Georgians set early voting record

ATLANTA – Georgia voters are destroying the old political adage that runoff elections are plagued with low voter turnouts.

More than 300,000 Georgians cast ballots Monday, the first day of statewide early voting in the runoff contest between Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. That easily broke the daily record for early voting turnout in Georgia of 233,000.

“Way to go voters & election workers!” Gabriel Sterling, elections manager for the Georgia secretary of state’s office, posted on Twitter.

The first day of statewide early voting followed heavy turnout reported by the counties that held early voting last Saturday and Sunday. Democrats had gone to court to win the right to let counties hold early voting days during the weekend.

Democrats already have retained their slim majority in the Senate, capturing 50 seats in the midterm elections earlier this month. That gives them the majority because Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris, who presides over the Senate, can break ties.

But interest in the Georgia race has remained high, with both candidates tapping into bulging campaign war chests to fund a new wave of increasingly aggressive attack ads.

Warnock nearly won reelection to a full six-year Senate term outright, capturing 49.4% of the vote in the Nov. 8 election to 48.5% for Walker. But the race was forced into a Dec. 6 runoff by a Georgia law requiring candidates to win more than 50% of the vote to claim victory.

Early voting will continue across the state through Friday.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.  

Georgia Senate Democrats reelect Gloria Butler minority leader

Georgia Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler

ATLANTA – State Senate Democrats reelected their top leadership team Monday.

Sen. Gloria Butler will return as Senate minority leader during the 2023-24 legislative term starting in January.

“I am honored and humbled that my colleagues in the Democratic Caucus have placed their trust in me once again to serve as leader,” said Butler, D-Stone Mountain. “I am eager to lead our caucus during this upcoming legislative session as we continue to put the needs of all Georgians first and ensuring all have access to proper and adequate resources to keep Georgia families safe and healthy.”

The Senate Democratic Caucus also re-elected Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, to serve as minority whip and Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, to serve another term as caucus chair.

The rest of the Democratic leadership team for the next two years will include Sen. Sonya Halpern, D-Atlanta, who will serve as caucus vice chair; Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, who was elected vice chair of fundraising and campaigns; and Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, who will serve as caucus secretary.

The upcoming term will be Butler’s second as minority leader. She rose to the post at the beginning of last year after then-Minority Leader Steve Henson decided not to run for reelection in 2020.

Democrats gained a seat in the Georgia Senate in this month’s elections. During the next term, majority Republicans will hold 33 seats to 23 seats for the Democrats.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.  

Warnock Senate campaign leading nation in fundraising

U,S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (left) is well ahead of challenger Herschel Walker (right) in fundraising.

ATLANTA – Georgia’s overtime U.S. Senate campaign has made Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock the leading Senate fundraiser in the nation.

The Warnock campaign had raised more than $175 million through Nov. 16, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission last week, including more than $52 million just since Oct. 20. That’s more than twice the $81 million raised by No.-2 Senate fundraiser Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., in his successful reelection bid.

Former University of Georgia football great Herschel Walker, Warnock’s Republican challenger, was fourth in Senate fundraising as of Nov. 16, having hauled in nearly $59 million, including $21 million since Oct. 20.

Warnock received 49.4% of the vote on Election Day three weeks ago to 48.5% for Walker. Since neither candidate got over the 50%-plus-one vote threshold needed to achieve victory under Georgia law, the winner will be decided in a Dec. 6 runoff.

Warnock also was well ahead of Walker in the all-important cash-on-hand category. The senator had nearly $30 million remaining in his campaign treasury as of Nov. 16, compared to nearly $10 million for Walker.

With Georgia accounting for two of the top four Senate fundraisers during the 2022 election cycle, Georgians continue to be bombarded with increasingly aggressive negative campaign ads.

Both candidates also continue crisscrossing the state at a frenetic pace with the race entering its final week.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.  

Walker, Warnock clash over character and competence in final stretch of long campaign 

ATLANTA – Georgians get one more chance to decide whether they want to return Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock to Washington or replace him with Republican Herschel Walker in the upcoming Senate runoff.  

After neither candidate earned more than 50% of the vote in the November election – due to Libertarian Chase Oliver drawing 2% of the vote – the contest was pushed to a December rematch under Georgia’s unique runoff election law.  

In the general election, Warnock won 49.5% of vote while Walker won 48.5%. But it’s unclear how many voters of either party will turn out, yet again, for the final vote Dec. 6.

With each candidate’s policy positions already established as the race enters the final stretch, the candidates are trying to best each other on character and competence. They are crisscrossing the state to encourage voters to return to the polls – “one more time,” as Warnock’s campaign slogan puts it. And they are blitzing state airwaves with campaign ads.  

One thing they are not doing is holding a traditional pre-Election Day debate. The two men debated each other just once in the run-up to the November election. Walker declined to attend any other debate, leaving Warnock to debate an empty podium. For the runoff, both candidates have eschewed the opportunity and a previously planned debate has been canceled.   

Warnock has staked his claim for re-election in the populist steps he has taken in Washington to help Georgians. For example, he frequently touts his votes for caps on Medicare out-of-pocket costs and insulin in the Inflation Reduction Act Congress passed earlier this year. Warnock continues to call for full Medicaid expansion in Georgia which, he argues, would help bolster the state’s hospital infrastructure and improve rural health care.

Warnock also points to his ability to work across the aisle as evidence of his bipartisanship. At a recent campaign stop in Macon, he noted his work with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on getting an expansion of the Interstate 14 corridor in Middle Georgia priority status in last year’s infrastructure bill. (That has not, however, stopped Cruz from attacking Warnock on Twitter recently.)  

“I have been very focused on Middle Georgia,” Warnock said. “Smaller rural communities and small businesses are the strength of the Georgia economy.”  

Walker has sought to tie Warnock to President Joe Biden and blame the Democratic duo for high inflation and crime rates. 

“Y’all seen the drugs coming into this country because they want to leave the border wide open?” Walker said recently to a crowd in Cobb County.   

Walker often emphasizes what he considers the problems with “woke” social policies. A recent ad features Walker sitting next to Riley Gaines, a female college swimming champion.  

“I was forced to compete against a biological male. … A man won a swimming title that belonged to a woman and Senator Warnock voted to let it happen,” Gaines says. 

GLAAD, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization, called for Walker to remove the ad when it started running just one day after a shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, Colo. that killed five people.

Walker also opposes abortion. While he indicated earlier that he opposes all abortions, with no exceptions for the life of the mother or in the case of rape or incest, during the debate this fall, Walker said he supports Georgia’s “heartbeat law,” which bans most abortions after about six weeks but includes exceptions for rape and incest. 

He has denied media reports that he paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion and encouraged her to have a second abortion.   

Warnock made his strong pro-choice position clear during the fall campaign, saying that “a patient’s room is too narrow and small and cramped a space for a woman, her doctor and the United States government,” and that abortion rights are protected by the fundamental right to privacy.  

The Walker camp has continued a steady stream of anti-Warnock ads. One criticizes the alleged eviction of tenants in a building formerly owned by a nonprofit affiliated with Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Warnock is the pastor.  

Warnock’s campaign has denied those claims, pointing out that neither Warnock nor Ebenezer is involved in the building’s management and no one in the apartment building has been evicted or kicked out since before the pandemic began.

Independent ads on behalf of Warnock take aim at Walker’s alleged history of violence against women as well as his ex-girlfriend’s abortion.  

“Decades of violence against women,” intones a narrator as a timeline of Walker’s alleged violent incidents rolls across the screen. “Now, an ex-girlfriend says Herschel Walker used the threat of violence to force her to have an abortion” the ad continues, showing footage from an interview with the ex-girlfriend, whose name has not been revealed. 

But ads funded directly by Warnock’s campaign take a more light-hearted approach . One shows Warnock walking Alvin, a beagle who was made famous by a 2020 campaign ad, and asking “Is it just me or does it feel like we’ve been here before”?  

“You’d think Herschel Walker would want to explain what he’d do in the Senate. … Instead, he repeats the same lies, trying to distract from what we all know is true about him,” Warnock says. “But I think Georgians will see his ads for what they are,” Warnock continues, as he throws a symbolic bag of dog poop away.  

Both candidates are campaigning with high profile figures. Though Republican Gov. Brian Kemp kept his distance from Walker during the general election campaign, he stumped for Walker last weekend in Cobb County. And Florida Sen. Rick Scott is also continuing to campaign for Walker.  

Former President Barack Obama will return to Atlanta Dec. 1 to urge Democrats to turn out for Warnock. The campaign also is sponsoring an event with rock superstars The Dave Matthews Band at a Get Out the Vote Rally in Cobb County on Monday, Nov. 28.  

Early voting in some Georgia counties will begin as early as Saturday, Nov. 26. Election Day is Dec. 6.  

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.  

Georgia Supreme Court reinstates abortion ban

ATLANTA – The Georgia Supreme Court reinstated Georgia’s law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy Wednesday just over a week after a lower court judge had blocked the law from taking effect. 

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney had ruled last week that the Georgia abortion ban was unconstitutional and blocked state officials from enforcing it.  

The so-called “heartbeat” law, initially passed in 2019, prohibits abortions in Georgia after a fetal heartbeat is detected. It has faced legal challenges since its inception, first in federal courts and now in Georgia state courts. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning the 1973 landmark abortion-rights case Roe v. Wade, a federal appeals court allowed the Georgia law to take effect in July. 

Pro-choice groups then took their fight to state court, where McBurney enjoined the law. Soon after, lawyers for the state filed notice of their intent to appeal to the state Supreme Court. They also filed an emergency petition asking the court to reinstitute the abortion law while the case is pending.  

The court agreed to do so Wednesday in a one-page ruling representing a unanimous 7-0 decision. Two justices – Nels S.D. Peterson and Andrew Pinson – did not participate in the case.  

“We are pleased with the court’s action today,” said Kara Richardson, spokesperson for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. “However, we are unable to provide further comment due to the pending appeal.”

The plaintiffs in the case – led by reproductive rights group SisterSong — argued that reinstituting the ban while the legal battle continues could harm women.   

They also asked the Supreme Court to provide one day’s advance notice of the re-institution of the law so that providers and patients are not taken by surprise ahead of scheduled procedures. However, the court declined to provide the advance notice.  

“It is cruel that our patients’ ability to access the reproductive health care they need has been taken away yet again,” said Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of Feminist Women’s Health Center, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“For the second time this year, we are being forced to turn away those in need of abortion care beyond six weeks of pregnancy. This ban has wreaked havoc on Georgians’ lives, and our patients deserve better. We will keep fighting to protect our patients and their health.” 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.