Georgia candidates draw battle lines ahead of November race

Aides to U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, left, issued a campaign road map that laid out how the Democrat plans to highlight how Republican Heschel Walker’s “pattern of lies, exaggerations and outright bizarre claims reveal he is not up for the job.” Walker plans to pursue a strategy that frames Warnock as an “inspirational” figure who nonetheless backs reckless federal policies.

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Aides to U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, left, issued a campaign road map that laid out how the Democrat plans to highlight how Republican Heschel Walker’s “pattern of lies, exaggerations and outright bizarre claims reveal he is not up for the job.” Walker plans to pursue a strategy that frames Warnock as an “inspirational” figure who nonetheless backs reckless federal policies.

The policy divides in Georgia’s marquee political races came into clearer focus after this week’s primaries, as Republicans tied their opponents to President Joe Biden and Democrats condemned pro-gun GOP stances following another mass shooting.

The candidates for Georgia’s top offices moved to better define themselves — and their opponents — almost as soon as voters picked nominees in races for governor and the U.S. Senate that will again ensure the state is under the national microscope.

And Democrats released plans for a unified statewide campaign devoted to mobilizing supporters for Stacey Abrams and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, as the party tries to reforge the multiracial coalition that powered narrow victories in the last election cycle.

In dueling memos and new volleys of TV ads, Warnock and his GOP opponent, Herschel Walker, charted out the contours of the second Georgia Senate race in two years that could determine control of the chamber.

Warnock’s aides issued a campaign road map that laid out how the Democrat plans to highlight how Walker’s “pattern of lies, exaggerations and outright bizarre claims reveal he is not up for the job.”

And he launched the latest in a string of TV ads highlighting his attention to noncontroversial issues — this one touted his work helping tornado victims in Newnan — to appeal to a broader electorate.

Fresh off the primary, the GOP strategy to unseat the Democrat also came into sharper focus. Rather than revive the “radical liberal” attacks that dominated the 2020 race, Republicans have embraced a different approach.

The Senate Republicans’ campaign arm deployed an ad that framed Warnock, the state’s first Black U.S. senator, as an “inspirational” figure who nonetheless backs reckless federal policies. Walker, too, complimented the charismatic pastor.

“He’s absolutely incredible,” Walker said of Warnock at a campaign stop. “But, you know, I’m incredible, too. I love fighting. I’ve been doing it all my life. I’m not worried about all that.”

Republicans are hungry to connect Warnock — or “Little Biden,” as Walker called him — with the president’s poor approval ratings, which have suffered from concerns about rising energy prices and high inflation.

“The road to defeating the Biden agenda runs through Georgia,” Walker said.

Gov. Brian Kemp has a similar playbook, albeit one that accuses his opponent of viewing his office as a steppingstone to succeed Biden. Abrams has vowed not to run for president in 2024, though she has said she intends to seek the office in the future.

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Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has reacted to this past week's mass shooting in Texas by highlighting his efforts to improve safety in schools, including plans to train 300 school resource officers. His Democratic opponent in November, Stacey Abrams, has pointed to Kemp's signing of the state's most recent rollback in gun restrictions, allowing Georgians to carry concealed handguns without a permit.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has reacted to this past week's mass shooting in Texas by highlighting his efforts to improve safety in schools, including plans to train 300 school resource officers. His Democratic opponent in November, Stacey Abrams, has pointed to Kemp's signing of the state's most recent rollback in gun restrictions, allowing Georgians to carry concealed handguns without a permit.

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Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has reacted to this past week's mass shooting in Texas by highlighting his efforts to improve safety in schools, including plans to train 300 school resource officers. His Democratic opponent in November, Stacey Abrams, has pointed to Kemp's signing of the state's most recent rollback in gun restrictions, allowing Georgians to carry concealed handguns without a permit.

“We’re going to make sure Stacey’s road to Pennsylvania Avenue stops right here in the Peach State,” said Kemp, who assailed Abrams as someone who “embraced the disastrous Biden agenda at every turn.”

As outrage heightened over the massacre of 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school, Democrats skewered Republican opposition to new restrictions on guns such as more widespread background checks.

Walker gave a confusing answer to a reporter’s question about whether Congress should pass new gun laws to respond to the tragedy. “What I like to do is see it and everything and stuff,” Walker said, adding nothing else.

Meanwhile, Kemp highlighted school-safety measures his administration put in place, which included setting aside $69 million for school security grants in 2019 and plans to train 300 school resource officers this year with an updated training protocol after the Texas shooting.

Abrams and other Democrats reminded voters that Kemp recently signed into law the state’s latest significant rollback of gun restrictions, authorizing a measure that allows Georgians to carry concealed handguns without first getting a state license.

Her campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, said Kemp disqualified himself from a second term when he pushed the “criminal carry bill that will put more guns on our streets and make us less safe.”

And she brought up his 2018 ad featuring him pointing a shotgun near a nervous-looking teenager that helped propel him into a runoff but triggered outrage from critics.

“Years from now,” Groh-Wargo said, “Kemp will be remembered as a one-term governor who pointed a gun at a boy on television.”