Election Day on the line: Georgia candidates for Senate, governor crisscross state with closing arguments.
Whether you kept your eyes on the skies, the road or the screen Monday, there’s a good chance they caught a peek of your favorite candidates as they crisscrossed the state in a last-minute bid for votes.
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock’s bus took him to Macon and Columbus, while his Republican rival Herschel Walker’s bus dropped him off in Kennesaw for a stop featuring South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost to Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018, campaigned on the campus of Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta and ahead of a get-out-the-vote “phone and text party” later in the evening. Kemp’s election eve itinerary included stops in Columbus, Macon, Albany, Savannah and Augusta and ended in a hangar at Cobb County International Airport in Kennesaw, a stone’s throw away from Walker’s rally.
Walker predicted an outright win Wednesday, even though polls suggest a likely runoff. The outcome of Georgia’s Senate race could help decide which party controls Congress.
“When we leave tomorrow night, we’re leaving as winners, not runoffs,” he said. “It’s time to get this country back together, and the only way we can do it is to get together ourselves.”
If no candidate earns the majority of the vote Tuesday, Georgians will be invited back to the polls for a Dec. 6 runoff.
A team effort?
As the full moon rose above the rally, a smattering of people with Kemp stickers made the short trek from the airport to Walker’s rally outside Governors Gun Club. Among them were state senators Tyler Harper, Bruce Thompson and Burt Jones, Republican candidates for agriculture commissioner, labor commissioner and lieutenant governor.
Warnock and fellow Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff helped cement Democratic control of Congress in a nail-biting 2021 runoff, and both parties have poured millions of dollars into this year’s race.
Kemp and Walker have run mostly independent campaigns, evidence of the lingering shadow cast by everyone’s favorite or least favorite recent GOP president. Walker entered the Senate race with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.
“When the two top candidates at the top of the ticket don’t show up together, there’s got to be something going on, and of course that something is Trump,” said Daniel Paul Franklin, associate professor emeritus of political science at Georgia State. “I think if Herschel Walker appears with Kemp, he runs the risk of running afoul of his main sponsor, and that’s Donald Trump.”
Walker has been close with the former president since he played for the Trump-owned New Jersey Generals in the short-lived United States Football League. Trump’s endorsement and Walker’s fame helped the former running back handily win the GOP primary, but scandals have dogged his campaign. Recently, a second woman came forward to claim Walker, who has publicly expressed anti-abortion views, pressured her to have an abortion several years ago. Like Walker, Kemp too once counted himself among Trump’s friends, but the two Republicans have been on the outs since Kemp refused to support the former president’s efforts to overturn his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden in Georgia. The governor has nimbly navigated the aftermath of that falling out, easily trumping Trump’s hand-picked challenger in the GOP primary, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.
Abrams and Warnock have also largely kept to their own separate campaign schedules with a few exceptions, including former president Barack Obama’s recent visit to Atlanta. The space seems to benefit Warnock, Franklin said.
“I think the real reason would be that she’s farther behind in the polls than he is, and there’s no benefit for him to show up.”
Warnock has largely eschewed associating with other familiar Democrats with a national platform, especially the president, and pitched himself as a senator willing to work across the aisle, touting his cooperation with Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz to help build out a highway to connect military installations, which he says will boost jobs and shipping.
‘I’m leaving it all on the field’
Warnock spent election eve in Macon and Columbus in hopes of rallying supporters in left-leaning city centers outside of metro Atlanta to show up in a big way on the last day to cast a ballot in the nationally watched election.
In Macon, he took the stage with Ossoff in a scene reminiscent of the 2021 dual runoffs that swept them into office and flipped control of the Senate.
“The four most powerful words in a democracy are ‘the people have spoken.’ So I want you to know that I have every faith – I really do – in the people of Georgia, and I know that people of Georgia are going to get this right,” he said to the crowd of supporters and reporters packed into the patio of the Bearfoot Tavern in downtown Macon.
Warnock brushed aside questions about a likely runoff with Walker, saying he was focused on Tuesday.
“I’m leaving it all on the field, and I’m leaving it up to the people of Georgia,” he told reporters Monday. “I want the people of Georgia to ignore the pundits and focus on raising their own voice.”
He pushed back on criticism that Democrats have not focused enough on the economy, pointing to provisions capping the out-of-pocket cost of insulin and giving Medicare the ability to negotiate some prescription drug prices.
“Those are pocketbook issues,” he said.
And he condemned remarks made this weekend by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley who said at a rally for Walker in Hiram that “the only person we need to make sure we deport is Warnock” when talking about immigration.
“These are the levels to which we have sunk, unfortunately, in American politics. This is beyond the pale. This is the kind of ugly and divisive language that is not helpful to any of us – Democrats, Republicans, independents or moderates,” Warnock said.
“I’m saying to you that Herschel Walker is demonstrating to you what kind of senator he would be based on the company he is keeping,” he added.
Walker has also recently campaigned with conservative firebrand north Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The governor’s race
Kemp, who is leading in the polls, touted his record and the strength of the state economy coming out of the pandemic, and he has pledged to support a one-time property tax grant for homeowners and another tax refund.
“We’ve held our own in early voting. I feel great about where we are, but we need to have a big turnout tomorrow,” Kemp said. “If we do, this whole ticket – this whole Republican ticket – is going to win, and y’all won’t be getting mailers and phone calls and watching commercials during Thanksgiving.”
As the sun rises on Election Day, polls put Kemp in an enviable position. The Real Clear Politics polling average puts him at an 8-point advantage over Abrams, while Walker leads Warnock by only .6 points – leaving them locked in a dead heat.
During Monday’s campus visit at Georgia State, Abrams said the election was a referendum on democracy as state leaders decide policy choices for more than 10 million Georgians, including the future of women’s abortion access and civil rights laws.
“My opponent has banned abortion, banned books and banned background checks,” Abrams said. “My mission is to restore our freedoms, invest in our communities and make certain that we have a future we can all benefit from.”
Abrams said she is optimistic despite polls showing she is behind Kemp and that she sees not only a runoff but an outright victory possible. Abrams said she believes the early voting turnout will prove to her advantage.
“We’re seeing record turnout across the metrics than what we saw in 2018 and we’re seeing galvanizing forces across the state that want more and want better. We believe that both the numbers speak to our success but also this is a moment where they want change in the state of Georgia,” she said.
Polls are set to be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Election Day voters must vote at their assigned precinct. You can find yours and check your registration status at the Secretary of State’s My Voter Page. Remember to bring your photo ID.
More than 2.5 million voters have cast an early ballot, an increase of 400,000 over 2018. Overall, 3.9 million Georgians voted four years ago.
Georgia Recorder Senior Reporter Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report.