Georgians will see at least one U.S. Senate debate this fall now that incumbent Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker have each agreed to an Oct. 14 showdown in Savannah.
The Nexstar-sponsored debate, to be held at a theater with a live audience, holds promise and pitfalls for both candidates.
Warnock has pummeled Walker for months over his reluctance to agree to a debate, finally giving in to the Republican’s preferred format after the senator couldn’t get a commitment for a trio of other faceoffs.
The Democrat apparently calculated that a single debate appearance was better than none at all, and the event gives him an opportunity to showcase his grasp of policy issues and pulpit-honed oratory skills that helped him win the seat in last year’s runoffs.
He’s expected to challenge Walker on the finer points of federal legislation and highlight his work across party lines in a bid to retain the swing voters who indicate in polls they’re leaning toward Warnock.
And the incumbent could also directly press Walker on his history of lies, exaggerations and bizarre statements, along with his past violent behavior toward his ex-wife and other women.
But Walker will enter with some advantages, too. Expectations will be low for the former football star, whose occasional confusing rhetoric has worried even his supporters. Even a mediocre performance could be seen as a victory.
And the Republican is likely to try to parry attacks focused on his troubled history by bringing up his own mental health struggles, which could help humanize Walker to even his skeptics.
LISTEN UP. Our mid-week edition of the Politically Georgia podcast breaks down the latest debate news, the UGA connection to Georgia politics, and why state House Speaker David Ralston’s comments on the next legislative session mean even more than meets the eye.
FARMING VOTES. GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker joined state Sen. Tyler Harper, the Republican nominee for Agriculture Commissioner, for a roundtable on agriculture issues at Jaemor Farms in Alto Tuesday.
About a half dozen local growers told the two Republicans about the pressures pushing small or younger farms out of the industry, including rising property taxes, complex federal regulations, and natural disasters that can destroy an entire year’s worth of product.
Walker interjected several times with questions. He ended the event saying, “I’m going to Washington, not because I know everything, but because I don’t. I’m going to Washington to serve the people that got ideas, and I can learn from those ideas and help.”
Also on hand at the event were GOP state Sen. Steve Gooch, who called Walker “Senator-elect Herschel Walker,” state Rep. Will Wade, R-Dawsonville; Hall County Commissioner and GOP state Senate nominee Shelly Echols; and Blaine Walker, the general manager of Walker’s own Renaissance Man Food Services business.
Although Walker usually has a line of voters waiting to shake his hand after events, the longest line Tuesday was for former Gov. Nathan Deal, who lives nearby and had been invited by Harper. Deal joked he was only there for the free coffee, but also added his advice from his days as two-term governor of the ag-heavy state.
NEW ATTACK. For the first time, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock aired a TV ad featuring footage of his opponent Herschel Walker’s ex-wife speaking in detail about how he held a gun to her head and threatened to shoot her, which was also detailed in police report.
The 30-second ad features footage from a 2008 interview of Cindy Grossman speaking of how Walker threatened to “blow my brains out.” It alsoincludes details of another incidentwhere Walker held a “straight razor to her throat.”
Anti-Trump and pro-Warnock Democratic groups have leveled similar attacks on TV in recent weeks. But this is the first time Warnock has made the argument over the airwaves.
Walker has previously responded with a video alluding to his struggle with dissociative identity disorder and said that his ex-wife helped him through a tumultuous time in his life.
“My opponents think they’re hurting me — but I am glad they did this ad,” he says in the spot. “Because it gives me an opportunity to end the stigma around mental health.”
NO SANTA CLAUS! State Democrats are starting the uphill climb of trying to knock Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger down a notch this week with their first ad buy of the cycle in the Secretary of State’s race.
Raffensperger has been widely praised, even by Capitol Hill Democrats, for refusing to give in to former President Donald Trump’s demands to “find” the 11,000-plus votes that Trump needed to win the 2020 election in Georgia.
A teaser for the ad begins with a Christmas tune and happy image of children with Santa Claus, “who really turned out to be your Uncle Nick.”
The rest of the message from Democrats: Bah humbug! Also: “You may think you know Brad Raffensperger, but wait ‘til you hear the whole story …”
VOTER SWINGS. Abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America released an analysis Wednesday of mail ballot request forms in Georgia that could give Democrats a new reason to be optimistic about November. The review was conducted by TargetSmart, the left-leaning data and polling firm.
Among the firm’s findings:
Likely Democrats make up more than 62% of mail ballot requests, compared to this time in 2020, when voters modeled as Democrats made up about 48% of requests.
More than 60% of mail ballot requests are from women voters.
Black voters make up 37% of mail ballot requests compared to 26% at this time in 2018. Voters of color make up 43% of requests, up from 31% at this time in 2018
More than 44,000 Black Georgians have requested mail ballots so far – four times the number of requests at this point in 2018.
The group’s president, Mini Timmaraju, said it was a sign that the electorate is moving against Gov. Brian Kemp and toward Democrats, including Stacey Abrams, who support expanding abortion rights.
The Fair Fight political organization founded by Stacey Abrams endorsed Charlie Bailey for lieutenant governor, Jen Jordan for attorney general and William Boddie for labor commissioner.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas endorsed Dr. Rich McCormick’s bid for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District. He said McCormick would “fight to stop big government overreach and advance policies that empower job creators.”
Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC
Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC
CONTROVERSIES TO CASH. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and her opponent in November, Democrat Marcus Flowers, are both in the top 10 candidates in the nation for campaign fundraising.
They have also lapped candidates in races that are far more competitive, including the 2nd District contest that is Georgia’s only true tossup congressional contest.
In the end, Greene and Flowers could end up raising $25 million between them for a contest that isn’t expected to be very competitive. Greene is the heavy favorite because the district is considered safe for Republicans.
DELAYED CELEBRATION. Roughly 3,000 people were invited to the White House on Tuesday to celebrate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the newly signed law designed to address health care costs and climate change by raising taxes on large corporations and boosting IRS enforcement.
We spotted state Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, in the crowd. He said he was glad President Joe Biden decided to celebrate the new law, even if it meant waiting a month after the president signed it to accommodate Congress’ August recess.
“I’ve often said this to the president himself that if you do good, but no one knows you’re doing good, it’s almost as if you’re not doing any good,” Mitchell said. “I think he has a great story to tell.”
Spotted at today’s White House celebration of the Inflation Reduction Act: former ATL Mayor Bottoms (now working at the White House) and Georgia state Rep Billy Mitchell pic.twitter.com/FhbWAWUYPf
INFLATION REDUCTION COUNTERPOINT. The eight Georgia Republicans in Congress jointly penned an opinion piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution criticizing Georgia’s U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for supporting the Inflation Reduction Act legislation.
The letter mostly focuses on the provisions in the bill related to electric vehicles, including the fact that some of the tax credits may not apply to cars made by companies in Georgia. The commentary was signed by U.S. Reps. Austin Scott, Drew Ferguson, Andrew Clyde, Buddy Carter, Jody Hice, Rick Allen, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Barry Loudermilk.
“Instead of doing their job and ensuring that the legislation was not detrimental to our state before voting for it, Senators Warnock and Ossoff simply did what Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and President Biden ordered,” they wrote. “Democrats pandering to far-left progressives have given our country record-high fuel and food prices, and now with even more unchecked government spending, inflation will worsen and our country will fall deeper into a recession.”
Warnock’s office says he communicated the auto manufacturers’ concerns about the bill to Senate leaders and is interested in working on possible legislative fixes in the future to assure that customers can benefit from the tax credits regardless of the automaker they choose.
TODAY IN WASHINGTON:
President Joe Biden will visit the Detroit Auto Show where he will deliver remarks on electric vehicle manufacturing.
The House and Senate are in session; the House will take votes on a series of non-controversial measures while the Senate continues to focus on confirmations. Behind the scenes, lawmakers are working on legislation to keep the government funded past Sept. 30.
The annual Women’s Congressional Softball Game will be played tonight, pitting a team of women lawmakers against a team of female journalists.
Credit: Ben Gray
Credit: Ben Gray
BOTTOMS OUT? Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is about two months into her tenure as the White House Director of Public Engagement, but she may not be in the position for long.
Bottoms, who also attended the Inflation Reduction Act celebration on Tuesday, confirmed to the AJC that she has only committed to serving in the role through the midterms.
Bottoms has been commuting to Washington each week, hoping to return to Atlanta by Thursday evening to attend her son’s junior varsity football games. On weeks she can’t make it back in time, she reviews video highlights her daughter posts to the family group chat.
Bottoms said she has enjoyed her new role, which she describes as the “the front door to the White House,” ensuring everyday people have access to the Biden Administration. As a part of that, she has launched “Communities in Action” public forums, the first of which was held last week in Ohio. She said eventually there will be events in all 50 states.
The hardest part about the job has been the time away from her family and especially her children, who range from age 12 to 20, Bottoms said. But she thinks they are handling the separation better than she is.
“I miss them tremendously, but they are very supportive and just very happy that I have an opportunity to represent on behalf of Atlanta,” she said.