There’s a campaign cliché in Georgia Runoff: turnout matters

ATLANTA – A month before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, several of Georgia’s grassroots organizing groups huddled together to plan what they saw as the inevitable outcome: another Senate runoff.

That plan, formulated by the same organizers who helped elect Democratic Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, included budgeting for an extra month of campaigning and door-knocking, increasing staffing outside the Atlanta area, and recording of Robocalls that could reach voters the next day Election Day.

Halfway through Georgia’s four-week runoff, that plan is now in full swing. And grassroots organizers are not alone. Georgia Democrats and Republicans have combined $38 million in television advertising, hired more than 700 additional field workers and invited governors, senators and at least one former president ahead of Election Day on December 6.

Campaigners and allied groups are frantically knocking on doors, waving signs and sending text messages imploring Georgians to go to the polls for the second time in less than a month. Meanwhile, Mr. Warnock and his Republican opponent Herschel Walker, along with high-profile proxies, travel to revive supporters.

“If you want to be at the top in Georgia, plan for runoffs,” said Hillary Holley, executive director of Care in Action, the policy arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which helped lead to the general election.

But all of that activity faces some new hurdles: A 2021 law shortened the campaign window, giving candidates just four weeks — including the Thanksgiving holiday — to make their final appeals to weary voters. And the stakes, along with national attention, diminished significantly when Democrats seized control of the Senate earlier this month, downgrading the race from a final battle for control of the chamber to a battle over whether Democrats won a 51st Senate vote .vote would win.

This reality may have hit Republicans hardest. Mr Walker’s troubled campaign must not only persuade his constituents to return, but also try to persuade those who rejected him in November to change their minds.

Democrats’ biggest challenge is fighting complacency by finding a message that excites their base while also appealing to voters who don’t often support the party.

Both parties frame the race in the worst terms. Democrats have presented it as an opportunity to expand their Senate majority, claim more committee seats and confirm like-minded federal judges. Republicans describe Mr. Walker as a key element of a Republican firewall against President Biden’s legislative agenda.

“It’s not just about this December,” Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said last week at a campaign rally in Smyrna, a suburb of Atlanta, his first appearance alongside Mr. Walker since his re-election. “It will be about November in two years and the future of our country.”

Mr. Kemp bluntly called the Senate runoff a “turnout” and asked Republican voters: “Who is more motivated? Is it us or them?”

How motivated the GOP voters are is not yet clear. While diehard Conservatives are likely to vote for Mr Walker in large numbers, he also needs to increase support among moderate and independent voters in the Atlanta suburbs. During the general election, more than 200,000 Republicans voted for Mr. Kemp but not for Mr. Walker.

And Mr Walker continues to face damaging headlines. On Tuesday, an unidentified woman held a news conference to further detail her allegation that Mr. Walker pressured her to have an abortion in the early 1990s. Mr. Walker has disputed the account.

On Wednesday, CNN first reported that Mr. Walker had filed for a tax exemption on his Texas home and described it as his primary residence for his property taxes in 2022, even as he was running for office in Georgia. His campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

The Walker campaign has held more events around Metro Atlanta in recent weeks and is relying on proxies like Mr. Kemp to bolster his candidacy. The governor turned over his records and field staff to Mr. Walker’s team the day after the general election. The Senate Leadership Fund, the committee supported by Republican Senate Chairman Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has provided $2 million for Mr. Walker’s turnout — the committee’s first investment in a get-out-the-vote. Program – in addition to more than $14 million it has spent on ads supporting Mr. Walker.

In addition, the state GOP, the Republican National Committee, and the Republican Senate National Committee have contributed voter data, money, and personnel to Mr. Walker’s campaign.

Governor Kemp wrote the script for how to win big in Georgia,” Steven Law, the president of the Senate Leadership Fund, said in a statement. “As we learned in 2020, Republican turnout is essential to winning a runoff, and we’re leaving no stone unturned.”

Republicans are trying to avoid repeating their losses in Georgia’s two Senate elections in 2020, when many conservatives, suspicious of the outcome of the presidential election, chose not to vote at all. State and grassroots leaders in the party now say they are spending more time making sure Republican voters vote again than trying to persuade independents to back Mr Walker.

“I think we kind of worked through that,” Gwinnett County Republican Party leader Sammy Baker said of the election denial that took root among many in his party two years ago. “And, you know, more people understand that if they don’t show up, we’re just not going to win.”

Former President Donald J. Trump has not yet indicated if he will hold a rally in Georgia ahead of the runoff. But a number of Republican agents and activists have said they prefer he stays away.

For his part, Mr Warnock is working to form the same coalition of voters that helped him win 37,600 more votes than Mr Walker on November 8th. (However, he won 49.5 percent of the total vote and the Georgia judiciary has a runoff if no candidate gets 50 percent.)

This democratic coalition includes voters of color, voters under the age of 30 and those who voted infrequently, particularly in central and southern Georgia.

Mr Warnock also wants to build on his support from voters sharing their tickets. His campaign has begun running a TV ad featuring a woman who describes herself as a lifelong Republican and says she’s “proud to support Brian Kemp in 2022.” But, she adds, “at the end of the day, I have to vote for someone who’s like I can trust and that has integrity.” And I don’t think that’s Herschel Walker.”

Both candidates have accelerated their fundraising in the run-up to the runoff, according to federal campaign finance filings: Mr. Warnock raised $52 million in the weeks between October 20 and November 16, while Mr. Walker raised $21 million collected dollars.

Mr. Warnock, who has raised more than $120 million for his re-election, has used this massive fundraiser to reach out to as many voters as possible across the country. A week after the general election, his campaign announced it had hired 300 new field workers statewide. This week his campaign said it had started running $1 million worth of advertising on billboards, posters, online pop-ups and banners pulled from airplanes to encourage voters to go to the polls.

Mr. Warnock also brings celebrities with him. The Dave Matthews Band will perform a concert for Mr. Warnock in Cobb County and former President Barack Obama will visit the state next week.

Part of the Democrats’ turnout strategy was the fight for more choices. Mr. Warnock’s campaign sued the state Democratic Party and the Democratic Senators’ Election Committee to vote on Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving. The groups argued that a law banning voting on the weekend after a public holiday does not apply to runoff elections. A Fulton County judge agreed and denied the Republican appeals.

On Saturday, Fulton County, the state’s most populous county and a Democratic bastion, will begin early voting at two dozen locations with extended hours.

On Tuesday, Douglas County, which is 20 miles west of Atlanta, became the first Georgia county to open its districts to early voting. Ingrid Landis-Davis, chair of the county’s Democratic Party, said she and other volunteers were conducting “a 24-7 operation,” gesturing at empty coffee pots scattered about the party’s office. She cites lines at some polling stations as a sign of early enthusiasm in the area.

Ms Landis-Davis said she and scores of other volunteers have been knocking on doors across the county, waving signs and making 24-hour calls to lure voters back out and attract more volunteers.

“It didn’t just start three weeks ago,” she said. “What we do is just a message: come back. One more time. Come back out.”