With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks during a news conference on Nov. 10 in Atlanta. | Brynn Anderson/AP Photo

BREAKING OVERNIGHT — “Police: 6 people, assailant dead in Walmart shooting,” per the AP in Chesapeake, Va.

LAST DANCE — To paraphrase RAY CHARLES: Georgia, Georgia … the whole midterms through.

As we all pack up and take a quick break for Thanksgiving, the Peach State is still abuzz with activity as voters prepare to settle the final Senate race of this cycle.

On Tuesday, a new poll by the AARP — the first major public survey since the November general election — showed the race remains inside the margin of error, with incumbent Democratic Sen. RAPHAEL WARNOCK pulling in 51% to Republican HERSCHEL WALKER’s 47%.

One key data point: “Warnock has a commanding lead of 54% to 39% over Walker among independent voters — an important bloc that once reliably voted for Republicans in Georgia.”

Runoffs are always the junkiest of junk food for political obsessives because they are the only race going on — and in this one, that dynamic has shifted into overdrive.

There’s big money: According to AdImpact, a firm that tracks media spending, Democrats have spent more than $20 million in radio and TV ads just on the runoff, while Republicans have spent around $14 million.

There are big surrogates: Former President BARACK OBAMA is stumping for Warnock on Dec. 1. And while there’s no word on whether President JOE BIDEN will be headed there, Biden aides tell us the White House let the campaign know they are willing to do whatever they need to keep the seat blue — including stay out of it, if need be. Their only focus is the win.

And there’s a big question hanging over the race: Is the cake already baked in Georgia?

Three reasons it feels like a done deal … 

1. Walker underperformed in the general election. Both Democratic and Republican strategists we spoke with noted that one of the biggest structural hurdles for the GOP in the runoff is the roughly 200,000 voters (especially in the northern suburbs of Atlanta) who voted for Republican Gov. BRIAN KEMP but not Walker.

It’s not a leap to imagine that at least some of Kemp’s supporters held their nose and cast ballots for Walker earlier this month, and it seems unlikely those voters will turn out to back Walker without Kemp or another Republican appearing on the ballot.

2. Democrats have already won control of the Senate. One of the best arguments Republicans had going for them heading into November’s Election Day was that any vote for Warnock simply gave Democrats a chance to maintain control of an upper chamber that was otherwise up for grabs.

That argument is gone: Dems will control the majority in the Senate regardless of which party wins in the runoff, and that’s not good news for Walker. Given the very real issues with voter drop-off that we highlighted above, one of the strongest pitches he had was that a vote for him was a vote against Democratic control of the Senate; it was how some Republican voters rationalized holding their noses to support him.

A source at the NRSC pushed back on this theory last night, warning against extrapolating anything from the general election: “Runoffs are just a crapshoot. It’s a completely brand new three and a half week election, and that’s how you have to treat it,” the person said.

3. Warnock has the muscle memory. Warnock has run for this exact same seat four times in two years. His ability to rally the troops one more time is easier than it would be for most other candidates. Walker’s campaign infrastructure isn’t as robust, and his ground game lagged throughout the fall. His campaign is also now caught in the now-open crossfire between Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL and NRSC Chair RICK SCOTT.

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Three reasons it isn’t a done deal … 

1. It’s still Georgia, folks. It’s only been two years since Georgia stunned the world by electing two Democrats to the Senate. One election cycle does not a blue state make.

As one Democratic aide working on the runoff told us, this campaign is “happening in an environment where the headwinds that existed for Democrats still exist. The frustrations that existed in the general election with the party in power still exist. The concerns about the economy still exist.” Though they were also quick to point out that Dems have beaten those odds already this month.

2. Republicans still have some cards to play. Runoffs are base elections, and the GOP is pulling out all the stops to turn out the base. Exhibit A: Kemp.

In details shared exclusively with Playbook, the newly reelected governor will star in a new, direct-to-camera TV ad that begins airing on Thanksgiving Day, in which he says that Walker will be a “vote for Georgia, not be another rubber stamp for JOE BIDEN. That’s why I’m backing Herschel, and I hope you’ll join me in voting for him, too.” (Also worth noting: Kemp has loaned his voter turnout operation to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with McConnell.)

3.Runoffs are unpredictable. Not many people predicted Democrats would win two Senate runoffs in Georgia in 2020. But sprinkle in DONALD TRUMP, a Trump-centric Republican message during the 2020 runoffs, and two very driven Democratic Senate candidates, and the Senate flips blue.

This time, of course, Trump is no longer in office. But he has re-entered the political scene by announcing another presidential campaign. And even with a shortened runoff cycle, there’s a whole heap of drama that could pop up and help keep voters home or send them out to vote.

Good Wednesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. What’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish? Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

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NO BUMP FOR TRUMP — Since announcing his candidacy for president last Tuesday, Trump saw no polling bump in support — indeed, there was a slight dip in his support among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. That’s the topline takeaway from this week’s POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the first conducted since Trump officially announced his 2024 campaign. Full results … Crosstabs

  • Forty-five percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they’d vote for him if the primary were held today.
  • That’s down by 2 points since last week, in a poll taken before Trump’s announcement.

Should Trump run for president?

  • Among Republicans: Sixty percent feel that he should (down 1 point since last week), and 37% say he should not (up 1 point).
  • Among all voters: Sixty-three percent of voters think he should not run for president (down 2 points from last week).

WHAT’S IN A NAME? — “WHO to rename monkeypox as ‘MPOX,’” by Adam Cancryn

STAT OF THE DAY — Rep. KAREN BASS’ victory in the Los Angeles mayoral election means that next year, Black people will lead all four of the nation’s largest cities for the first time, Brakkton Booker reports in the rare story to include the word “tetrafecta.”

GOOD NEWS — “A Year After the Omicron Surge, Officials See a Reduced Covid Threat This Winter,” by NYT’s Sharon LaFraniere and Benjamin Mueller

BIDEN’S WEDNESDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.

VP KAMALA HARRIS’ WEDNESDAY — The VP has nothing on her public schedule.

THE HOUSE and THE SENATE are out.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

Air Force One, with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden aboard, departs Andrews Air Force Base.

Air Force One, with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden aboard, departs Andrews Air Force Base on Tuesday, Nov. 22. | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

MIDTERMS FALLOUT

THE RED WAVE THAT WAS — The AP has called a California House race for Republican KEVIN KILEY, who beat KERMIT JONES with almost 53% in the northeastern, largely rural part of the state. The House GOP majority now stands at 220. Kiley first rose to attention as a state lawmaker who became a vociferous critic of Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM, per the AP.

THE RED WAVE THAT WASN’T — Vox’s Zack Beauchamp has an interesting examination of the New Right’s response to the midterm results, which has cleaved the online Trumpist intellectuals along several fronts. The big questions he identifies as topics of discussion: whether the GOP should play down controversial cultural issues (a la the “popularism” on the left), whether Trump or Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS is the right standard-bearer, and whether democracy is the right system.

CONGRESS

HAPPY HOLIDAYS — Congress is once again veering toward a government funding deadline, this time on Dec. 16, with no deal in sight, Caitlin Emma previews this morning. That means we could be staring down another Christmas-time shutdown showdown, and a stopgap bill to avert disaster. Though appropriators are trying to reach a deal on the top lines to start, time is running short. “The muddle carries serious stakes for a multitude of government programs, not to mention the future of congressional spending debates. Lawmakers fear that any funding bill they can agree on before 2023 might be the last one Congress passes for at least the next two years.”

Rep. TOM COLE (R-Okla.) on whether he’s making holiday plans: “Nope. Washington is beautiful when it snows.”

IMPEACHMENT WILL KEEP US TOGETHER — As House Republican leader KEVIN McCARTHY scrambles to stave off a far-right rebellion against his speaker bid, he declared Tuesday that DHS Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS should resign — or House Republicans will look closely at impeaching him next year. “He cannot and must not remain in that position,” McCarthy said, adding that he had the backing of incoming Judiciary and Oversight chairs JIM JORDAN (Ohio) and JAMES COMER (Ky.) to investigate the border situation. More from Fox News

DHS responded that Mayorkas would not resign, and that members of Congress should work on immigration reform instead of blaming him, per WaPo.

LAME DUCK QUACKING? — Supporters of cannabis banking legislation are moving with renewed urgency to pass a bill before the GOP takes over the House next year, Natalie Fertig reports. “The key to passage is twofold. They must find a pairing of financial services and criminal justice reform-centered cannabis legislation that progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans can all accept. And then they must receive signoff from the leaders of the Senate Banking Committee, House Financial Services Committee, and the four corners of party leadership.”

THE WHITE HOUSE

GERONTOCRACY WATCH — “Biden’s generation is ceding the stage as he plots his next act,” by Jonathan Lemire: “When NANCY PELOSI stepped down, she had a successor in mind. The field that follows President Biden is far less certain”

POTUS ON THE ROAD — Biden will head to the Bay City, Mich., area Tuesday to visit a new semiconductor manufacturing facility and tout his administration’s investments, per the Detroit Free Press.

KEEPING THE FREEZER DOOR SHUT — “Biden extends student loan repayment freeze as forgiveness program is tied up in courts,” by CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Katie Lobosco

2024 WATCH

THE NEXT BATTLE FOR THE HOUSE — Not every race has even been called yet, but Democrats are already drawing up plans for winning back the House majority in 2024, Axios’ Andrew Solender reports. A House Majority PAC memo fingers 19 districts as initial targets, most of them Biden-won and many in blue states like New York and California. “The list signals that a key part of House Democrats’ strategy in 2024 will be to harness the Democratic presidential ticket’s coattails — a luxury the party didn’t have in the 2022 midterms.” The memo

THE NEXT BATTLE FOR THE SENATE — Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) already has one prominent GOP challenger, and he may get a second: West Virginia Gov. JIM JUSTICE said he’s weighing a run, per WTOV-TV.

PENCE LAYS THE GROUNDWORK — Former VP MIKE PENCE has added ALI KJERGAARD as comms director for his nonprofit, Advancing American Freedom, and is bringing on additional comms and fundraising staffers ahead of a potential 2024 run, Alex Isenstadt reports. Kjergaard most recently has worked for Sen. BEN SASSE (R-Neb.). In the new year, Pence is expected to travel to first-in-the-nation New Hampshire.

DeSANTIS ALLIES LAY THE GROUNDWORK — Florida’s Republican state leaders said Tuesday they were amenable to changing state law so that DeSantis can retain his post while running for president, Gary Fineout reports from Tallahassee.

TRUMP CARDS

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH SOCIAL — Shareholders voted Tuesday to give Trump Media & Technology Group and Digital World Acquisition Corp. more breathing room to finalize their merger, pushing the deadline to next September. But the Truth Social partner company could still face a big hurdle at the SEC, Declan Harty reports. Any move to block the deal from the regulatory agency, which is looking into whether the SPAC’s public disclosures sufficed, “would mark a major hit for what was supposed to be the beginning of a new era for Trump’s business empire … It would also provide fodder for opponents to attack Trump … while setting up the SEC as a new foe for the former president and his allies.”

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JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH

FORCED TO TESTIFY — Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.) appeared for more than two hours Tuesday before a Fulton County, Ga., special grand jury investigating the effort to overturn the 2020 election, after losing a long legal battle not to testify, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His office said he answered every question and was treated well. Former Trump White House attorney ERIC HERSCHMANN was also slated to testify Tuesday, though there wasn’t immediate confirmation that it happened.

JUDICIARY SQUARE

SCOTUS CLEARS THE PATH — The Supreme Court turned away Trump’s bid to prevent House Democrats from finally accessing his tax returns, denying his appeal Tuesday without any noted dissents. That appears to leave the former president without any further options to shield his returns. More from ABC

— Meanwhile, longtime Trump accountant DONALD BENDER from Mazars USA said in court on Tuesday that Trump’s tax returns reported significant losses every year from 2009 to 2018, per the AP. Bender’s testimony at the New York tax fraud trial against the Trump Organization included the revelation that Trump reported losing $700 million in 2009 and $200 million the next year.

THE INVESTIGATIONS — “Trump rebuffed by judge in New York fraud lawsuit, trial date set,” by Reuters’ Karen Freifeld and Jonathan Stempel

THE MAR-A-LAGO RECORDS — Three federal appeals court judges in Atlanta, including two appointed by Trump, “sounded highly skeptical” of the appointment of a special master to oversee DOJ’s review of the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report. The panel “seemed inclined to conclude that U.S. District Court Judge AILEEN CANNON erred” in her Trump-favorable rulings, indicating that the accommodations were unprecedented. Trump’s legal team argued it didn’t want special treatment.

— Meanwhile, a filing Tuesday from Trump’s legal team asked Cannon to force the DOJ to share the unredacted version of its search affidavit for Mar-a-Lago. More from ABC

WAR IN UKRAINE

DEAL OR NO DEAL — “Western Allies Aim to Agree on Russian Oil Price Cap Wednesday,” WSJ’s Laurence Norman and Andrew Duehren scooped

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

ROCKET WOMAN — KIM YO JONG, sister of North Korean dictator KIM JONG UN, warned the U.S. that its actions to condemn Pyongyang’s nuclear testing at the U.N. will lead to “a more fatal security crisis” for the U.S. More from the AP

THE 12TH MAN — At the World Cup, Secretary of State and soccer fan ANTONY BLINKEN said he’s enjoying cheering on the USMNT — and urging Qatar to improve its human rights record, WaPo’s John Hudson reports from Doha. The trip also includes members of Congress like Reps. DARRELL ISSA (R-Calif) and ILHAN OMAR (D-Minn.). And though Blinken made some criticisms of Qatar, he was also bolstering a crucial partner: “Qatar’s steadfast support for U.S. interests in the Biden era stands in stark contrast with relations with other Middle East allies.”

STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE — “Bolsonaro challenges Brazil election he lost to Lula,” Reuters

MEDIAWATCH

HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE — The AP fired JAMES LaPORTA after he wrongly attributed a missile strike in Poland to Russia last week, triggering international alarm. But Semafor’s Max Tani got the AP’s Slack messages, which show a more complicated story of miscommunication: LaPorta passed along the information to colleagues, citing a single source, and then said the decision about whether to publish was “above my pay grade” while he was at a doctor’s appointment. Editors thought he was saying newsroom VP RON NIXON had approved the sourcing, but Nixon had approved the source only in the past. Tani calls it “a systemic editorial failure, not one reporter’s blunder,” but the AP tells him they don’t fire staffers for just one incident.

ANOTHER TRUMP/MEDIA LAWSUIT — CNN asked a federal judge in Florida to dismiss Trump’s defamation claim against the network. More from Bloomberg

MEANWHILE, IN THE BRIEFING ROOM — “White House Spox Scolds ‘Disrespectful’ Reporters for Interrupting Fauci’s Last Presser,” The Daily Beast

— “Reporters are seething over being shut out of Naomi Biden’s wedding, which drew inspiration from Time magazine images of past White House nuptials,” Insider

VALLEY TALK

THE COST OF CONTROVERSY — Among Twitter’s 100 biggest advertisers, more than one-third haven’t put up an ad over the past fortnight as ELON MUSK’s reign brings chaos, WaPo’s Naomi Nix and Jeremy Merrill find. For a company that took in almost 90% of its revenue from ads last year, it can’t afford many more defections.

JUST POSTED —“Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover Triggers Partisan Clash on Government’s Role,” by WSJ’s John McKinnon

BUSINESS BURST — “Inside Sam Bankman-Fried’s Quest to Win Friends and Influence People,” by NYT’s Ken Vogel, Emily Flitter and David Yaffe-Bellany

Mark Warner vs. Sherrod Brown: Who had a better mustache as a young man?

Mike Pence gave ABC’s “World News Tonight” its biggest audience in eight months.

Ted Cruz and Mike Lee had some fun withJFK assassination conspiracy theories.

Andrew Yang and Cruz might play basketball together.

Chuck Grassley got into the holiday spirit with a Thanksgiving tradition: bringing out his trusty vacuum Beth (who may not have much longer).

The Bidens sent out invites for the White House Hanukkah reception Dec. 19.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — The White House is putting out what it calls a Thanksgiving “menu of accomplishments” that Biden fans can use to talk up the president around the holiday table — proving that you can call anything a “menu” if you put it on a festive background. The White House says they’ll send it to the Cabinet and the Hill as well. Read it here

IN MEMORIAM — “John Y. Brown Jr., dashing KFC millionaire who became Kentucky governor, dies,” by the Louisville Courier Journal’s Andrew Wolfson: “Brown’s 1979 campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor destroyed the notion that candidates had to invest years of painstaking preparation before seeking the office. He demonstrated that a quick thrust, built on modern campaign techniques, could overwhelm organizational politics.”

— “Cecilia Marshall, wife of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, dies at 94,” by CNN’s Joan Biskupic: “Like her husband, Marshall had worked for the NAACP in the 1940s and ’50s. … Marshall, known for her warmth, exuberance, and enduring interest in the court, continued to attend oral arguments and extracurricular court festivities.”

DOT ARRIVAL LOUNGE — Maggie Murphy is now White House liaison at the DOT. She most recently was director of scheduling and advance at the Education Department.

TRANSITION — Lynne Patton is now senior adviser and director of coalitions for Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign. She most recently was senior adviser to Trump and director of coalitions at Save America PAC.

MEDIA MOVE — Bill Hinkle is now coordinating booking producer for NBC News, where he manages the booking team for NBC News NOW. He most recently was a senior editorial producer for CNN.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — May (Davis) Mailman, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, deputy solicitor general of Ohio and a Trump White House alum, and David Mailman, VP of strategic partnerships and transformation at TravelCenters of America, welcomed Hadley May Mailman on Friday. Pic … Another pic

—Mike Flynn, VP and counsel, government affairs at ITI, and Jen Flynn welcomed Callum Thomas Flynn on Nov. 14. He joins big sister Samantha. Pic … Another pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer … Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Sean Casten (D-Ill.) … Rep.-elect Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.) (47) … DOJ’s Sheria Clarke … NYT’s Carolyn Ryan … former Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) … Amy Schatz of Glen Echo Group … Geoff Mackler … RNC’s Rick Gorka … Matt Dennis … Katie Wall of Virgin Orbit … BBC’s Suzanne Kianpour … AFP’s Bill Riggs … Jeremy Slevin of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) office … Colby Nelson … Richard Hunt of the HuntGroupDC … POLITICO’s Phelim Kine, Ally Moore and Ryan Niblock … Robin Roberts … Google’s Brittany Griffin … Mary Rutherford Jennings … Liz Victorin … Elizabeth Taylor of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s office … Danny Cevallos … Sheara Braun … former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle … Alan Rosenberg of RG Group … Emma Campbell … Jared Godes of Equality California … Geoff Morrell … Charlie Goodyear … Adam Belmar

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.

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