Brigid Bergen Thanks for listening to The Takeaway today. I'm Brigid Bergen sitting in the host chair for Melissa Harris-Perry.
It's just about a week after the midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race is already on a lot of people's minds, including this guy.
Donald Trump: In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.
Brigid Bergen On Tuesday night, former President Donald Trump announced his third run for the White House in the ballroom of his private Mara Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
Technically, the midterms aren't over, and once again, we're heading south for the latest in our series, Georgia at the intersections. Neither of the Senate candidates from Georgia received 50% of the vote required for an outright win.
That means incumbent Democratic senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker are headed to a runoff on December 6th. Both candidates are already back on the campaign trail.
Raphael Warnock: Now, you have to admit that I did warn y'all that we might be spending Thanksgiving together doing over time. That means we got to run off. I was built for this.
Brigid Bergin: Democrats are now seeking a 51st seat from Georgia and Republicans are seeking a 50th seat. This year schedule for the runoff election has been cut in half from nine weeks to four weeks thanks to a voting law passed by Georgia Republican lawmakers last year.
Many voters in Georgia will only have five weekdays of early in-person voting before December 6th. What does this all mean for Georgia's runoff election? To get some insight, I spoke with-
Stephen Fowler: Stephen Fowler. I'm the political reporter at Georgia Public Broadcasting and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box Podcast.
Brigid Bergen: This is the second run-off for Warnock. How is this time different?
Stephen Fowler: Well, there's a couple of differences this time, mainly in both form and function. This election is four weeks after the general as opposed to the last time when it was nine weeks. A lot tighter timeline, a lot less campaigning, a lot less time for early voting and absentee-by-mail voting.
The function of it is a little bit different because previously when Warnock had to run off the first time, it was part of a slate to decide control of the US Senate. Ultimately, his victory and fellow Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff's victory ended up giving Democrats control of the chamber the past two years.
Now that we have the results out of Nevada and the results out of Arizona, Democrats do have control of the chamber. The stakes are a little bit different because this is just about the 51st seat for Democrats instead of trying to get 50 in that majority. Still high stakes though, but those are the main differences between 2021 and 2022.
Brigid Bergen: Let's start with the shortened timeline, a four-week timeline for voters when it comes to applying for absentee ballots and in-person voting. What's the effect of that going to be?
Stephen Fowler: It's definitely a shorter timeline turnaround. State law requires early voting to begin as soon as possible, but not later than the week before the election. Everybody in Georgia gets five days of in-person early voting.
Some counties might have things earlier depending on how prepared they are and the options that they have. Just yesterday, this is a developing story, but the Democrats have sued the state of Georgia over their interpretation that there's no Saturday voting for this election because it comes the day after two state holidays, both Thanksgiving and a state holiday that up until 2015 was Robert E. Lee's birthday.
There's already some controversy over voting but what that means is that there's probably going to be a lot fewer people turning out and there's going to have to be a lot more effort to educate people about the timeline on both sides of the aisle and get them to show up to vote in early December.
Brigid Bergen: I saw a statement from the secretary of state regarding this lawsuit, basically saying that this was an effort by Democrats to muddy the waters. Do you think that this lawsuit will be particularly controversial?
Stephen Fowler: Well, it's already proven controversial. Some people have seized on the state holiday formerly known as Robert E. Lee's birthday.
Some people have seized upon the four-week run-off as opposed to a nine-week runoff and really there's just this general uncertainty about who is advantaged in this brief period with different stakes on the line.
It's a zero-sum game in Georgia and has been for a long time. The decision about early voting, this lawsuit, and both Democrats and Republicans keeping their foot on the gas, as far as getting people energized and showing up to the polls is just going to continue in these final three weeks.
Brigid Bergen: Stephen, what are we seeing from organizers on the ground on both sides of this?
Stephen Fowler: Really, we never saw anybody stop. The Republican National Committee just told me that they have several hundred people from across the country on the ground now in Georgia doing the door-knocking, the campaigning, the canvassing, the get-out-the-vote efforts, and highlighting things for Herschel Walker. Democratic groups and voting rights groups have also been constantly on people of, "This is the timeline.
This is how you request an absentee ballot. This is where you can check your county for your early voting." Both Warnock and Walker never really stopped campaigning either.
There was maybe about a 12 to 16-hour period where people probably took some naps and loaded up on coffee. Both Warnock and Walker are already back out on the campaign trail hitting places and making that final pitch to voters of one more time they need to do it again and show up and vote.
Brigid Bergen: What about the role of the infrastructures built by the candidates for governor? Democrat Stacey Abrams, Republican Brian Kemp, will that play a major role turning out voters in this race?
Stephen Fowler: Absolutely. What we've seen in Georgia politics over the last four to five years is just this really immense grassroots juggernaut ground game from both Democrat Stacey Abrams, and Republican Governor Brian Kemp, wherein the off years, you saw Democrats flip local level seats because of their networks and connections that were built up in 2018.
In the 2020 election, you saw Democrats competing in places where there weren't necessarily a lot of Democratic voters, and in turn Republican Brian Kemp, through the advantage of his incumbency and circumventing the state party, which has been more aligned with former President Donald Trump than with the current office holders.
Kemp has built up his own massive ground game and opportunity because Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams are two of some of the best campaigners in the country. As a result of that, and a result of Georgia having 159 counties, second only to Texas, there's a massive infrastructure to turn out people and, even though it's a quick turnaround, to get people just as excited as they might for a general.
Brigid Bergen: It would almost seem given how quick the turnaround is that that could be an advantage, that you've already got momentum because we just came off this election, that maybe you can keep people engaged by making it clear that you haven't crossed the finish line yet, and try to keep up some of that momentum.
Stephen Fowler: Absolutely. We saw in places like Southwest Georgia, which is crucial for Democrats because of a large Black population and an agricultural population.
We saw organizers that were from those communities come in ahead of the 2020 election and they never left, which helps in the 2021 run-offs. It helped them stay there and keep Democrat Sanford Bishop in congress this election. It's certainly an advantage, but it's something that both parties are doing.
It's going to be another close election for sure.
Brigid Bergen: Obviously, this is not going to be the race that determines which party controls the Senate. How much does that change things as people are trying to engage in and understand the stakes of this race? Certainly, if the Democrats were to win it or were to lose it, it would certainly determine the scope of the power of someone like a Senator Manchin or Senator Sinema.
Stephen Fowler: Well, that's certainly in the back of many people's minds, and even the front of some people's minds, both in Washington and in Georgia. The way Raphael Warnock has approached this race is to avoid some of the nationalization, avoid Joe Biden, avoid some of the things that maybe made Democrats a little less popular in the minds of voters, and focus on his more bipartisan accomplishments. In his time in office, he frequently towels legislation he's co-sponsored with Republicans like Ted Cruz and Tommy Tuberville.
Warnock is trying to make this solely a referendum on who is the best person to represent Georgia for the next six years.
His argument is that Herschel Walker is not equipped to be a senator and that the myriad controversies about Walker's personal resume statements being overinflated or allegations that he paid for abortions with ex-girlfriends, he's trying to make this race about those things, and less about a 51st seat for Democrats.
It worked for him so far. I mean, he was the top vote-getter getting into this election. On the other hand, I think Republicans are still latching on to that as even though they don't have the majority, Herschel Walker would still provide a valuable firewall against Democratic control the next two years. Even if it looks like the Republicans have a narrow majority in the House, that having that seat in Georgia and having Walker there for the next six years would only mean better things for Republicans heading into the 2024 presidential race.
Again, that's not necessarily something that is going to be at the forefront in the mind of a voter who is not necessarily tuned into Washington politics, but is thinking more about their next six years in Georgia and what somebody like that in that seat would represent.
Brigid Bergen: Well, since we have to talk about 2024, how does former President Trump factor into this race and how could his announcement for 2024 help or hurt Herschel Walker in this runoff?
Stephen Fowler: Well, headlines are now being dominated by Donald Trump running for president in 2024, which is great for Donald Trump but not necessarily great for Republicans trying to win a runoff here.
Georgia is one of the few states that were on the front lines of Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election, and also one of the states on the front lines of really rejecting Trump's view of the Republican Party. In the primary here Trump had several primary challengers that sought to unseat people like Governor Brian Kemp, and those challengers lost in a huge, huge fashion.
The top vote getters in November's general election were Republicans like Kemp and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who stood up against Trump's claims, indicating that voters were really rewarding those candidates for not pushing the false claims of election fraud or viewing conservatism the same way that Trump is pushing it. It is a danger that Georgia has sent several clear signals that they reject Trump and Trumpism and Herschel Walker being endorsed by Trump, it could be one more time that voters have the opportunity to give Trump a thumbs down.
Brigid Bergen: Stephen Fowler is a reporter for GPB News and host of Battleground: Ballot Box podcast. Thank you for joining us today.
Stephen Fowler: Thank you.
Brigid Bergen: On another note out of Georgia, on Tuesday a county judge ruled that the state's ban on early term abortions was unconstitutional when it was passed in 2019. The state legislature had banned abortions after six weeks when most women aren't even aware they are pregnant.
While the Dobbs case overturned Roe v Wade earlier this year, the Georgia court ruled that the constitutionality of the state span hinged on the law at the time it was passed. That means this ruling reversed the ban and abortions past six weeks are once again legal in Georgia.
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