Georgia has one week to go in its bitterly fought Senate race, though it may feel like a lifetime for incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and the GOP’s Herschel Walker.
Warnock, a local pastor, and Walker, a former football star, have duked it out the past three weeks leading up to the Dec. 6 runoff as polling shows a tight race.
More than 500,000 ballots have already been cast through early and absentee voting, with early voting available in all 159 counties through Friday.
If it feels like déjà vu for Peach State voters, there’s a reason: It’s the second time in two years the Georgia Senate seat will be decided after the general election.
And while Democrats are already set to control the Senate come January, pulling off a victory would add to their midterm wins and give them some breathing room.
We chatted with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Greg Bluestein — a top guide on the ground in Georgia — to learn more on how things are going before the runoff:
NotedDC: What is the feeling on the ground? Do people seem super interested in the race or the national attention?
Greg Bluestein: There’s a sense of exhaustion. More than $300 million has been spent on ads alone in Georgia this election cycle, and thousands of staffers and tens of thousands of volunteers are knocking on doors, sending texts, making phone calls and finding other ways to connect with voters. And there’s a sense of déjà vu since Georgia hosted such a momentous runoff just last year. Think about it this way: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s name has now been on the ballot five different times since November 2020 — all for the same job.
NotedDC: What is the national media getting wrong about this race?
GB: I’ve noticed a knack, especially before the midterm, to write off Herschel Walker because of his history of violent behavior, lies and exaggerations and considerable personal baggage. A generic candidate with those issues wouldn’t have made it out of a primary. But, thanks to his iconic status in Georgia due to his football career, Walker entered the race with almost universal name recognition and support from both Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. Democrats never took his candidacy lightly.
I’ve also seen some outlets frame Walker as a Donald Trump-created candidate, like some Republicans in other races who were plucked out of obscurity by the former president because of their fealty to him. But while Trump and Walker have a decades-long relationship — Walker played for Trump’s pro football team in the early 1980s — Walker would likely have won the nomination without Trump’s support and certainly hasn’t emphasized him on the campaign trail.
And when it comes to Warnock, I think the biggest question is not how he got dragged into a runoff against a candidate as divisive as Walker — but how he managed to almost win the race outright while every other Democratic statewide candidate in Georgia lost by sizable margins. Walker’s troubled candidacy is part of the reason. But Warnock has also run a disciplined and determined campaign aiming not just for the Democratic base but also middle-of-the-road swing voters who played a decisive factor in the outcome. Some 200,000 voters backed Gov. Brian Kemp and not Walker — and Warnock has worked to keep that split-ticket trend alive during the runoff.
NotedDC: How does this year compare to the last runoff when Warnock was elected?
GB: The stakes are far different. In the 2021 runoff, control of the U.S. Senate was on the line and Trump was actively trying to overturn Georgia’s election results to prevent Joe Biden from taking office. Now, Democrats have already clinched control of the Senate and Trump is effectively sidelined.
The strategies are far different, too. In 2020-21, Warnock hardly mentioned the name of his opponent, then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler. He focused instead on his support for Biden’s agenda and how Democratic control of the Senate would clear the way for more coronavirus relief funds, voting rights expansions and other left-leaning priorities. In this contest, he’s focused specifically on the contrast between him and Walker — and framed himself as a bipartisan figure willing to work even with archconservatives like Ted Cruz if it helps Georgians.
NotedDC: Do you feel like Trump has much impact in the race? He hasn’t announced any big in-person trips to campaign for Walker in the final stretch.
GB: At the urging of senior Republicans here, Trump is steering clear of an in-person rally in Georgia. His attempt to defeat Kemp and other mainstream Republicans in the primary failed miserably, and polls show the governor is far more popular in the state than Trump. Walker’s campaign has tried not to antagonize the former president — and Walker enthusiastically backed his comeback bid — but they prefer to keep him at arm’s length in the closing days of the race to avoid further energizing Democrats.
Read more from The Hill’s Julia Mueller: Where the Warnock-Walker race stands
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🗓 Dems’ 2024 question: If not Iowa, then what?
Iowa has held the first presidential nominating contest since 1972. That could change for Democrats in 2024.
The Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) Rules and Bylaws Committee meets Dec. 1-3 to set the next presidential nominating calendar.
Sixteen states and Puerto Rico pitched themselves to hold contests before the first Tuesday in March. The committee will pick four or five states to do so.
The considerations: The committee is weighing criteria including racial and geographic diversity, general election competitiveness and “feasibility,” which CBS News reported includes considerations like whether states can shift their contest into the earlier window or run a “fair, transparent and inclusive nominating process.”
State of play: New Hampshire, which has held the nation’s first presidential primary since 1920, is more likely to remain in the early window, political scientist Josh Putnam and Morley Winograd, who chaired the DNC Commission on Presidential Primaries and Delegate Selection from 1974 to 1978, told NotedDC.
State law puts the secretary of State in charge of setting the primary date and dictates it be the first primary in the nation by requiring the primary be scheduled seven days before a similar contest. Meanwhile, Iowa law says its caucuses are to be held before other states’ nominating contests.
Putnam, author of the Frontloading HQ blog, said Iowa’s caucus would be easier to move than New Hampshire’s primary.
“The Iowa Democratic Party controls the scheduling of their caucuses,” he said, adding that there are “no clear penalties for violation” of the state law.
The DNC rules penalize states that defy its calendar by reducing their delegate strength by half and say candidates who campaign in those states “shall not receive pledged delegates or delegate votes from that state.”
Along with New Hampshire, recent early states Nevada and South Carolina are likely to make the 2024 cut, according to Winograd and Putnam. The big question: Which midwestern state will, if not Iowa?
The clear front-runners: Winograd, who chaired the Michigan Democratic Party from 1973 to 1979, says either Michigan or Minnesota could replace Iowa as an early midwestern state — and he expects the White House to weigh in on the calendar this week.
He said in addition to meeting the Rules and Bylaws Committee’s criteria, these states share “a unique population…the former mining territories of the…upper Midwest states.” He noted the media market may be more expensive in Michigan.
Putnam sees Michigan as the most likely midwestern state to take an early spot, “whether that means replacing Iowa or joining them in the early window.”
As for how a calendar change might affect campaigning, Putnam said that “if one takes any lesson from 2020 … Democrats and those observing (and reporting on) the process will discount the results in states that don’t match well with the overall Democratic primary electorate.”
While candidates will still campaign in New Hampshire, “the emphasis may change. Campaigns may spread their time and resources more evenly across the early states.”
Congress hits ground running in final stretch of 2022
Congress’ legislative agenda for the next few weeks is packed, ranging from same-sex marriage to a rail worker labor agreement to funding the government.
The Senate appears set to pass the Respect for Marriage Act this week, following several procedural votes. Then it’s on to the House.
The potential for the Supreme Court to overturn same-sex marriage protections has been a topic of discussion since the court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer.
“The bill as it currently stands would officially repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and require state recognition of legal same-sex and interracial marriages,” The Hill’s Brooke Migdon and Al Weaver wrote, “but would not codify the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex unions nationwide or prevent the high court from eventually overturning the landmark decision.”
Also front and center on Congress’ agenda is legislation to avert a rail strike, which could begin Dec. 9. Four unions rejected a tentative agreement reached in September that included higher wages and an increase in medical care for those whose pay was frozen, our colleague Jared Gans wrote. The unions want paid sick days added.
In a statement Monday, President Biden said Congress should adopt the tentative agreement “without any modifications or delay.”
Biden said, “As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”
Biden said Congress “should get this bill to my desk well in advance of December 9th so we can avoid disruption.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that legislation would be on the House floor Wednesday morning.
Biden met with both parties’ top Senate and House leaders Tuesday to discuss legislative priorities. Along with averting the rail strike, Biden said he hoped they were “going to work together to fund the government, COVID and the war in Ukraine.”
Dec. 16 is the deadline to pass a government funding bill and avoid a shutdown. The options before Congress are to pass new spending legislation (known as an omnibus) or to pass another continuing resolution. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that an omnibus was preferable, and Pelosi said a yearlong continuing resolution was an option if an omnibus isn’t possible.
(Learn more about the differences between these options from the Government Accountability Office.)
McCarthy on tightrope heading toward Speaker vote
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) is moving quickly to try to lock down the 218 votes needed to win the speakership in January.
And he knows it’s not a done deal.
In an interview with Newsmax this week, McCarthy warned that Democrats could take the speakership if GOP members “play games” and split the vote.
“We have to speak as one voice. We will only be successful if we work together, or we’ll lose individually,” he said. “This is very fragile — that we are the only stopgap for this Biden administration.”
Between the lines: McCarthy has announced he wants to pursue impeachment for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over immigration issues at the U.S.-Mexico border if the Biden Cabinet member doesn’t resign before January.
It was an early look at how the GOP leader hopes to win over holdouts in his caucus.
Ten House Republicans have backed 21 articles of impeachment against Biden and his top officials since he took office in 2021, including Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz), who mounted a campaign against McCarthy’s leadership bid.
Other GOP holdouts who have said they won’t support McCarthy — Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Ralph Norman (S.C.) and Bob Good (Va.) — have also pushed to impeach the Biden official.
Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), who has also voiced concerns, is viewed as likely to vote no, too. A spokesperson has said he’d only vote for McCarthy under “extreme circumstances.”
Republicans currently hold 220 seats in the House, with at least two midterm races still outstanding. McCarthy, 57, has little room for error leading up to the Jan. 3 vote.
What to expect from a split government: Republicans in the House have vowed to hold hearings and launch investigations into the Biden administration and Hunter Biden.
The House GOP leadership and Senate Democratic leadership will have to come together to pass needed legislation on the federal budget and debt ceiling, but tensions are high even as McCarthy has said he’s committed to bipartisanship.
“I can work with anybody. We want to make sure our country is successful,” McCarthy told reporters during a lengthy interview outside of the White House on Tuesday after leaders met with the president.
FUENTES DINNER REACTIONS
Republican senators returned from the holiday break ready to unload on former President Trump’s controversial dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes, decrying the former president’s meeting with an outspoken antisemitic commentator.
Trump said on Truth Social that Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, invited people to the dinner at Mar-a-Lago without Trump’s knowledge.
Some GOP senators’ reactions:
Minority Whip John Thune (S.D.): “That’s just a bad idea on every level … I don’t know who’s advising him on his staff, but I hope that whoever that person was got fired.”
Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.): “There’s no room for antisemitism or white supremacy in the Republican Party. Period.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.): “President Trump hosting racist antisemites for dinner encourages other racist antisemites. These attitudes are immoral and should not be entertained. This is not the Republican Party.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah): “There’s no bottom to the degree which he’s willing to degrade himself and the country, for that matter. Having dinner with those people was disgusting.”
Our colleagues Alexander Bolton and Al Weaver have more on reactions from Republican senators here.
⚽️ WORLD CUP
The U.S. men’s soccer team defeated Iran 1-0 in the World Cup on Tuesday, securing a victory in the most politically charged game in decades.
The teams met in Qatar amid heightened tensions between their two countries over anti-government protests in Iran.
The match comes after Iranian state media called for the U.S. to be banned from the World Cup after the U.S. Soccer Federation displayed altered images of the Iranian flag that removed a symbol associated with Iran’s clerical leaders.
In a press conference, an Iranian reporter also confronted U.S. team captain Tyler Adams for mispronouncing “Iran.” Adams, 23, apologized.
A top rail labor official says their union does not want to go on strike but wants fair treatment, a day after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress would try to pass legislation to block a national strike that could cripple supply chains.
Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) died Monday night after a long battle with cancer. Pelosi has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at the Capitol in his honor. White House flags also will be lowered.
The Supreme Court is resuming public tours after shutting off the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Actor Will Smith has addressed “the slap” — saying he “lost it” after comedian Chris Rock made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, at the Academy Awards.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Alice Marie Johnson told TMZ she knows she’d still be in federal prison if not for Kim Kardashian‘s efforts to convince former President Trump.
The Financial Times took a deep dive into Mar-a-Lago and the “Trumpettes” who are standing firm with the former president.
The Washingtonian has scouted out 11 amazing Airbnbs in the D.C. area.
And take it or leave it: A cast member from Bravo’s short-lived Real Housewives of DC is spilling the royal tea.
ONE MORE THING
Christmas season at the White House
This year’s White House holiday theme is “We the People” — complete with mirrored decor and sparkling lights.
First lady Jill Biden gave a peek into the annual decorating tradition this week.
“During your visit to the People’s House, through rooms full of history and holiday decor, in the mirrored ornaments and reflective lights, our hope is that you feel at home and find yourself in the great story of America,” she said in a statement. “As our country gathers for the holidays, traditions may vary, but our shared American values — a belief in possibility, optimism, and unity — endure season after season.”
The Hill’s In The Know has all of the details about what’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this holiday season.
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