Why Geoff Duncan didn’t cast a ballot in the Senate runoff

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

‘The Republican Party deserves better than Herschel Walker,’ he says

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan is one of the highest-ranking Republicans in Georgia. He’s also one of the most prominent GOP critics of Herschel Walker’s Senate run – and the pro-Donald Trump forces that helped him win the nomination.

Duncan, whose term expires in January, made waves in October when he condemned Walker as a candidate who “won the primary because he scored a bunch of touchdowns back in the ‘80s and he was Donald Trump’s friend.”

ExploreHerschel Walker's stumbles complicate final runoff stretch

Still, Duncan wouldn’t say whether he would vote for Walker – until this week. He said he waited in line for an hour at a busy polling site in Forsyth County, got to the touchscreen pad and couldn’t back Walker or Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

“It was the most disappointing ballot I’ve ever stared at in my entire life since I started voting,” Duncan told CNN. “I had two candidates who I just couldn’t find anything that it made any sense to put my vote behind. So I walked out of that ballot box, showing up to vote but not voting for either one of them.”

Credit: Greg Nash/The Hill

Credit: Greg Nash/The Hill

In a followup on Thursday, the lieutenant governor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he intended to cast a ballot because he takes his constitutional obligation to vote seriously before he couldn’t pull the trigger.

“Like many conservatives across Georgia, I’ve been waiting for Herschel Walker to give me a reason to support him. Regrettably, he hasn’t, and that’s why I was forced to leave my ballot blank,” said Duncan, who declined to run for a second term earlier this year.

“Georgia deserve better than Sen. Warnock, whose left-wing voting record is way out of step with their priorities and would never earn my support,” Duncan added. “The Republican Party deserves better than Herschel Walker. To rebuild, we need less team players and more team leaders.”

Walker backers worry Duncan represents the wavering sentiment of a key group of voters who played a decisive role in the November midterm, which ended with every statewide Republican winning except for the former football player.

ExploreWhy Kemp-Warnock voters will be decisive in Georgia's runoff

That’s because some 200,000 voters backed Gov. Brian Kemp in the November midterm but withheld their support from Walker. Those split decisions were the single biggest reason the Senate race landed in a Tuesday runoff while Republicans notched solid victories in every other statewide race.

Warnock is now making a sustained appeal to those split-ticket voters, along with any “soft” Walker supporters who reluctantly voted for him in November.

Ads and mailers catering to those swing voters are blanketing the state, and the Democrat’s campaign this week organized an event with Dave Matthews that attracted hundreds of middle-aged suburbanites in that target demographic.

Walker’s camp has countered with the best GOP messenger for Kemp-Warnock voters: The governor is featured in glossy flyers and TV ads trying to make the case for the GOP Senate hopeful.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Walker’s allies dismissed Duncan’s move as an attention-grabbing attempt to stay relevant. Stephen Lawson of the pro-Walker 34N22 PAC said the lieutenant governor simply wanted to “remind everyone just how enormous his ego is.”

“But just like CNN, a Democrat announcing he isn’t voting for Herschel Walker isn’t news.”

Walker campaign manager Scott Paradise also shrugged off Duncan’s defection: “Imagine caring so little about your day job that you can waste an hour in line to accomplish nothing. Georgians will sure miss Geoff.”

(Paradise’s wife is slated to be the top aide for incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, a Republican whom Duncan refused to endorse ahead of the midterm. Lawson is also an adviser to Jones.)

Democrats also harbored suspicions. Democratic state Rep. Josh McLaurin suggested the Republican’s maneuvering is “transparently part of his transition from LG to paid pundit.”

Duncan hasn’t yet disclosed his plans after he leaves office in January. But he told the AJC he expected a close Senate runoff race.

“Hopefully this serves as a wake up call to conservative Republicans across our state and our country that the quality of our candidates does matter,” he said. “It is no longer good enough to just win the first half and a primary, we need to win the game in a much different general election setting.”