Georgia Senate Runoff between Warnock, and Walker has a tense finish
Georgia Senate Runoff: Ads featuring the ex-wives of candidates. The words “liar” are hurled in both directions. Stories about a squalid apartment building and forced abortions. Questioning the independence of an opponent. His intellect. His sound mental health. His religious convictions.
The extended Senate campaign in Georgia between the Democratic incumbent, Raphael Warnock, and his Republican challenger, football legend Herschel Walker, has become increasingly bitter as the runoff election on December 6 approaches. With Democrats already assured of a Senate majority, the state’s twin runoffs were primarily about which party would control the chamber in Washington two years ago.
“Herschel Walker ain’t serious,” Warnock recently told supporters in central Georgia, adding that Walker “majors in lying” and fails to grasp the fundamentals of public policy. “However, the election is very serious. Don’t get those two things mixed up.”
Walker portrays Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, as a “hypocrite” who is subservient to President Joe Biden. Walker insults the incumbent by calling him “Scooby-Doo,” complete with an impression of the cartoon hound’s gibberish.
The broadsides reflect the candidates’ furious push to persuade their core supporters to vote again in the four weeks between the Nov. 8 general election and runoff. It also means attracting more independents and moderates to Walker’s campaign after he trailed fellow Republican on the ticket, Gov. Brian Kemp, by 200,000 votes.
In the first round, Warnock led Walker by 37,000 votes out of nearly 4 million cast, but the senator fell short of the 50% required to avoid a runoff.
In many ways, the departure from his first runoff campaign was exactly what Warnock desired: a simple choice between two candidates. Two years ago, as control of the Senate hung in the balance, then-President Donald Trump, fresh off his defeat, and then-President-elect Joe Biden made multiple trips to Georgia to highlight the national stakes of the races between Warnock and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. David Perdue.
With his false claims of a rigged 2020 presidential election, Trump ended up alienating his own supporters as well as many moderates. With victories by Warnock and Ossoff, the Senate is split 50-50, with Democrats gaining control thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. Warnock was also Georgia’s first African-American senator.
Democrats have already ensured control of the Senate this year by flipping a seat in Pennsylvania, where Warnock is running for a full six-year term after winning the 2021 special election. A Warnock victory would give Democrats an outright majority of 51-49, eliminating the need for the parties to negotiate a power-sharing agreement.
For the most part, Warnock’s reelection campaign has focused on his deal-making in Washington and the personal values he brings to the job. Only in the final stages of the campaign, after two women accused Walker, an opponent of abortion rights, of encouraging and paying for their abortions, did the senator escalate his attacks, claiming Walker is “unprepared” and “unfit” for the job.
“My opponent lies about everything,” Warnock said during a recent campaign stop, ticking off a laundry list of Walker’s repeated lies and exaggerations. “He claimed to be a police officer.” He isn’t. He claimed to work for the FBI. He did not do so. He claims to have graduated from the University of Georgia. He did not do so. He claimed to be the valedictorian of his class. He was not one of them. He claimed to have another company with 800 employees. There are eight.” Walker, on the other hand, has relished the jousting since winning the Republican nomination in the spring.
“Herschel is a rival. “He’s very comfortable with the mano a mano,” Walker’s campaign manager Scott Paradise said, citing the candidate’s athletic prowess as a football running back, kickboxer, and Olympic bobsledder.
Walker, in fact, targets Warnock’s strengths as pastor of the famous church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Walker has chastised Warnock over an Atlanta apartment building owned by a foundation of Warnock’s church, where residents have complained of eviction notices and poor conditions to The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative media outlet.
“What he’s doing in this apartment building at Columbia Towers is not right,” Walker said recently during a campaign stop in suburban Atlanta. “You should not put Jesus’ name on what you’re doing to people, and you should not put Martin Luther King’s name on it.” You’re not Jesus, and you’re not Martin Luther King.”
Warnock, who claims that no Columbia Tower residents have been evicted, adds Walker’s attacks to the list of the challenger’s documented exaggerations and falsehoods. “What kind of person lies on the church’s floor?” In Macon, Warnock stated. “This isn’t the first time Ebenezer Baptist Church has been attacked. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. “I’m in great company.”
When asked if he had reconsidered his church’s stewardship of Columbia Towers, Warnock dodged the question, saying, “I’ve already answered the question.” Every week, I’m proud of what my church does to feed and house the hungry and homeless.” Walker also accuses Warnock of “getting rich” as a senator, referring to the pastor’s $7,500-per-month church housing allowance. The payments do not violate Senate ethics rules, which restrict senators’ outside income.
Walker has suggested Warnock is a negligent father on at least one occasion during the runoff. The comment “crossed a line,” Warnock told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Walker publicly acknowledged three of his children for the first time earlier in the campaign, but only after The Daily Beast reported on their existence. Warnock has made no mention of those children in his criticisms of Walker.
Meanwhile, Walker has not taken questions from reporters at an open campaign event since late October, when a second accuser came forward to say he pressured her to have an abortion — a contradiction of his advocacy as a candidate for a national ban on all abortions. Walker has refuted the women’s allegations.
Both candidates’ ex-wives play a role in the campaign, though the two men avoid the subject themselves, leaving the discussion to paid advertising. In one advertisement, Warnock’s ex-wife claims that he ran over her foot. The Republican ad fails to mention that a police report states that officers discovered no physical evidence to support her claim. A Democratic ad features an interview with Walker’s first wife, who claims he threatened her with violence, which Walker confirmed in his autobiography.
Since the two men met for their lone debate on Oct. 14, Warnock has chastised Walker for a lack of policy details and for occasionally misrepresenting the policy he does discuss. Warnock touts his new federal legal provision that caps insulin costs for Medicare recipients, and he mentions Walker stated that diabetics can manage their health by “eating right,” but this is insufficient for insulin-dependent diabetic patients. “Perhaps he should apply to be a dietician.” “I’m running for US Senate,” Warnock announced in Macon.
He pounced when Walker declared that the US is “not ready” for climate action and that it should “keep having those gas-guzzling cars” that already meet “good emissions” standards. Walker’s recent tangent about vampires in a campaign speech drew Warnock’s gleeful mockery.
Warnock’s aides say that the personalized arguments help convince core Democrats that they should not sit out the runoff, while also swaying the potentially decisive middle of the electorate in the senator’s favor. “Herschel Walker continues to be bogged down by his pattern of lies and disturbing behavior, all of which led him to underperform” in the first round, said Quentin Fulks, Warnock’s campaign manager, in a statement.
From Walker’s camp, Paradise insisted that Republicans’ best argument remains Warnock’s alignment with Democrats on economic policy. Still, he acknowledges the campaign’s tone has darkened. “We’re certainly going to continue to aggressively prosecute the case against Warnock,” he said, “and I suspect they’ll do the same.”
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