A repeat of those exact same circumstances would, of course, depend on the results of other races around the country. But the battle for control of the Senate is finely balanced between both parties right now — and the mere thought of the chamber hanging in the balance well after the November election is filling some Georgia organizers with dread.
“Nobody wants a runoff. Nobody wants a runoff,” Sukari Johnson, chair of Clayton County Democratic Party, repeated with emphasis. “Because it’s very difficult for people to come back out, and at that point you’re spending time and money to get people to come back out. And nobody wants to do that after November.”
The polling average of the Warnock-Walker race from FiveThirtyEight shows Warnock with a 3-point edge — the same margin the Democratic senator enjoyed in the most recent survey from the home-state duo of the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the University of Georgia. Oliver garnered 3 percent support in that survey published at the end of July.
Warnock’s consistent polling advantage has come even as Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has enjoyed small leads over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in most surveys. It’s a slice of ticket-splitting that reveals some discomfort with Walker among voters who are prepared to cast GOP ballots in the state’s other big contest.
If the Senate campaign “is a small race, and it’s just down to two personalities, then I think Warnock might win,” former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia native who appeared with Walker at a campaign event last week in Alpharetta, told POLITICO. “But if this is a big race, and it comes down to Warnock’s being part of 9 percent inflation and highest price gas in history, and you can go down the list, then I think Warnock loses.”
Those competing cross-currents are what is keeping the race so close — and with a close race comes the chance of a runoff. And at that point, Democrats concede, fatigue could become a factor as there have been near-nonstop political battles in Georgia over the last few years.
“Fatigue, people feeling overworked, and then people not recognizing that their vote is a powerful tool that they can use to change their circumstances and to change the world around them,” said Nsé Ufot, CEO of the Abrams-foundedNew Georgia Project, listing off challenges she and her voting rights organization are facing this year.
Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chair of the Democratic Party of Cobb County, agreed that the party faced an enthusiasm and energy deficit heading into the midterm’s homestretch. “This race is about who’s better at mobilizing the grassroots and getting people to turnout and vote. And I think the Republicans have a slight advantage with that … we’re seeing a lot of Republican enthusiasm similar to what the Democrats had in 2017 [after Donald Trump was first elected].”
Bettadapur said she believes people will still go and vote in November, but when it comes to getting volunteers to door-knock, text and phone bank and do other direct voter contact, there’s less enthusiasm than there was four years ago. Gwinnett County Democratic chair Brenda Lopez Romero, for example, is leading an effort to knock on doors and prepare media outreach in five different languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese.
U.S. Senate Republican candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally on May 23, 2022 in Athens, Georgia. | Megan Varner/Getty Images
Republicans have obstacles of their own to navigate. In Muscogee County, home to the city of Columbus, the party is working to flip the 2nd Congressional District and increase their vote share in a strongly Democratic area. Muscogee County GOP Chair Alton Russell is battling fears among base Republicans that their votes don’t matter. Stoked by former President Donald Trump’s insistent falsehoods about voter fraud and the results of the 2020 election, they’re the same fears that may have cost the GOP critical voter turnout in the last Senate runoffs.
“That’s a concern that I have — about people not voting because they have the opinion that everything is crooked, and Trump really won, and that their vote don’t count, and they’re just not going to vote at all. And I see that every day,” Russell said.
He added that there are several ways to engage GOP voters despite these concerns — including priming Republicans to get ready to vote out Joe Biden in 2024. But some Republicans get mad when they are encouraged to move on and look forward to the next election, Russell continued.
While Warnock is ahead in the polls, no one on his campaign believes the lead with last on its own.
“There are going to be polls in all directions over the course of this campaign. Here’s what we know: this race will be close, which is why we can’t take anything for granted and are working hard every day to reelect Reverend Warnock,” said Quentin Fulks, Warnock’s campaign manager, in a statement to POLITICO.
Walker’s campaign did not respond for comment. But Russell, the Muscogee County GOP chair, noted again how important voter outreach will be for the next three months.
“In Georgia, and in every county in Georgia, what’s gonna make the difference is turnout,” he said. “If we turn out, we will win. If we stay home, we won’t.”
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