The Jolt: Trump seen as detriment by top Georgia Republican candidates

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

Former President Donald Trump has headlined a string of rallies over the last month in battleground states, and plans four more stops through Nov. 8 in some of the most politically competitive places in the nation: Florida, Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

One state missing from his campaign schedule is Georgia. The latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll demonstrates why candidates here might want him to stay away. Some 52% of likely Georgia voters disapprove of Trump, while 42% see him in a favorable light.

Of those who view him negatively, about 15% are Republicans and nearly 80% are independents. A majority of Black Georgians, moderate voters, women and those under the age of 64 all give him unfavorable reviews.

Trump’s advisers initially talked of a mid-October visit to south Georgia to coincide with the debate in Savannah between U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker, one of the few people Trump endorsed ahead of the primaries who won the GOP nomination.

But that idea was scrapped at the urging of senior state Republican leaders, including allies of Walker who brandished polling data that showed Trump would do more harm than good to the former football star’s campaign. Plus, there’s the fact that Trump openly opposed Gov. Brian Kemp and other GOP incumbents.

Could Trump be on the schedule if there’s a U.S. Senate runoff? Certainly. But for now, his role continues to be diminished in Georgia even as he remains a factor in other states.

One of the clearest signs of his scaled-back influence here: Trump’s name wasn’t mentioned at all during Sunday’s hourlong debate between Kemp and Stacey Abrams.

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Credit: Comedy Central

Credit: Comedy Central

LATE-NIGHT TV. “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” is taping shows live from Atlanta this week, and Stacey Abrams was a guest on Monday’s episode.

It was Abrams’ fourth time on the show, but the first from her home territory. Noah, during the nearly six-minute interview, asked about her approach in the final stages of the campaign.

“Coming to Georgia has been really interesting because every ad that I watch makes it seem like you are a very evil person,” Noah commented.

Abrams said she doesn’t internalize the attacks and instead uses them as fuel to her campaign message that she would govern Georgia better than incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp. She mentioned his support for abortion restrictions and loosening gun laws.

“Part of it is just reminding people of his record,” she said. “Well, he’s been governor for four years. I haven’t. He made sure of that. So, if you’re the governor, you don’t get to take credit but not take responsibility.”

The episodes are being taped at the Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta. As of early this morning you could still request tickets for the final show on Thursday.

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TWO TOURS. Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ “One Georgia” bus tour made a stop with other Democrats in Sandy Springs over the weekend. Alisha Thomas Searcy, the party’s nominee for state schools superintendent, has not been included in the tour.

We told you earlier this fall that Searcy had spoken out about allies of Abrams whom she felt had “ostracized and excluded” her from important party functions and fundraising.

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

“As it relates to One Georgia, we have not been invited to participate in that bus tour and we don’t know why,” said Dennis Clark, a spokesman for Searcy’s campaign. Clark said Searcy happened to be in Athens last month at the same time Abrams’ tour kicked off. “And that’s how we found out it was happening.”

While Searcy is clearly not in with Abrams’ camp, Clark said her campaign is getting support from U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia and its chairwoman. She attended an event with Williams in Cascade last week. Searcy was also on stage with the rest of the ticket during Friday’s rally headlined by former President Barack Obama.

“DPG as a party has been very inclusive and very kind as a party,” Clark said. “One particular candidate at the top of the ticket does not necessarily encompass the whole entire operation of what’s happening with Democrats throughout the state.”

Searcy is now working through county Democratic parties to get her message out across the state. And she got a boost Monday when former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin endorsed her campaign.

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LISTEN UP. We’ve got another special episode of the Politically Georgia podcast up today, breaking down the final poll from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution heading into Election Day.

In the governor’s race, Gov. Brian Kemp is polling at roughly 51%, with Stacey Abrams at 44%. The race for Senate puts GOP nominee Herschel Walker at about 46%, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock at 45%, Libertarian Chase Oliver at about 5% and 5% of voters undecided. The poll’s margin of error was 3.1 percentage points.

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

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

FREE SPEECH. Some of the world’s biggest music artists are banding together to back a proposal by a Georgia congressman that would limit prosecutors’ ability to use rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials.

Alicia Keys, Camila Cabello, Coldplay, Drake, John Legend and Megan Thee Stallion have joined dozens of other artists, record labels and advocacy organizations in signing onto an open letter that will be published in The New York Times and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Rappers are storytellers, creating entire worlds populated with complex characters who can play both hero and villain,” the letter says. “But more than any other art form, rap lyrics are essentially being used as confessions in an attempt to criminalize black creativity and artistry.”

The letter mentions Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ prosecution of artists who have recorded under the Young Stoner Life record label. She has drawn attention for introducing the lyrics of rappers Young Thug and Gunna in a 56-count indictment alleging they participated in gang and racketeering activity.

The artists are encouraging Congress to pass the Restoring Artistic Protection Act, or RAP Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson. The legislation would restrict the use of music lyrics as evidence in federal trials. That wouldn’t affect cases by prosecutors like Willis, but the artists’ letters also ask prosecutors to voluntarily end the practice of introducing lyrics as evidence.

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

VIEW FROM THE TOP. Top aides to Stacey Abrams held an online news conference on Monday heading into the final week of early voting.

Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said the specific breakdowns inside this year’s surge tell her that an Abrams victory is within reach.

“I can tell you that under the hood of these vote-by-mail numbers, we are seeing high rates of infrequent and less frequent voters voting on the Democratic side, really strong performance overall.”

She pointed to Black voter turnout in particular as a sign that the campaign’s strategy of putting Abrams at cultural events like the recent Lizzo concert is working. About 450,000 Black Georgians have cast their votes so far, compared to roughly 300,000 at the same point in 2018.

“The bottom line is Stacey Abrams can win outright. She can win in a runoff. This thing is not over,” Groh-Wargo said. “I know many of you in the media have counted us out. We are used to being counted out.”

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PASTORS PUSH. The left-leaning American Bridge organization is launching two new ads on radio stations geared toward Black audiences and Christians to boost U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

The ads, which target markets outside of metro Atlanta, feature a Decatur pastor and a Marietta woman who is the granddaughter of a preacher voicing their support for Warnock and criticizing Republican Herschel Walker.

In the minute-long “Pastor Cynthia” ad, she brings up a series of issues that have dogged Walker’s campaign, including allegations he pressured ex-girlfriends to get abortions despite his stated opposition to the procedure on the campaign trail.

“As Christians, we are taught to forgive Herschel, but we are not commanded to vote for him,” she said. “So, I’m going to pray for Herschel, but I’m not going to vote for him.”

In the second spot, a woman said she’s “frightened” that Walker could have a chance to win. It ends on a similar note: “I’ll pray for Herschel Walker, but I will not vote for him.”

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SHERIFFS RESPOND. While Stacey Abrams got mostly high marks for her performance in Sunday night’s debate against Gov. Brian Kemp, one comment got immediate backlash from Republicans.

In response to Kemp’s statement that he has the support of 107 county sheriffs around the state, Abrams said, “I’m not a member of the good ol’ boys club. So, no, I don’t have 107 sheriffs who want to be able to take Black people off the streets, who want to be able to go without accountability.”

On Monday, Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie, who is also the president of the Georgia Sheriffs Association, responded with a statement saying members of law enforcement risk their lives “for everyone in their community — no matter their race, background, or walk of life. To suggest otherwise is insulting and outrageous.”

McDuffie went on to say Abrams should apologize for her comments.

While the Georgia Sheriffs Association does not endorse candidates for political office, McDuffie is among the sheriffs backing Kemp’s reelection.

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Credit: John Bazemore/AP

Credit: John Bazemore/AP

TRAIL MIX. Be sure to check AJC.com each afternoon through Election Day for our “On the Georgia Trail” feature, where we’ll recap the news and notes from the day on the campaign trail in Georgia.

Among the highlights from the trail on Monday:

  • Herschel Walker’s campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter to a new political action committee called “Run Herschel Run” that was purportedly raising money to help him in the case of a runoff.
  • Voters attending Herschel Walker’s campaign in Cartersville said they will continue to stand by him despite his controversies.

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TODAY ON THE TRAIL:

  • Former Vice President Mike Pence will campaign with Gov. Brian Kemp in Cumming and Gainesville this afternoon. Earlier in the day, Kemp will also make bus tour stops in Lawrenceville and Oakwood.
  • Stacey Abrams will be campaigning in Marietta tonight alongside U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff and Jen Jordan, the party’s nominee for attorney general. Ossoff is not on the November ballot, but will be there to lend support. She’ll also hold an 11 a.m. event at Atlanta Medical Center, the now-shuttered hospital.
  • Herschel Walker’s bus tour will make stops in Madison and Augusta today.

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Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

CIVIC DUTY. The election is one week away, and we don’t want to hear any excuses from people who still haven’t voted after reading about 105-year-old Ida Simmons.

The Attapulgus resident in south Georgia cast her ballot in person recently, helped along by her 81-year-old son. The AJC’s Matt Kempner searched public records and found that Simmons first registered to vote in the summer of 1964.

“I’ve been voting since they let us vote,” she said. “I think it is my duty to do it.”

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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.