ATLANTA (AP) — Early in-person voting for the last U.S. Senate seat is underway in the Georgia runoff, with Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock working to overtake Republican challenger Herschel Walker, who places less emphasis on the primary .
After Warnock won a state lawsuit to allow voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Warnock spent the weekend urging his supporters not to wait until the Dec. 6 runoff. Trying to capitalize on his role as pastor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s church and as Georgia’s first black U.S. senator, Warnock focused his efforts Sunday on black communities in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
“What we’re doing right now is soul work,” Warnock said at Liberty International Church, southwest of downtown, where he rallied supporters before leading a march to a nearby early voting site, where he cast his ballot. “We are involved in a political exercise,” Warnock continued, “but this is moral and spiritual work and for us it has always been based on the foundation of the church.”
Walker, on the other hand, did not hold any public events during the long Thanksgiving weekend, and on his return to campaign Monday night in the north Atlanta suburb of Cumming, he did not specifically mention the early voting. “Tell your friends to come vote with you,” he said. “If you don’t have friends, go and make friends.”
Separately, the Republican Party and its allied PACs are trying to boost turnout after Walker outperformed other Georgia Republicans in the general election. Walker finished the first round about 200,000 fewer votes than Gov. Brian Kemp, who easily won a second term. Walker resumes his campaign Monday with stops in the small town of Toccoa and the suburb of Cumming.
Early in-person voting will continue through Friday. Runoff date is Tuesday next week.
Warnock led Walker by about 37,000 votes out of about 4 million votes cast in the general election, but fell short of the majority required by Georgian law, sparking a four-week runoff campaign. Warnock first won the seat during the concurrent Senate runoff on Jan. 5, 2021, when he and Senator Jon Ossoff prevailed over Republican incumbents to give the Democrats tight control of the Senate early in President Joe Biden’s term . Warnock won a special election and is now seeking a full six-year term.
This time, Senate scrutiny is not in play as Democrats have already secured 50 seats to go with Vice President Kamala Harris’ landmark vote. That puts pressure on both Warnock and Walker to convince Georgia voters that even if the national stakes aren’t as high, it’s worth casting a second ballot.
By late Sunday, nearly 200,000 ballots had been cast in the relatively few counties that chose to vote over the weekend. Monday’s first day of statewide early voting added at least 250,000 more, the largest in-person early voting day in Georgia history, according to Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling. That included long lines in several heavily Democratic Metro Atlanta districts, enough to give Democrats confidence that their core supporters remain excited to vote for Warnock. But the total remains a fraction of the nearly 2.3 million early in-person voters ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.
And Democrats remain cautious as the early voting window is much shorter than it was two years ago, when the second round spanned two months between the general election and the runoff. Saturday’s vote was only allowed because Warnock and the Democrats had complained in a dispute with the Republican secretary of state over whether Saturday’s vote could take place on a holiday weekend.
The senator followed with a parade of black leaders for weekend rallies and a march reminiscent of suffrage demonstrations during the civil rights movement.
“We have a voice here that can change the world,” Andrew Young, a former Atlanta mayor and former King adviser, implored black voters Sunday. The 90-year-old former congressman and UN ambassador rose from his wheelchair to speak, reminding the gathering of the Congressional compromise that ended post-Civil War Reconstruction and paved the way for Jim Crow’s segregation in the South.
“A vote at the end of the Civil War pulled all Union troops out of the South and lost us the rights that we fought for in the war and that the people fought for us,” he said, beginning “a fight that we’ve been with ever since.” “
Warnock praised the turnout over the weekend as he campaigned Monday with college students on the campus at Morehouse College, where he graduated. “I don’t want us to get too comfortable or congratulate ourselves,” he said. “We’ve just had two days of early voting, today is day three. We cannot take our foot off the gas.”
Later Monday, Warnock performed in a Cobb County suburb with musician Dave Matthews, who praised Warnock as a “decent man.” The hundreds of listeners included many middle-aged white voters, a key target for Warnock as he seeks to reach core Democrats to win voters who sometimes choose Republicans.
“When you go home, please tell all your friends who were on the fence to get on the right side of the fence,” Matthews said.
For his part, Walker also drew enthusiastic crowds in the first few weeks of the runoff, and his campaign aides remain confident he has no problem among core Republicans. His challenge lies in the middle of the Georgia electorate, a gap highlighted by his deficit compared to Kemp.
“I think Herschel Walker benefited from having Brian Kemp in the original November 8 election, and I think Kemp’s absence will hurt Republicans a little bit,” said Marcelo Salvatierra of Alpharetta, who represents Republican Kemp and Democrats Warnock and voted to support the senator in the runoff.
Salvatierra said he supports Kemp’s re-election “because it seems to me Georgia did well.” But federal Republicans, he said, have never seriously opposed Democratic control of Washington, while Walker also brings with him considerable personal baggage.
“Character matters and I feel like he has no character,” Salvatierra said.
Warnock has encouraged this sentiment among core Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans. For months he said Walker, a former football star running for public office for the first time, was “not ready” for the Senate. In recent weeks, he has escalated the attack by saying Walker is “not fit” and highlighting the challenger’s untruths about his achievements in the private sector, along with allegations of violence against women and allegations by two women that Walker encouraged and paid for their abortions. Walker, who supports a blanket national ban on abortion, denies ever paying for any abortions.