Cumming, Ga., Dec. 5 (Reuters) – Two dozen party loyalists gathered in suburban Atlanta on Sunday in a last-ditch effort to pick a vote, with Republicans in the line for influence in the U.S. Senate. Former football star Herschel Walker.
Conservative activist Scott Pressler told the group to confirm their door-knocking targets between Walker and his Democratic opponent, Senator Raphael Warnock, to vote in person on Tuesday or submit their absentee ballots on time.
“I’m here with you because I understand the gravity of this election,” Pressler said.
A lot is at stake in the most expensive battleground state race in the 2022 cycle, with a total cost of nearly $400 million, campaign finance data show.
Democrats took effective control of the Senate in the Nov. 8 general election, while Republicans won the U.S. House of Representatives.
A Warnock victory would give his party 51 seats in the upper house and control over committees and judicial appointments. A Walker victory would boost Republicans’ chances of blocking President Joe Biden’s agenda.
More than 1.85 million Georgians have already voted in an early voting period that closed Friday, the secretary of state’s office said, and the state set several single-day records for early voting last week.
Early polls are expected to lean Democratic, political experts from both parties say, meaning the Walker campaign heads into Tuesday with a significant deficit. Republicans tend to vote in large numbers on Election Day.
A recent poll shows Warnock slightly ahead of Walker, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, but the difference is close to or within the margin of error.
“The person who wins this election has the best ground game and the best efforts to change their platform once again,” said Julian Thompson, a Republican strategist. “It’s going to be a nail biter.”
The surge in early voting is a sign that both campaigns have used get-out-the-vote strategies, with Walker eating into Warnock’s favor last week, said Fred Hicks, a senior Democratic strategist in Atlanta.
Hicks estimates Warnock received about 130,000 votes Tuesday, based on voter turnouts who participated in this year’s primaries.
It was not an insurmountable lead, and although Warnock outpolled Walker 49.44% to 48.49% in the November 8 election, Hicks said Walker won by 220,000 votes on Election Day.
“Senator Warnock can’t do that again and win,” Hicks said.
It’s the second Senate runoff in Georgia in two years. Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, an Atlanta church led by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., first won his seat on the January 2021 ballot.
To galvanize the base, Warnock sought help from the likes of singer-songwriter Dave Matthews and former President Barack Obama, who attended a rally last week and tried to portray Walker as unfit for office in a speech that went viral.
Walker appeared at a campaign rally with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who easily won re-election last month. Keeping his hiatus during the general election, Kemp has given Walker his campaign infrastructure, which has given him an operational boost.
Trump, by contrast, did not appear with the football icon in Georgia, after many Republicans warned his presence could turn off moderates, including in key Atlanta suburbs.
Walker’s campaign has been dogged by allegations that he abused girlfriends in the past and paid for their abortions, undermining his anti-abortion stance. Recently, he faced allegations that he maintains his primary residence in Texas, not Georgia. Walker has denied the allegations.
A CNN poll of 1,886 registered voters released Friday showed Warnock leading Walker by four percentage points, 52% to 48%. A poll released Thursday by Emerson College and the Hill has Warnock ahead by two percentage points.
With money pouring in from super PACs and out-of-state supporters, Warnock has a clear financial advantage.
During the runoff election, outside groups spent more than $43 million on ads and other expenses supporting Warnock or opposing Walker, according to campaign finance data compiled by Open Secrets, a nonprofit that tracks money in politics. That compares with $28 million spent either in favor of Walker or against Warnock.
The disparity in spending is stark for Republican strategist Brian Robinson, who said he sees ads supporting Warnock every time he uses Google or YouTube, while his wife, a staunch Republican, receives emails about abortion rights.
“They’re big enough to go beyond changing their platform,” he said of Democrats. “They have enough money to try and convince people.”
Reported by Nathan Lane; Editing by Colin Jenkins and Gerry Doyle
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