Warnock rises in polls as allies urge other Democrats to quit Senate race

Lieberman and Tarver say they’re staying in

A few weeks ago, the Rev. Raphael Warnock was struggling to separate himself from other Democrats in the crowded race to challenge U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. With the help of a multi-million dollar ad campaign, several recent polls now show the pastor’s standing on the rise.

Warnock’s campaign tried to reinforce that trend by releasing a memo Monday with the results of an internal poll that shows him at 25%, within striking distance of U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s 29%. Trailing are Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (19%) and Democrats Matt Lieberman (11%) and Ed Tarver (5%).

Among the campaign’s arguments: No recent poll has shown Collins and Loeffler combining for 50%. And while the two Republicans trade shots at one another, Warnock has seized the opening to appeal to a broader part of the electorate.

The timing here is important. The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday triggered new calls for Lieberman and Tarver to drop their campaigns and give Warnock a shot at winning the special election outright without a January runoff.

Why? Elections law experts say if he can pull off that longshot victory – no Georgia Democrat has won a statewide race in a dozen years – he would be seated when the vote is certified in November or December rather than in January.

That would give Democrats an extra vote in a potential lame-duck session to fill Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court. Republicans now have a 53-47 edge in the U.S. Senate, and are also banking on a similar possibility in Arizona, where Democrat Mark Kelly is leading a special election contest.

“We need to focus our energy and concentrate our resources in the most pragmatic way possible, and for those other candidates, that means stepping out,” said Everton Blair, a Gwinnett County school board member seen as an emerging party star. “The reality is Warnock is going to be the Democratic front-runner.”

His rivals are staying put

Though Warnock’s poll is an internal promoted by the campaign, it echoes other surveys of the messy race. One released over the weekend by Redfield & Wilton Strategies pegged Loeffler with a slight plurality at 26%, followed by Warnock (21%), Collins (19%) and Lieberman (15%).

Another from Fabrizio Ward/Hart Research Associates, a respected Republican-aligned firm, had Loeffler at 24%, followed by Warnock and Collins at around one-fifth of the vote. Lieberman, a former educator, trailed with 10% and Tarver was at 7%.

A first-time candidate, Lieberman has benefited from high name recognition thanks to his famous father, former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, and quirky digital ads. The Democrat told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he’s not considering ditching the race.

“I feel great about where we are,” said Lieberman, expressing confidence that undecided Democrats and left-leaning independents will break his way. “Our support will grow over the next 44 days, and I don’t know that the other campaigns can say that.”

Tarver, a former federal prosecutor, also said he has no intention of quitting the contest.

“We live in a democracy,” said Tarver, a military veteran who served three terms in the Georgia Senate. “Voters should have the opportunity to select the candidate who is most qualified and prepared to represent them in Washington. I have a proven record of public service.”