Obama returns to Atlanta to campaign for Warnock in runoff

Former President Barack Obama speaks in front of a crowd of Atlanta residents at a Get Out The Vote Rally for U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock for reelection in the U.S. Senate runoff election on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022 (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Former President Barack Obama returned to Atlanta Thursday night to boost Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock in his runoff election with Republican Herschel Walker.

More than a million people have already voted before the Tuesday runoff, but the clock is ticking to get more voters back to the polls just a few weeks after the last election.

At Pullman Yards, a warehouse-turned-event venue, Obama urged voters not to let up.

“Some folks are asking if Democrats have control of the Senate, why does this matter?” Obama said. “What’s the difference between 50 and 51? The answer is a lot.”

Obama was also unsparing in his criticism of Walker, who has been dogged by controversies since the start of the campaign. 

“When again and again you serve up bald-faced lies, just make stuff up, that says something about the kind of person you are and the kind of leader you would be if you were in the United States Senate,” Obama said.

President Obama joins U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock for a Get Out The Vote Rally in Atlanta Thursday, Dec .1, 2022. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

A decade since Obama’s last campaign, Democrats still look to the former president as a top surrogate for his appeal with suburban swing voters and his ability to jolt turnout among young and minority voters.

President Joe Biden has been absent from the campaign trail as his approval ratings are underwater in Georgia. Warnock has been explicitly courting Republicans, given Walker received about 200,000 fewer votes in November than fellow Republican, Gov. Brian Kemp. 

But Warnock also needs to shore up the Democratic base and convince some voters who stayed home in November to come out this time. The turnout rate in November fell from the last midterms, especially among Black and Hispanic voters.

About 40 minutes away in Woodstock, Walker rallied supporters with the help of his own surrogates, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.