The Georgia Senate runoff is shaping up to be a GOP free for all
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While the Democrats have already seized control of the Senate for the coming term, all eyes are still on Georgia. There, the runoff between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and GOP challenger Herschel Walker will determine the breadth of Democrats' lead, the subsequent tone of their majority, and the election cushion they can expect in 2024 if the parties do will defend 23 of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs.
Republicans, on the other hand, are focused on Georgia for very different reasons. While a win in the Peach State would certainly help blunt the Democratic Senate majority to some extent, the race has also become a proxy battleground in a larger schism hammering its way through the GOP as a whole -- one that fueled by the party's anemic midterm elections, demonstrations have only exacerbated the blame game between incumbent leaders like Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump's rising MAGA wing over who is to blame and who will lead the Republicans into 2024. Here's everything you need to know:
How does Trump come into play in Georgia?
While former President Donald Trump made little secret of his resurgent political aspirations ahead of the midterm elections, the upcoming Georgia runoff will be the first and most consequential test of his influence after he officially declared his candidacy for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. That Walker -- Trump's handpicked nominee -- failed to defeat Warnock in an overwhelmingly pro-Republican election cycle has only served to spook conservatives who fear Trump's penchant for flashy, extremist celebrities over more traditional candidates is hurting the odds may have affected the party in this respect. and future, elections.
The debate is in no small part familiar: Can Trump-the-candidate lift Republicans with a down-ticket, or is he incapable of standing for anyone but himself? Here the question is more acute: Would Trump visit Georgia before the runoff, would it be to his or Walker's advantage? Would Trump succeed in bolstering voters demoralized by the midterm elections, or would he suck the air out of the race and link the two for the worse in voters' eyes?
"Right now, Walker's campaign has to be our party's priority and focus," GOP strategist and former Trump 2016 adviser Mike Biundo told Fox News just before Trump announced his plans for 2024. It's a sentiment shared by many Republicans who fear Trump's presence in Georgia would attract the independent voters Walker needs if he has any hope of defeating Warnock.
"When you talk to Georgia election strategists, they think Trump Walker was a major liability in suburban Atlanta and there's just no reason to risk repeating that," a GOP source told The Hill. "If Trump injects himself into the race somehow and Walker comes up short, that's really bad for Trump too."
Who else in the GOP sees opportunities in Georgia?
While Trump — or perhaps more accurately, Trumpism — may be one of the central animating forces behind the GOP's Georgia fix, he's not the only person to see Walker's campaign as a means to his own potentially self-interested ends. In a high-profile election like this last Senate race of the year, several interested parties have come forward to take advantage of the situation for their own fundraising.
Earlier this month Republican Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) lashed out at the numerous PACs and parties piggybacking Walker's race to raise funds and collect data for himself, telling Fox News Digital, "Guys who want Herschel to win should give directly to Team Herschel. These other organizations are using this race to collect data and donors for themselves while the Democrats send hundreds of millions to Warnock.
As Inside Elections reporter Jacob Rubashkin pointed out in relation to a Trump-aligned PAC's request for campaign funds, these types of third-party requests often have a grossly uneven post distribution ratio hidden in the fine print:
And Trump's PAC wasn't the only one:
Even the National Republican Senatorial Committee inquiries, legitimately allied with the Walker campaign, have faced similar criticism, not only over the shift in distribution ratios, but also over alleged efforts by outgoing NRSC Chair Rick Scott to create his own fundraising data list, to compete with Mitch McConnell's Senate Leadership Fund. In early November, Scott lost his bid to unseat McConnell as leader of the GOP Senate as the two continued to have bad blood.
With campaign contribution opportunities reduced to a trickle after the 2022 interim periods largely ended, Georgia represents a last-minute extension for interested parties hoping to strike while the cooling iron is still slightly hot.
With Democrats already winning their 50 Senate seats, the Walker campaign has been stripped of its most compelling campaign message in Georgia: "Vote Herschel to deny Democrats their Senate majority." In the absence of this pressing need, the Walker team was forced to return to a theme-based campaign - something the contestant himself struggled with. The question for Walker -- and GOP observers of his campaign -- is what those issues are and whether they will resonate with voters.
Just a day after a deadly mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Colorado, Walker unveiled a new campaign ad that leaned heavily on conservative anti-transgender sentiment, believed by many to be a key factor in the recent violence.
While Walker's endorsement of GOP culture-war rhetoric like this is hardly a new phenomenon, it comes shortly after a Morning Consult/Politico poll suggesting that politicizing transgender athletes is low on most voters' list of priorities for the upcoming convention stands. If Walker succeeds in ousting Warnock, political strategists will be forced to argue whether his victory was fueled by this wholehearted takeover of the right-wing anti-LGBT agenda. Conversely, should he lose, Conservative figures who share the same view will likely pause to reassess their issue-related messages and their impact on independent voters.
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