Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, left, and Republican challenger Herschel Walker are likely headed for a December runoff. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
Running for the U.S. Senate is expensive — especially when your victory or defeat could determine the balance of power in the chamber for the next two years, and Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker are entering the final stretch of their race with millions of dollars in their war chests.
“It reflects the competitiveness of the race,” said Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie. “It also reflects how vital this is for Democrats to hold on to given U.S. Senate control is at stake.”
Warnock was elected two years ago in a skin-of-the-teeth runoff to finish the term of Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who stepped down as his health declined. Isakson died of complications of Parkinson’s disease in December.
Warnock and fellow Georgia Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, who is not up for reelection this year, helped give their party the narrowest possible majority in the Senate.
Republicans are eager to win the seat back, regain control of the Senate, and show that they can steer Georgia back to the reliably Republican column in statewide contests. Democrats want to build on their narrow majority and show that Warnock’s win was more than a fluke. They’re laying down lots of cash in the hopes of making that happen.
Warnock leads the money race with $13.7 million in cash on hand and a record-breaking $26.3 million raised between July 1 and the end of September, according to the campaign.
“There is undeniable momentum in Georgia to re-elect Reverend Warnock to the U.S. Senate and tens of thousands of grassroots donors are helping to propel our campaign across the finish line in November because they see the clear choice they have between Reverend Warnock and Herschel Walker, whose pattern of lies and disturbing behavior prove he is not ready to represent Georgia,” said Warnock campaign manager Quentin Fulks.
Warnock’s campaign reported over 340,000 individual donors in the last three months.
Walker pulled in $12 million during the same period, which his campaign called the strongest total for any Republican Senate candidate so far this cycle.
The campaign said Walker received donations from “tens of thousands of donors” and will enter the final month of the campaign with over $7 million cash on hand.
“My team and I have traveled to every corner of Georgia, and everywhere we go people have made it clear that Raphael Warnock has sided with Joe Biden and left them behind,” Walker said in a statement. “The people are so fired up for a new warrior in Washington that they have literally put their money where their mouths are. We’re so grateful for your support, and can’t wait to return this seat to you, the people.”
The most visible — and often the most annoying — fruit of the campaign funds are the endless advertisements popping up on billboards and screens across Georgia. But even as the number of primetime commercial breaks before Election Day dwindles, the candidates will have plenty of things to spend on in the next month.
“There’s more to it than television ads,” Gillespie said. “They’ve got to support a wide field operation to get every vote out, and that’s what’s going to determine who wins or who loses, it can even determine whether or not this race goes to a runoff. If either side falters on their get out the vote strategy, it’s going to put them at a competitive disadvantage. Ads are important, but it’s also going to pay field organizers, it’s going to whatever software they’re using to collect and keep track of who their voters are and whether or not they’ve turned out to the polls. It’s going to pay for pizza for the volunteers who are going to be knocking on the doors.”
And despite the fundraising gap, conservative PAC spending will likely mean Walker’s team will have plenty to spend over the next month, she added.
“I expect in a response to this, you will see your independent expenditures and your super PAC money go up in order to try to help Walker, especially since it seems like the decision has been made to rally behind Walker in light of the new abortion allegations that have been levied,” she said.
“But the fact that Walker himself couldn’t get to the $20 million figure, I think, underscores his relative weakness as a candidate and some of the problems that he’s had, even though $12 million, under any other circumstance, would be an impressive haul for one quarter,” she added.
Walker is beloved by University of Georgia football fans for his prowess on the field in the 1980s, but his campaign has been beset at every turn by allegations of misconduct, lies and bizarre behavior from his past.
In the latest bombshell, the Daily Beast reported that the anti-abortion Walker paid for a girlfriend to have an abortion, which Walker denies. Following the report, Walker’s son Christian Walker, a conservative social media influencer, excoriated his father as negligent and abusive.
An 11Alive/SurveyUSA poll released Wednesday — conducted largely before the latest negative publicity — shows Warnock defeating Walker 50% to 38%.
Other recent polls give Warnock a more modest lead, topping Walker by an average of 3.8%, according to Real Clear Politics. The race has been tight for months as many Georgians express disapproval of the White House’s handling of rising economic inflation, but Warnock’s high numbers suggest Democratic donors at least are confident in his chances of winning, Gillespie said.
Walker’s campaign has said it received a boost in donations following the allegations, but the long-term effect on his funding and polling remain to be seen.
“Whoever does the next poll, we’re going to look to see the horse race, whether or not there’s been any shift at all as to whether or not it’s helped or hurt Herschel Walker,” Gillespie said. “And I think the other metric that you could look at is whether or not his fundraising this week is anemic in comparison to last week, now that we have news of these particular allegations. So we’ll see. But the fundraising information I don’t expect to see until after this quarter closes, so unfortunately we won’t get the chance to look at it until January.”
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