February 3, 2023

MORROW, Ga. (AP) — It goes without saying that Democrats generally vote against Republicans. But Georgia’s US Senate runoff can hardly be overstated how driven Democratic voters – and others – are to not want Republican challenger Herschel Walker as a US senator.

Ask Raphael Warnock voters what they think of the election, and it’s often criticism of Walker that comes out first.

“You have a very ignorant, ignorant, ignorant guy running for Herschel Walker,” said Dennis Paris, an entertainer who lives in Jonesboro, a suburb of Atlanta, and voted for Warnock in Morrow this week. “I can’t imagine going through anything else like we went through with an ignorant Trump making decisions for us and not caring about the people.”

Even many Georgia Republicans voting for Walker, the former University of Georgia and professional football star, say they are less motivated to like him than to oppose President Joe Biden’s administration and Warnock’s support for Biden’s policies

The runoff election on Tuesday is far from decided. Warnock led Walker in the November 8 general election, but failed to secure a majority, necessitating a further state ballot.

Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff won Senate seats in a January 2021 runoff, giving their party razor-thin control of the Senate. But the Georgia runoff has historically favored Republicans, in part because turnout has tended to decline sharply.

A high turnout by GOP voters on Election Day could still see Walker win. After all, Republicans won every other statewide race in Georgia last month.

However, dislike of Walker seems to be fueling Democrats’ enthusiasm. Some party leaders had feared their constituents would not be motivated to run for Warnock again after Democrats secured two more years of Senate control with victories in other states.

Strong early turnout has eased these concerns. As of Thursday, nearly 1.5 million people in Georgia had cast their early votes, including several record-breaking single days.

According to state voting data compiled by Ryan Anderson, an Atlanta-based independent analyst, three of the state’s five Democrat-held congressional districts had already recorded early turnout of at least 61% of the total early votes for November’s election as of Thursday, none of them Georgia’s nine Republican-held congressional districts had surpassed that mark.

Some Walker voters are also uneasy about him. Tom Glass, a software engineer who voted for Walker Thursday in Marietta, said he reluctantly voted Republican.

He supports Walker, he said, because he wants change in Washington, but he conceded, “I know all the stuff that’s been said about him, and a good chunk of it is actually true.”

Glass said he thinks the election is less important because Democrats already control the Senate, but he still chose Walker. “Is he the answer? No, but I don’t think Warnock is the answer.”

Riverdale’s John McCombs said he voted for Walker simply because “I feel like the nation is going in the wrong direction.”

“I hope he can stop some of the policies that have thrown our nation down the wrong path,” the IT professional said, citing his particular concern about “spending money we don’t have.”

In speeches and ads, Warnock and other Democrats have hyped their portrait of a totally unqualified Walker who could embarrass their state.

“How embarrassed would you be if Herschel Walker was your senator?” asks a flyer sent to households this week by the Democratic Party of Georgia.

A Warnock television ad shows voters reacting with confusion and disgust to Walker’s remarks, including a Nov. 16 speech that included a tangent in which Walker attempted to connect the plot of the vampire film Fright Night to his campaign .

He suggested that if only voters had faith, they could defeat Warnock by relying on more patriotism and unity that ignores racial segregation.

But that message was buried by Democratic mockery that called Walker frivolous, including former President Barack Obama at a rally with Warnock in Atlanta on Thursday.

“Since I was last here, Mr. Walker has spoken about issues that are deeply meaningful to the people of Georgia, such as whether it’s better to be a vampire than a werewolf,” Obama said. “I must confess that I had this debate myself once – when I was seven years old. Then I grew up.”

Democratic voters often say they believe Walker is out of his depth and being lured into the running by former President Donald Trump or other Republicans who are counting on Walker’s soccer star to win a Senate seat for the GOP.

“I just feel like he’s a pawn, like they said, ‘Let’s bring Herschel in so we can get the spot,'” said Morrow’s Sherri Gates. “I just don’t feel like he’s qualified.”

Gates describes herself as a determined Democrat who supports Warnock, pastor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s former church in Atlanta, because “he’s a decent human being.”

“I don’t want Herschel to represent me and my state,” she said. “He seems to have trouble expressing himself. He just doesn’t seem to represent anyone well, maybe even himself.”

Walker argues that it is Warnock who doesn’t know what he is doing by supporting Biden so much.

Warnock says, “Come on. Georgia is better than Herschel Walker!”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

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