On Saturday, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia, fresh off his commanding reelection, played the role of a dutiful Republican soldier as he campaigned for the first time alongside Senate hopeful Herschel Walker after spending months steering clear of his ticket-mate. Walker is running for the same seat that Kemp is seeking.
The joint appearance reflects how vital Kemp’s broad coalition will be in determining whether or not Walker will successfully unseat Sen. Raphael Warnock in a runoff election on December 6. The fact that it did not happen until now highlights the difficulties that Walker, a celebrity athlete turned politician, has had in appealing to many independents and moderate Republicans in the face of a heavy spotlight on his troubled background.
Kemp told a few hundred supporters standing in the parking lot of a gun store in suburban Atlanta that he was urging them to cast one more ballot in a midterm election year that was disappointing for Republicans nationally. “We cannot rest on our laurels, everyone,” Kemp said. “We cannot rest on our laurels.”
Walker received fewer votes in his race against Warnock than Kemp in his contest against Stacey Abrams, but Kemp won the most in Georgia’s general election. Kemp received 200,000 more votes than Walker did in his contest against Warnock.
The final tally showed that Kemp prevailed against Abrams by 7.5 percentage points, while Walker came in second place, behind Warnock by approximately 36,000 votes, or almost one percentage point. However, Warnock did not receive the most votes, resulting in a hectic runoff campaign lasting over four weeks.
During the fall, the governor mostly campaigned for his reelection but also showed up with several GOP nominees for lower statewide offices. There were no runoffs, so they all won. Walker was always missing, and Kemp would sometimes not even say his name when reporters asked how far apart the two campaigns were. Kemp would often say, “I’m for the whole ticket.”
Great to have @BrianKempGA and @GAFirstLady join Julie and I today with a great crowd in Smyrna! The people are ready to evict Raphael Warnock on December 6th! #gasen #gapol #gasenrunoff pic.twitter.com/YqJzd13WC7
— Herschel Walker (@HerschelWalker) November 19, 2022
Since he won a second term, Kemp’s support has become more direct, even if it’s still calculated. He gave his organisation for getting people to vote to a Republican political action committee that works with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and has backed Walker again in recent interviews.
On Saturday, he tried to sell Walker as a fiscal and cultural conservative who would support tax cuts and help law enforcement and the military. He also repeated the Republicans’ main attack on Warnock, which is that he votes with President Joe Biden “96% of the time.”
Kemp said, “I know Herschel Walker will fight for us.” “He will fight for the values that our state believes in here.” But Kemp also used his short time on stage to take a victory lap for himself. He mentioned Abrams before he talked about Walker or Warnock and alluded to the fact that he would be re-elected. “I’ve never been more hopeful about the future of our state, and we’re going to keep our state moving in the right direction because we stopped Stacey and saved Georgia,” he said.
Republicans see Kemp as a critical vote of confidence for Walker, especially since the Georgia runoff is now more focused on local issues because Democrats have already won 50 seats and have the tie-breaking say of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Walker and the Republicans spent most of the year trying to make the race a national issue because it was one of the battlegrounds that would decide who controlled the Senate. This is what Georgia did two years ago when Democrats Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff won their Senate runoffs simultaneously. Part of the plan was to link Warnock to Biden because of the president’s low approval ratings and the highest inflation in generations. But because Walker had some problems, it was also seen as a must.
Walker has lied about his academic accomplishments, business success, and charitable work more than once. He has been accused of beating up his first wife. During the campaign, he talked about children he hadn’t talked about in public before. He did this after the media told him about them. In October, he two women Walker had dated. He pushed them to get abortions and paid for them, even though he was running for president and wanted to ban abortions everywhere.
Walker says he has never paid for an abortion. In response, he has slammed Warnock hard, focusing in recent weeks on the horrible living conditions at an Atlanta apartment building owned by a foundation of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Warnock is the senior pastor. Walker has called Warnock a “hypocrite” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” by pointing to what seem to be eviction notices sent to some tenants and complaints from those living there.
Still, all of this has helped Warnock call Walker “not ready” and “not fit” for the Senate, and it has made Walker much less popular than Kemp, especially among independents and moderate Republicans. That’s a bigger worry now that the GOP can’t use control of the Senate to convince voters who aren’t sure they want to vote for Walker.
Walker’s problems with the election were evident in the suburbs of Atlanta. Walker ran about 5 points behind Kemp statewide. Still, the gap was almost 7 points in Cobb County, where Saturday’s rally was held, and in several other metro area counties important to Republicans’ statewide coalition.
An AP VoteCast survey of all voters found that seven out of ten Kemp supporters said they did so enthusiastically, while only about half of Walker supporters said the same. About one in ten Walker supporters said they didn’t fully support him, while almost one in ten said they were against the other candidates.
Also, Kemp seems to have done well because he didn’t let former President Donald Trump change the results of the 2020 elections in Georgia and across the country. AP VoteCast found that only 29% of Georgia voters thought Kemp supported former President Trump too much, while 43% said that about Walker, who is friends with Trump and is running with his support.
Josh Holmes, an influential Republican strategist in Washington and former chief of staff to McConnell, said, “Brian Kemp is by far the most popular Republican in Georgia, and he has by far the most important organisation.” Even Democrats agree with this. They held a press conference earlier Saturday where voters voted for Kemp and Warnock.
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