The Jolt: Are Warnock and Walker headed for a runoff?

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A clear trend is emerging in a series of polls released over the last two weeks that suggest the U.S. Senate race is headed toward a December runoff.

The FiveThirtyEight polling average pegs U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican hopeful Herschel Walker just two percentage points apart. The Real Clear Politics average is even closer. And no poll this cycle has shown either Warnock or Walker securing the 50%-plus needed to win the race outright.

Both candidates, of course, will pour in resources to try to score an outright win and avoid an unpredictable runoff. Republicans have long had the edge in statewide overtime contests — until Warnock and Jon Ossoff upended the dynamic by sweeping the 2021 races.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

One reason politicos are bracing for a runoff is the relative strength of Libertarian Chase Oliver. Shane Hazel’s third-party candidacy hardly registers in many polls for the governor’s race. But Oliver, who ran to succeed the late Congressman John Lewis in 2020, is at 3% in the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll and slightly higher in several others.

In a tight race, that could be enough to force a second round of voting.

While Libertarian support usually fades as November nears, the AJC poll indicates a significant number of Gov. Brian Kemp’s supporters are backing Oliver in the Senate race instead of Walker.

Fortunately, Georgia voters won’t have to contend with a nine-week runoff stretching into the new year. When Georgia legislators rewrote the state’s election law, they also shortened the runoff period to four weeks, which puts a runoff Election Day on December 6.

The timing will spare Georgia politicos’ plans for New Year’s — but we can’t say the same for Thanksgiving. Hopefully, your flights are refundable.

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Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

POLL-A-PALOOZA. On that note, we have three more Georgia polls to explore.

A Monmouth University poll pegged Gov. Brian Kemp with a 49% to 45% lead over Stacey Abrams. Then came a poll from left-leaning Data for Progress that showed Kemp up 51% to 44% over the Democrat.

And on Friday, Progress for Georgia released a poll from Patinkin Research Strategies that had Kemp at 50% and Abrams at 47%. That’s within the margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Read the poll here.

“Let’s not forget that Georgia has one of the strongest ground games in the nation and as investment continues to come into the state, we will see history made in Georgia again,” said Nicole Henderson of Progress Georgia, the left-leaning group that commissioned the poll.

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LISTEN UP. It’s time for the Friday edition of the Politically Georgia podcast.

Your Insiders discuss why Democrats are competing in deep-red territory — and why Republicans plan to step up their efforts in Atlanta’s suburbs.

And of course we answer your questions from the 24-hour Politically Georgia Podcast Hotline, which you can call anytime at (770) 810-5297.

Listen and subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

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ABORTION FALLOUT. A video of Stacey Abrams calling fetal heartbeats detected in the early weeks of pregnancy “manufactured sound” has 2.6 million views and counting after a Republican National Committee account tweeted it out late Wednesday.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“There is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks,” said Abrams in the clip, which was recorded at a roundtable event with Spelman and Morehouse students earlier this week. “It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body.”

Accompanying the tweet was a false assertion that Abrams “supports no limits on abortion.” Though she initially didn‘t support any limitations on abortion, Abrams in an interview months ago said she’d protect the right to an abortion before the point of fetal viability, which is considered to be about 23 weeks into a pregnancy, except in cases when the mother’s health or life are in danger. During a more recent interview on “The View,” she said those exceptions should be made “until the time of birth.”

Republicans hammered Abrams on Thursday for remarking that the sounds were intended “to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body.”

Our AJC colleagues Ariel Hart and Maya T. Prabhu have previously reported that medical professionals say that neither a heart nor a heartbeat develop by six weeks.

From Hart’s story:

“The sound that you're hearing at six weeks is manufactured by the ultrasound machine," said Dr. Nisha Verma, an OB-GYN who has studied at Emory and is currently a fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Washington, D.C.

At six weeks, what will soon be the heart hasn't developed yet.

What's there is a tiny pipe called the primitive heart tube that can't pump blood because it doesn't close.

“For example, when I listen to (an adult's heart, with a stethoscope), the sound that I hear is being made by the opening and closing of the cardiac valves. But at six weeks, those valves don't exist," Verma said.

“It doesn't have a sound."

Instead, at about six weeks, cells are shooting out electrical signals and fluttering or twitching. The ultrasound machine translates that activity into something the doctor and patient can understand. The doctor needs to know if the signals are coming at a fast and regular rate.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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PRICEY POLICIES. Even as Stacey Abrams faced attacks over her abortion stance, her campaign released a new TV ad linking Gov. Brian Kemp’s support for anti-abortion restrictions and pro-gun expansions to the state losing premier events that would have brought millions of dollars to the state.

Major League Baseball canceled the All-Star game scheduled to take place at Truist Park in response to the state’s 2021 election law overhaul. And organizers of Music Midtown indicated they pulled the event from Atlanta this year because of the state’s permissive gun laws.

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DONATION DUPE? A New York Times report questions, but does not prove whether or not Herschel Walker’s company made charitable donations to four nonprofits after promising to do so.

David Fahrenthold and Shane Goldmacher write:

Mr. Walker, a former football star, pledged that 15 percent of profits would go to charities, a promise the company said was “part of its corporate charter." For years, Mr. Walker's company named four specific charities as beneficiaries of those donations, including the Boy Scouts of America and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

But there is scant evidence that Mr. Walker's giving matched those promises. When The New York Times contacted those four charities, one declined to comment and the other three said they had no record or recollection of any gifts from the company in the last decade.

“Herschel has been supportive verbally. I don't think he's given us any money," said Jim Baugh, the founder of a now-defunct charity called the PE4Life Foundation. As late as 2017, one of Mr. Walker's companies cited that foundation as a recipient of corporate donations, but Mr. Baugh said his foundation ceased operations in 2014.

Mr. Walker's Senate campaign declined to say when, how or even if Mr. Walker's company had made the donations it promised. A campaign spokesman, Will Kiley, said in a short written statement, “Herschel Walker has given millions of dollars to charities," but he declined to provide details.

- The New York Times

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OVERDOSE DOLLARS. Georgia is due to receive $29.6 million in federal funding as part of a $1.5 billion nationwide effort to address the rising number of deaths caused by opioid overdoses

Credit: Leah Willingham

Credit: Leah Willingham

The money is part of a broader effort announced by the White House that includes funding for drug prevention and treatment programs in rural areas, new funding for law enforcement and supporting greater access to naloxone, a drug used to treat overdoses.

Opioids — especially synthetic opioids like fentanyl — are currently the main driver of drug overdose deaths in the U.S.

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Credit: Natrice Miller

Credit: Natrice Miller

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden is hosting Sir Elton John at the White House for a musical performance to be aired at a later date;
  • The U.S. House and Senate are in recess until next week;
  • House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy heads to Pittsburgh for a speech outlining his party’s priorities in hopes of winning a GOP House majority in November.

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Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

SPOTTED IN D.C. A tipster spotted GOP nominee Herschel Walker at Del Frisco’s steakhouse in the District of Columbia on Wednesday night “working the room” and taking pictures with diners well into the evening.

Walker was Washington for a Thursday fundraiser hosted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell was also a “special guest” at a D.C. fundraiser for Gov. Brian Kemp’s campaign earlier this month.

Kemp will get more reinforcements next week when Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin comes to Georgia to join the governor at a campaign rally Tuesday.

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ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL.

  • Herschel Walker’s “Unite Georgia Bus Tour” will stop at the RNC Asian Pacific American Community Center in Berkeley Lake Friday. He will be joined by Soo Hong, the GOP nominee for state House District 103.
  • Kelly Loeffler’s Women for a Greater Georgia will host an “Election Season Kickoff Tailgate” Saturday at Lucky’s Beer & Brew in Alpharetta. GOP lieutenant governor nominee Burt Jones is the featured guest.

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Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

CAPTIVE AUDIENCE. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock took advantage of a Senate hearing on Thursday to urge the heads of major banks to take seriously his proposal to end overdraft fees.

Warnock sits on the Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which had called the leaders of Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bancorp, and PNC Financial Services Group to testify at the oversight hearing.

Warnock told the bank honchos the fees have a steep financial impact on low-income families.

“I’ve seen personally, as a Senator, as pastor, the impact that these fees have on ordinary folks who are just struggling trying to make ends meet,” Warnock said. “So, this is an important issue, one that I’ll stay on.”

In March, Warnock joined a group of senators challenging banks to address bank fees they said disproportionately affect low-income families. Two months later, he led a subcommittee hearing on the issue.

Under pressure from Congress, some banks have eliminated overdraft fees or offered flexibility to customers with overdrawn accounts. But a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows many banks continue to rely on revenue from the fees for profits.

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.