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In Georgia Runoff, the rules of a campaign cliché: it all depends on participation


ATLANTA — A month before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, several Georgia grassroots organizing groups came together to plan what they saw as an 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 additional month of canvassing and door-to-door canvassing, increasing staff outside the region of Atlanta and the recording of robocalls that could start reaching voters the next day. Election day.

Midway through Georgia’s four-week runoff period, that plan is now in full swing. And local organizers are not alone. Democrats and Republicans in Georgia have invested $38 million in television ads, hired more than 700 additional frontline workers and invited governors, senators and at least one former president ahead of Election Day on Dec. 6.

Campaigns and allied groups are feverishly knocking on doors, waving signs and sending text messages imploring Georgians to return to the polls for the second time in less than a month. All the while, Mr. Warnock and his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker, are traveling alongside high-profile surrogates to re-energize supporters.

“If you want to be on top of your game in Georgia, you expect trickles,” said Hillary Holley, executive director of Care in Action, the policy arm of the National Alliance of Domestic Workers, which has helped do so before. general elections. .

Yet all that activity is hitting 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, as well as national attention, fell dramatically when Democrats took control of the Senate earlier this month, turning the race from a final battle for control of the chamber to a fight over whether the Democrats would win a 51st vote.

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

The biggest challenge for Democrats is fighting complacency, finding a message that excites their base and at the same time appeals to voters who don’t often support the party.

Both sides are framing the race in the direst terms. Democrats have described it as a chance to expand their Senate majority, claim more committee seats and confirm like-minded federal judges. Republicans describe Mr. Walker as a key part of a Republican firewall against President Biden’s legislative agenda.

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

Mr. Kemp squarely framed the Senate runoff as a “turnout election,” asking Republican voters, “Who is more motivated? Is it us or them?

The motivation of GOP voters is still unclear. While hardline conservatives will likely vote in large numbers to support Mr. Walker, he will also need to build support among moderate and independent voters in suburban Atlanta. In the general election, more than 200,000 Republicans voted for Mr Kemp but not Mr Walker.

And Mr. Walker continued to make damaging headlines. On Tuesday, a woman who did not identify herself held a press conference to further detail her claim that Mr Walker pressured her to have an abortion in the early 1990s. Mr Walker denied the account.

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

The Walker campaign has held more events in metro Atlanta in recent weeks and is relying on surrogates like Mr. Kemp to bolster his candidacy. The governor handed over his data and field agents to Mr. Walker’s team the day after the general election. The Senate Leadership Fund, the committee backed by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, provided $2 million for Mr Walker’s stake deal – the committee’s first investment in an incentive program to vote – in addition to more than 14 million dollars. he spent on advertisements supporting Mr Walker.

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

Governor Kemp wrote the playbook on how to win big in Georgia,” Steven Law, chairman of the Senate Leadership Fund, said in a statement. “As we learned in 2020, Republican participation is critical to victory in a runoff, and we are leaving no stone unturned.”

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

“I think we’ve kind of worked through this,” Gwinnett County Republican Party Chairman Sammy Baker said of the campaign denial that took root among many in his party a while ago. two years. “And, you know, more people understand, if they don’t show up, we just won’t win.”

Former President Donald J. Trump has yet to say whether he will hold a rally in Georgia before the runoff. But a number of Republican operatives and activists have said they prefer he stays away.

Mr Warnock, for his part, is struggling to form the same coalition of voters that helped him win 37,600 more votes than Mr Walker on November 8. (He did, however, win 49.5% of the total vote and Georgia law enforcement a runoff if no candidate reaches 50%.)

This Democratic coalition includes voters of color, voters under 30, and people who have voted infrequently, especially in central and southern Georgia.

Mr Warnock is also aiming to build on his support from voters who split their tickets. Her campaign began running a TV ad featuring a woman who calls herself 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 i can trust and that has integrity. And I don’t believe it’s Herschel Walker.

Both candidates accelerated their fundraising as the runoff approached, according to federal campaign finance documents: Mr. Warnock raised $52 million in the weeks between Oct. 20 and Nov. 16 while Mr. Walker raised $21 million.

Mr. Warnock, who has raised more than $120 million for his re-election, has used the huge fundraiser to target as many voters as possible across the state. A week after the general election, his campaign announced that it had hired 300 new field staff across the state. This week, his campaign said it had started rolling out $1 million in advertising on billboards, posters, online pop-ups and banners fired from airplanes encouraging voters to get to the polls. ballot boxes.

Mr. Warnock also brings in celebrities. The Dave Matthews Band will host 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 is to fight for more opportunities to vote. Mr. Warnock’s campaign, the state Democratic Party and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee filed a lawsuit to allow the vote on Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving. The groups argued that a law prohibiting voting on weekends after a public holiday did not apply to the runoffs. A Fulton County judge accepted and denied the Republicans’ appeals.

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

On Tuesday, Douglas County, located 20 miles west of Atlanta, became the first county in Georgia to open its precinct to early voting. Ingrid Landis-Davis, chairwoman of the county Democratic Party, said she and other volunteers conducted “a 24/7 operation”, pointing to empty coffee pots strewn around the office of the left. She cited lines on a few voting sites as a sign of early enthusiasm in the region.

Landis-Davis said she and dozens of other volunteers knocked on doors across the county, waved signs and made round-the-clock phone calls to get voters back and recruit more volunteers.

“It didn’t start three weeks ago,” she said. “What we’re doing is just sending a message: come back. Once again. Get out.

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