By BILL BARREW (Associated Press)
WARNER ROBINS, Ga. (AP) — Ads featuring candidates’ ex-wives. Cries of “liar” flying both ways. Stories about a squalid apartment building and forced abortions. Questioning the independence of an opponent. His intellect. His mental stability. His religious faith.
The sprawling Georgia Senate campaign between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger, football legend Herschel Walker, has grown increasingly bitter as the Dec. 6 runoff nears. With Democrats already securing a majority in the Senate, it’s a stark contrast to two years ago, when the state’s twin races were mostly about which party would control the chamber in Washington.
“Herschel Walker doesn’t mean it,” Warnock told supporters in central Georgia, saying Walker “is known for lying” and tampering with the basics of public policy. “But the elections are very serious. Don’t confuse the two.”
Walker considers Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, a “hypocrite” and servile to President Joe Biden. Underscoring the insult, Walker calls the current “Scooby-Doo,” complete with an impression of the cartoon dog’s mouth.
The parties reflect furious efforts by candidates in the four weeks between the Nov. 8 general election and the runoff to convince their core supporters to cast another vote. For Walker, it also means attracting more independents and moderates to his campaign after he underperformed fellow Republican Gov. Brian Kemp by 200,000 votes.
Warnock led Walker by 37,000 of the nearly 4 million votes cast in the first round, but the senator fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
In many ways, the move from his first tour campaign is exactly what Warnock wanted: a simple choice between two candidates. Two years ago, then-President Donald Trump, fresh off defeat, and Biden, then president-elect, made several trips to Georgia to shine a light on the national stakes of the races between Warnock and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Jon Ossoff and the Republican. Sen. David Perdue as Senate control hung in the balance.
Trump ended up alienating his own supporters and many moderates with his false claims about a fraudulent 2020 presidential election. Warnock and Ossoff’s victories put the Senate at a 50-50 split, with Democrats winning control by virtue of Vice President Kamala’s tie-breaking vote Harris. Warnock also became Georgia’s first black senator.
This year, with Warnock running for a full six-year term after winning a special election in 2021, Democrats have already secured control of the Senate by flipping a seat in Pennsylvania. A Warnock victory would give Democrats an outright majority at 51-49, meaning the parties would not have to negotiate a power-sharing deal.
Warnock’s favorite focus for most of his re-election bid has been his deal-making in Washington and the personal values he brings to the job. It took until the final stages of the campaign — only after two women accused Walker, an opponent of abortion rights, of encouraging and paying for them to have abortions — for the senator to step up his attacks, arguing that Walker is “unprepared” and “unfit” for abortion. job.
“My opponent lies about everything,” Warnock said in a recent campaign, ticking off a litany of Walker’s repeated lies and exaggerations. “He said he was a police officer. He is not. He said he worked for the FBI. He didn’t. He said he graduated from the University of Georgia. He didn’t. He said he was valedictorian of his class. He wasn’t. … He said he has another business with 800 employees. He’s eight.”
Walker, alternatively, has relished the game since winning the GOP nomination in the spring.
“Herschel is a competitor. He’s very comfortable with mano a mano,” said Scott Paradise, Walker’s campaign manager, noting the candidate’s athletic prowess as a football runner, kickboxer and Olympic bobsledder.
Indeed, Walker takes his attacks directly to Warnock’s strengths as pastor of the famous church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Walker criticized Warnock over an Atlanta apartment building owned by a foundation of Warnock’s church, where residents complained to The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative media outlet, about eviction notices and poor conditions.
“What he’s doing in this apartment building at Columbia Towers is not right,” Walker said recently at a campaign rally in suburban Atlanta. “You shouldn’t put the name of Jesus on what you do to people and you shouldn’t put the name of Martin Luther King on it. … You are not Jesus and you are not Dr. King.”
Warnock, who says no Columbia Tower residents have been evicted, adds Walker’s attacks to the challenger’s list of documented exaggerations and falsehoods. “What kind of man sits on the church?” Warnock said in Macon. “This is not the first time people have attacked Ebenezer Baptist Church. They attacked Martin Luther King Jr. I’m in good company.”
However, when asked if he had reconsidered his church’s stewardship of Columbia Towers, Warnock deflected: “I’ve already answered the question. I am proud of what my church does to feed and house the hungry and homeless every week.”
Walker also accuses Warnock of “getting rich” as a senator, a nod to the church pastor’s $7,500-a-month housing allowance. The payments are not a violation of Senate ethics rules that limit outside income for senators.
At least once during the tour, Walker suggested that Warnock was a neglectful father. Warnock told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the comment “crossed the line.” Earlier in the campaign, Walker publicly acknowledged three of his children for the first time, only doing so after The Daily Beast reported on their existence. Warnock did not mention these children in any of his criticisms of Walker.
Walker, meanwhile, did not take questions from reporters at an open campaign event in late October when a second accuser came forward to say he pressured her to have an abortion — a contradiction of his claims as a candidate for a national ban of all. abortions. Walker denied the women’s claims.
The campaign also features the ex-wives of the two candidates, although the two men themselves avoid the topic, leaving discussion of their marriages largely to paid advertising. In an ad, Warnock’s ex-wife told Atlanta police he kicked her leg. The Republican ad fails to note that a police report states that officers found no physical evidence to support her claim. A Democratic ad features an interview with Walker’s first wife in which she details that he threatened violence against her, circumstances that Walker confirmed in an autobiography.
Since the two men met for their only debate on October 14, Warnock has faulted Walker for his lack of policy detail and is sometimes bossy about the policy he is discussing.
Warnock is promoting his new federal law capping insulin costs for Medicare beneficiaries and notes that Walker said diabetics can manage their health by “eating right,” a practice that is not enough for insulin-dependent diabetic patients.
“Maybe he should apply to become a dietitian. I’m running for the United States Senate,” Warnock said in Macon.
He pounced when Walker said the United States was “not ready” for climate action and should “continue to have those gas-guzzling cars” that he said already have “good emissions” standards. Warnock added a gleeful quip when Walker introduced a tangent about vampires in a campaign speech recently.
“I mean, who says something like that?” Warnock asked the supporters.
Warnock’s advisers say the tailored pitches are helping to convince grassroots Democrats that he shouldn’t stay out of the tour, while swaying the potentially swing middle of the electorate in the senator’s favor. “Herschel Walker continues to be hamstrung by his pattern of lies and disruptive behavior, all of which caused him to underperform” in the first round, Quentin Fulks, Warnock’s campaign manager, said in a statement.
From Walker’s camp, Paradise insisted the Republicans’ best argument remains Warnock’s alignment with the Democrats on economic policy. Still, he admits the tone of the campaign has darkened.
“We will certainly continue to aggressively pursue the case against Warnock,” he said, “and I suspect they will do the same.”
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