GOP Must Cut Infighting or Lose Winnable Georgia Seat

Posted on Friday, December 2, 2022
by Daniel Berman

AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman

There is one place where the 2022 midterm elections are not yet over. That is the state of Georgia, where Republican Herschel Walker will face off against incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock on Tuesday, December 6th in a runoff. With Senate control not on the line and much of the media having moved on to their new favorite story of “Republicans in disarray,” the election has received far less attention than might be expected.

While the January 2021 Georgia runoffs decided control of the Senate, and the runoffs this year will only decide whether Democrats hold 50 or 51 seats, the contest is still critically important. Under Senate rules, while Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote gives Democrats a voting majority in a 50-50 Senate, the Vice President is by definition not a member of the Senate and cannot sit on committees.

That means that when the Senate is split 50-50, so too are Committees. This is one reason many of Joe Biden’s nominations have moved so slowly. In order to move out of committee and onto the floor, nominees and legislation either need at least one Republican to vote in favor or abstain. The only alternative has been for Chuck Schumer to force a floor vote, using the Vice President, which requires every single Democratic senator to be present each time. While Schumer has been willing to do this for a few high-profile items, it is impractical for most nominations or legislation.

A 51-seat Democratic majority would allow Democrats to stack the Senate Judiciary Committee, rapidly expediting the process of judicial nominees reaching the Senate floor. Biden is already outpacing former President Trump’s rate of judicial confirmations, something which should deeply concern conservatives.

A 51-seat majority would also reduce the Democratic dependence on Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona. In the last Senate, Democrats required the support of both Senators to pass legislation. If Warnock wins reelection, Democrats would only need one of them. If this were not dangerous enough, both are up for reelection in 2024, with Sinema fearing a primary. It is hard to see her isolating herself when faced with that challenge, suggesting that she might be more willing to go with the rest of the party than she has been the past two years.

Finally, winning 51 seats would make Democrats’ difficult task of holding the Senate in 2024 slightly easier. The 2024 Senate map is brutal for Democrats, who have few viable opportunities for gains and are defending incumbents in Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia. Securing the Georgia seat until 2028 would mean they could hold the Senate by winning two of those three seats, rather than needing to hold all three. Still very hard, but much more doable.

Very little of this has been communicated to voters. Some of that is understandable; Senate control is easy to explain, while the different procedural elements of a 50 or 51 seat majority are much more complex. But matters have not been helped by infighting between different national Republican groups following the midterm results. The Senate Leadership Fund, headed by former staffers of Mitch McConnell, has partnered with Governor Brian Kemp’s get-out-the-vote operation to run a campaign separate from that of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chaired by recent McConnell rival Rick Scott of Florida.

There have also been divisions over surrogates. While some national Republican figures, including Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, have campaigned with Walker, the effort has largely been left to Governor Kemp and state GOP figures. The explanation is again national politics. With the party divided between critics of former President Trump and his supporters, inviting any potential 2024 candidate to campaign for Walker would offend all others. The result is that rather than both Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis being able to campaign for Walker, neither is expected to stump for him, instead planning speeches delivered remotely. Even Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who campaigned for Walker in September, may not return, lest it be confused with a presidential campaign stop. The divisions over the 2024 presidential race have therefore crippled the ability of any prominent figure from any faction to campaign for Walker.

Democrats have not suffered from these problems. Both Barack and Michelle Obama plan to hold rallies for Warnock, while Michelle has also cut an ad for the Democrat. Biden, who campaigned for Warnock in December of 2020, has kept away this time, leaving it to the Obamas. But with senior GOP figures paralyzed, Republicans are outgunned.

The same is true of spending. As of a week before the run-off, Democrats had outspent Republicans more than 2-1, $36.5 million to $15.3 million, indicating GOP donors are as paralyzed by the impending 2024 race as are GOP leaders.

Despite these drawbacks, the contest remains close. The two most recent polls, one by Philips Andover Academy, and the other by Frederick Polls, have Walker leading by one and the race tied, respectively. Both find Libertarian voters splitting overwhelmingly for Walker, and reduced Democratic margins among persuadable voters. Both, however, also projected older and whiter electorates than November. By contrast, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s poll a week earlier had Warnock leading by 4 with a sample with similar demographics to November.

Projecting the makeup of the electorate ahead of time is difficult. It is somewhat easier in Georgia, where as much as 70% of the vote is often cast early. While early voting for the runoff this year is restricted to a single week, already it is breaking single day records, with 310,688 votes cast on Wednesday, November 30th alone. In total, some 1,144,158 votes had been cast, of which 54% were listed as white, 33.3% as African American, and 9.4% as other. 56% were female, while 44% were male. 6.8% were between the ages of 18-29, 7.2% 30-39, 11% 40-49, 31.9% 50-64, and 42.9% 65+. Each day, the electorate has become whiter and older, with the African American percentage falling from 46% on Sunday night to 40% Monday night, 35.2% on Tuesday night, and finally 33.3% at the close of voting Wednesday.

Compared to the final figures for November, the African American figure is still well above the 29.2% they made up at the end of early voting last month. While we will have a better idea of where we stand on Friday night, the last day of early voting, indications are an electorate which may not be substantially whiter, but will be substantially older than in November. As Walker performed much better with older voters, this suggests that the polls showing a close race are likely correct, perhaps with a 1% or so edge to Warnock, understandable given the vastly greater resources he enjoys.

The disparity in organization is probably the greatest explanation for why the GOP is having so much trouble in Georgia.

GOP sources have stressed that rather than focusing on “turnout,” they are instead working on “persuasion,” in other words trying to convince voters who cast ballots for Kemp in November but not for Walker, or even for Warnock, to change their minds.

The best interpretation of this strategy is that it may be “something.” But in practice, it is hard to see many November Warnock voters switching to Walker when the “stakes” are seen as even lower. In reality, it seems bragging to the media about the focus on persuasion is an excuse for not undertaking the much more expensive and difficult work of organizing voters and bringing them to the polls. “Persuasion” can be done by commissioning ads and giving interviews to the media. Organizing would require actually traveling to Georgia and going door to door. Instead, there seems to be an effort to make up for that with negative ads attacking Warnock on issues such as women’s sports, where his position has long been known. While Walker is likely on the right side of the issue, the decision to make it his closing message reeks of Washington consultants who do not want to do get their hands dirty on the ground. 

Democrats’ success with “turnout” is not merely a matter of moral fortitude. It is also a consequence of money and organization, especially with a week-long Election Day. It is hardly surprising that if Democrats are outspending Republicans more than 2-1, they are able to get more of their voters to the polls early.

The GOP will have plenty of time for infighting later. In the meantime, they would be well-advised to put a hold on their sniping and focus on holding a Senate seat. If Warnock wins, he will have it for six years. The race is far from lost according to polls. If the GOP is losing, it is in large part because segments of the party have decided they aren’t interested in winning.

Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.