," he said of the number of Republicans in the Senate.

Of note: In last week's Axios Engagious/Schlesinger swing voter focus groups, all Kemp-Warnock voters said they plan to vote again in the runoff, and they plan to stick with Warnock.

  • Warnock's campaign just released an ad directly targeting Kemp/Warnock split-ticket voters.
  • "I've heard from establishment Republicans, who recognized that Herschel Walker is a very flawed candidate, and their rationale was that the U.S. Senate was at stake," Democratic Georgia State Rep. Billy Mitchell said at an anti-Walker press conference Thursday. "Well that's no longer can be used as an excuse."
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