Enterprise

Campaign Walker, Kemp in Ga. together for the 1st time

SMYRNA, Ga. (AP) — Fresh out of re-election, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp played the role of a dedicated Republican soldier on Saturday as he campaigned for the first time alongside the hopeful of the Senate Herschel Walker after spending months avoiding his ticket-mate.

The joint appearance reflects the importance of Kemp’s broad coalition in determining whether Walker can unseat Sen. Raphael Warnock in the Dec. 6 runoff. The fact that it’s only happened now underscores the challenges Walker, a famous athlete-turned-politician, has faced in attracting many independents and moderate Republicans amid an intense focus on his checkered past.

“We can’t rest on our laurels, everyone,” Kemp told a few hundred supporters standing in the parking lot of a gun store in suburban Atlanta, urging them to vote more. in a disappointing midterm election year for Republicans nationwide.

Kemp was the top vote-getter in Georgia’s general election, drawing 200,000 more votes in his showdown with Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams than Walker did in his challenge to Warnock. The result: Kemp beat Abrams by 7.5 percentage points, while Walker trailed Warnock by around 36,000 votes or nearly 1 percentage point. Warnock fell just short of the majority, however, sparking the four-week runoff blitz.

The governor campaigned throughout the fall primarily for his own re-election, though he made appearances with several GOP candidates for lower statewide positions. All won without playoffs. The notable absence has always been Walker, with Kemp sometimes even avoiding saying his name when reporters asked about the distance between the two campaigns. Kemp often said only that he supported the “entire ticket”.

Since winning a second term, Kemp has become more explicit in his support, though still calculated. He signed his voter turnout operation to a Republican political action committee aligned with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, and again endorsed Walker in recent interviews. On Saturday, he cast Walker as a fiscal and cultural conservative who would back tax cuts and support law enforcement and the military, and he repeated the main Republican attack on Warnock: that he vote with President Joe Biden “96% of the time”.

“I know Herschel Walker will fight for us,” Kemp said. “He’s going to fight for those values ​​that we believe in here in our state.”

Yet Kemp also used his brief stint on stage as a personal victory lap, nodding to his second term and mentioning Abrams before saying anything about Walker or Warnock. “I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of our state, and we’re going to move our state in the right direction because we stopped Stacey and saved Georgia,” he said.

Republicans see Kemp as a key validator for Walker, especially since Georgia’s runoff is now more locally focused, as Democrats have already secured 50 seats and hold the deciding vote for Vice President Kamala Harris.

For much of the year, Walker and Republicans tried to nationalize the race because it was part of the battlegrounds that would determine Senate control, as Georgia did two years ago with concurrent Senate polls won by Democrats Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff.

Part of the strategy was to tie Warnock to Biden because of the president’s lagging approval ratings and generationally high inflation. But it was also seen as a necessity due to some of Walker’s responsibilities.

Walker repeatedly exaggerated his academic achievements, business successes, and philanthropic activities. He faced charges of violence against his first wife. During the campaign, he acknowledged several children he had not spoken about publicly before, only doing so after the media reported their existence. In October, two women Walker dated alleged he encouraged and paid for their abortions despite his position as a candidate for a nationwide abortion ban with no exceptions.

Walker denies ever having paid for an abortion and has responded with a fierce assault on Warnock, focusing in recent weeks on poor living conditions in an Atlanta building owned by a foundation of the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Warnock serves as senior pastor. . Walker used apparent eviction notices issued to some tenants and complaints from its residents to label Warnock a “hypocrite” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Still, the cumulative effect fueled Warnock’s efforts to label Walker “not ready” and “not fit” for the Senate, and it made Walker much less popular than Kemp, especially among independents and moderate Republicans. That’s more concerning in an environment where the GOP can’t use Senate scrutiny to entice wary GOP-leaning voters to support Walker.

Walker’s electoral shortcomings were particularly acute in suburban Atlanta. While Walker was about 5 points behind Kemp statewide, that gap was nearly 7 points in Cobb County, where Saturday’s rally was held, with similar gaps in several other counties across the metropolitan area that are critical to the statewide Republican coalition.

Indeed, an AP VoteCast survey of the general electorate found that 7 in 10 voters who supported Kemp said they did so enthusiastically, but only about half of Walker voters said the same. Among Walker’s supporters, about 4 in 10 said they support him with reservations and about 1 in 10 said they oppose the other candidates.

Additionally, Kemp appears to have capitalized on his resistance to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia and nationally. According to AP VoteCast, only 29% of Georgia voters said Kemp was too supportive of former President Trump, while 43% said Walker, who is a friend of Trump and is running with his endorsement.

“Brian Kemp is clearly the most popular Republican in Georgia, and he clearly has the most important organization,” said Josh Holmes, an influential Republican strategist in Washington and McConnell’s former chief of staff.

Even Democrats concede that point, holding a press conference earlier Saturday with voters who said they voted for Kemp and Warnock.

Associated Press reporter Hannah Fingerhut contributed from Washington.

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