Georgia runoff: Trump factor, shortened schedule pose challenges for Walker
Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker forced Sen. Raphael Warnock into a runoff election, but former President Donald Trump’s expected 2024 run and an abbreviated runoff period to turn out voters could pose challenges for the candidate.
Walker, who may have a chance to win a Senate majority for Republicans, closed a polling deficit in the last month of the race to draw nearly even with Warnock, D-Ga., at the ballot box. But now he’ll have to bring his voters back to the polls in less than four weeks against an opponent with experience winning runoffs.
Trump is also expected to start his 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday. University of Georgia professor of political science Charles Bullock told Fox News Digital that risks drawing attention away from Walker.
“If Trump does announce, that would on balance help Raphael Warnock,” Bullock said. “It would remind those Republican voters who didn’t like Trump and who wouldn’t vote for Trump – we’re talking about mainly white, college-educated voters, probably living in the suburbs – it would remind them what they didn’t like about Trump.”
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“They can’t vote against him, but they can vote against his stand-in in the form of Herschel Walker,” Bullock added.
Asked about Trump’s possible influence on the runoff, Stephen Lawson, spokesman for the pro-Walker PAC 34N22, said all Republicans need to focus on the Senate race at hand.
“We need everybody lifting Herschel up and pushing him toward the finish line in a positive, constructive way,” Lawson said.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said Trump intends to help Walker across the finish line.
“President Trump endorsed Herschel Walker early and invested in his success,” Budowich said. “Now, after forcing a runoff, President Trump remains committed to his success and his support will be critical on Election Day.”
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Warnock also has his own vulnerability: President Biden – from whom Democrats generally shied away ahead of the midterms.
“I think it’s going to be very telling to see if Joe Biden comes to Georgia,” Lawson said. “If he’s not, I think that is a reflection of how poorly Georgians view him and, by extension, Raphael Warnock.”
Potentially the most significant change from 2020, however, is that the runoff is five weeks shorter due to Georgia’s new election law.
That reduces the time campaigns have to ramp up their get-out-the-vote infrastructure and cuts early voting down to approximately one week.
“This get-out-the-vote effort will be all hands [on] deck,” Walker campaign communication director Will Kiley said.
“The most important element here is … going to be what kind of ground game can each party put together,” Bullock added. “Rule No. 1 going into a runoff is try to get those people who voted for your candidate to come back for a second round.”
Lawson argued that “direct voter contact … in terms of door-knockers, grassroots mobilizers” will be key. He said he expects GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, who easily won re-election Tuesday, to go to bat for his party’s Senate nominee.
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“I think you’re going to see a lot of synergy with us, with our organization and with the governor’s operation,” he said. “And I think you’re going to see the governor come out and be very supportive of Herschel.”
But this isn’t Warnock’s first runoff, the former 2020 runoff staffer noted.
“Rev. Warnock has built a formidable and successful turnout operation ready to kick into high gear, while Walker has a big challenge ahead to motivate skeptical voters – especially without Kemp on the ballot,” the 2020 Democratic staffer said. “Early voting is cut down from three weeks to one. … This makes a strong ground game even more vital.”
Outside groups are also likely to throw resources at Warnock. The Progressive Turnout Project told Fox News Digital it will spend at least $1 million on Warnock and has recruited nearly 1,400 volunteers. But no matter how much effort goes into the race, the 2020 Democratic runoff staffer said, it’s almost impossible to predict a runoff.
“The electorate is unknown and fluid. Anyone who pretends to know what it will look like on Dec. 6 is lying,” the staffer said.
But Walker’s team says they’re optimistic, even after their candidate got fewer votes than other statewide Republicans on Tuesday. Those Republicans, they said, were facing lesser opponents.
“A sitting senator spent $100 million attacking Herschel, and the best they could do was a runoff,” Kiley said.