In the US Senate runoff in Georgia, candidates are running in unlikely places

“We need someone in Washington to row the boat with Governor Kemp. And we must row in the same direction,” Walker said to a crowd of hundreds gathered outside a gun shop in Smyrna.

Conventional wisdom holds that runoff elections are all about turnout: the candidate who gets his people back in the polls wins. But after a race in which candidates were separated by a razor-thin margin of less than 1 percentage point, every voter really counts. And that has meant fighting in some unlikely places as the runoff sprints into the home stretch.

“There are Democrats in this county”

The voter-rich metropolis of Atlanta remains the main base of support for the Democrats. In the November 8 general election, Warnock drew about half of his 1.9 million votes from five counties – Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. But building on Democrat Stacy Abrams’ blueprint in 2018, he has also contested areas that were Republican strongholds.

Warnock won’t win Forsyth County — or many of the other exurban and rural areas he’s visited — but going to the fringes can mean the difference between winning and losing a statewide election in a swing state like Georgia. In the three days leading up to Thanksgiving, Warnock made seven campaign stops, and all but two of those were in counties he lost to Walker.

“As a senator, I represent the entire state, and I have a responsibility to do that work,” Warnock told reporters after the Forsyth County event. “We have to get past blue and red in this country and in this state.”

In some rural areas, Warnock taps into large pockets of black voters who have either been ignored or simply felt their votes didn’t matter.

Alvin Darrisaw was one of them. Excited to see Warnock speak in Johnson County Monday night, Darrisaw said it was the first time he was at a political event.

“We don’t get many visitors down here,” Darrisaw said. “We’re pretty small and people don’t pay us much attention.”

Patty Hewett said the same thing happened in Bryan County south of Savannah. When she and other like-minded residents started waving signs on a corner of US 17 a few years ago, the reaction of some was surprised.

“People were like, ‘Oh God, look, there are Democrats in this county,'” she said.

Since then, Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff have been repeat visitors to Bryan County, and that, she said, helps Democrats reach more people there.

Did it matter?

In this year’s general election, Warnock beat Abrams’ vote in the 2018 midterm election in Bryan by just over 1,000 votes. That might not seem like much, but when you consider that Georgia has 159 counties, you start to see the difference that can make.

Split Ticket Voter

Walker, meanwhile, has embraced Kemp, a Republican he barely mentioned during the general election, to draw back the popular governor’s supporters. In addition to their joint appearance in Cobb, the Republicans are also saturating the airwaves with an ad for Walker that includes a testimony from the governor.

“Herschel Walker will vote for Georgia and will not be another stamp for Joe Biden,” Kemp says in the spot, paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Kemp drove to re-election along with the rest of the statewide Republican ticket, winning about 200,000 votes more than Walker. The former soccer star is in a runoff election because some Georgians split their tickets.

For example, at Cobb, Kemp won around 20,000 more votes than Walker, and at Fulton the difference was just over 25,000 votes. If Walker simply matched Kemp in those two counties alone, he would have more than made up the 37,675 vote difference over Warnock.

In the week leading up to the election, Walker traveled from the mountains of northern Georgia to the farmlands of the southern part of the state. As of November 8, Walker has performed twice in Cobb and once in Milton, north Fulton.

Jill Weaver represents the kind of voter Walker needs. She supported Kemp and Walker in the general election, but was more fond of Kemp. Still, she said she would vote again.

“I know some people didn’t vote for him, but I’m like, ‘why not?’ ‘ Weaver said at a Walker event in Powder Springs. “No one is perfect, and I think you must do whatever it takes to stop or at least slow down the Democratic Party.”