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ATLANTA — Former President Barack Obama will chair a rally for Sen. Raphael G. Warnock on Thursday aimed at bolstering Democratic voters ahead of Georgia’s Dec. 6 runoff against Republican Herschel Walker.
This is the second trip to the Peach State for Obama, widely regarded as the midterms’ preferred nominee for Democratic candidates across the country. He is the highest-profile Democrat to have stumbled for Warnock, who few national members of his party campaigned for.
In contrast, during the general election and runoff, leading Republicans have invaded the state to try to support Walker, a Georgia football legend whose candidacy has been plagued by controversy.
Obama’s visit comes in the last few days in one of the most contentious, close and expensive Senate races this year. Both parties have spent aggressively to bolster their candidates in the general election and now in the runoff. It is the last Senate election and could strengthen the Democrats’ majority in the Upper House.
Neither President Biden nor former President Donald Trump, who encouraged Walker to challenge Warnock, are expected to come to Georgia before Tuesday’s election.
Warnock received about 36,000 votes more than Walker in the general election, but did not achieve the 50 percent required for an outright victory under Georgian law, triggering the runoff. Obama’s mission on Thursday was to energize the Democratic base as early voting ends on Friday. More than 1.1 million Georgians had voted in the runoff as of Thursday morning, and daily in-person early turnout was at all-time highs.
“Obama is by far the most popular and influential national Democrat that we have. His coming can only increase excitement and focus attention on the task at hand, which is to get as many people as possible to vote,” said Michael Thurmond, executive director of DeKalb County and a Democrat. “You couldn’t have a better proxy and supreme motivator coming to Georgia.”
For his part, Walker has appeared frequently at campaign rallies and in television interviews flanked by Republican lawmakers and leaders ahead of the general election and again for the runoff. His campaign has been dogged by allegations of violence and domestic violence, and that he paid two former girlfriends to have abortions despite being a staunch anti-abortion advocate. In the final days of the campaign, he was again faced with questions about his immigration status in Texas and Georgia.
Walker was scheduled for a campaign with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, but Walker’s campaign said Pompeo was unable to make it due to a family emergency. In recent weeks, Walker has feuded with Republicans such as Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Lindsey O. Graham (SC) and Rick Scott (Fla.) and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, some of whom have called the state multiple times have visited times stand by him.
After a campaign stop in Powder Springs, about 20 miles west of Atlanta, last week, Cruz told reporters that part of the reason so many Republicans are flocking to Georgia is because it’s important to keep the Senate 50-50 .
“There’s a big difference between a 50-50 Senate that we have if Herschel wins. … If the Democrats increase their majority, they’ll get a majority on every single committee,” Cruz said, explaining that such an advantage would allow Democrats to accelerate their priorities, including approving judge elections.
Warnock and Walker sent a clear message to the more than 200,000 voters in the general election who supported Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for re-election but did not vote for Walker. Warnock’s campaign has used Kemp-Warnock voters to advertise his candidacy in their ads. Walker’s campaign and Republican groups have emphasized support for Kemp, who decisively defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams and largely stayed away from Walker during the general election. Kemp appeared at a rally with Walker earlier this month and was used in television and mail ads to support the former University of Georgia Heisman Trophy winner.
Before his visit Thursday, Obama taped a television advertisement in support of Warnock, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a co-pastor during the civil rights movement.
“This is going to be a close race and we can’t afford to do anything wrong,” Obama said in the ad. “So make your voice heard. Please support Raphael G. Warnock for the Senate with me.”
During his late October appearance in Atlanta, Obama questioned Walker’s suitability to be a US Senator, saying Walker was a “celebrity who wants to be a politician.” Walker later said in an interview with Fox News that he would pitch his resume against Obama’s “any time of the day.”
The former president isn’t the only Obama entering the Georgia runoff. Former first lady Michelle Obama recorded two robocalls urging voters to cast their ballots. One is aimed at early voting and the other is an election day reminder for Georgians who have not yet voted.
“This election is going to be very close and there are a lot of people on the other side who are hoping that you will stay home,” the former first lady said in the early voting robocall. “But you must go out and vote for Raphael G. Warnock again.”
A Warnock campaign spokesman said not all of Warnock’s deputies have taken the stage for rallies with him – many are instead being deployed in other ways to mobilize voters across the state. The surrogate mothers have launched polls, run phone banks, produced digital content and conducted radio and TV interviews to increase voter turnout across Georgia, the spokesman said.
Republicans have sought to tie Warnock to Biden, who has faced low approval ratings. Walker repeatedly mentions in his campaign speeches that Warnock “votes with Biden 96 percent of the time.”
The White House has not announced any plans to travel to Georgia and declined to comment on Biden’s plans, other than highlighting a fundraiser he will be attending in Boston on Friday in support of Warnock. Biden will appear at the fundraiser alongside Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (Mass.). Warnock will remain in Georgia for the campaign.
Trump could hold a tele-rally for Walker but has no plans to campaign for him in Georgia, according to Trump advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity to conduct internal talks. They said Walker’s and Trump’s teams agreed it wouldn’t help.
This week, Warnock and Walker criss-crossed the state for final rallies to stir up excitement ahead of Tuesday. On Friday, Walker will be stopping in Macon and Valdosta for his “Evict Warnock” bus tour. Warnock will campaign in Hinesville and his hometown of Savannah.
Warnock has also received support from the entertainment community. Earlier this week, singer Dave Matthews headlined a concert for Warnock. The senator’s campaign emailed supporters on Sunday in which singer-songwriter John Legend urged them to help Warnock because “this race has the future of our democracy at stake.”
On Wednesday night, while Warnock was hosting a rally in Columbus, the Georgia Democrats were hosting an event in Atlanta aimed at bringing Latino voters to the polls. Speakers at the event were actors America Ferrera and Tessa Thompson, as well as former Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), who became the first South American-born immigrant to be elected to the House of Representatives.
“Every single one of us in this room has a massive impact in our circles, in your workplace, in your families, in your classrooms,” Ferrera told a crowd of dozens of Latino Warnock supporters as she puppets at a local Latino ate. own brewery. “We need to do the work of talking about the incredible representation that Senator Warnock has done for our community and how the work he has pushed forward is impacting our community.”
Over the weekend, Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.) came to Georgia for campaign stops with Warnock, who has also campaigned with Georgia Democrats like Rep. Hank Johnson and Sen. Jon Ossoff. Warnock and Ossoff both won their Senate seats in the 2021 runoff. Warnock captured the seat, up for a special election after Senator Johnny Isakson resigned in 2019 over health issues. Ossoff reversed the seat held by Senator David Perdue (R) for a full six-year term through 2026.
Covington’s Tamar and Charleslyn Roques said they look forward to seeing Obama in person. They remember watching his inauguration as children in their classroom in 2008.
The sisters, who are in their early 20s, said they wish Biden and other Democrats in Washington had come to Georgia, particularly smaller towns outside of Atlanta, to show they care. Tamar, 22, said she would have liked to see Abrams campaign for the runoff because “although she didn’t win, she’s still a great representative for many Georgians.”
But both said they thought it was a decision not to knock out certain voters ahead of the runoff.
“I know, given the turmoil between Republicans and Democrats, it might not be so good [have national Democrats] come when you’re trying to draw Republican votes,” said Charleslyn, 20. “But if they actually came here … I think it would pull people out and help encourage people to go out and vote.”
Mary Tapp, 42, of Sandy Springs, said she was pleased to see how many Georgia and national Republicans are on the campaign trail to support Walker.
“It means a lot to all of us just to see that they are still present,” she said after the general election. “As Republicans, we’ve had some rough times, so we really need that unity and they need to bring us together.”
Hannah Knowles and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.