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“American Democracy Hangs in the Balance”: Carol Anderson on Midterms, Georgia Races & Voting Rights

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Former President Barack Obama is in Georgia Friday to campaign for Democrats in the closely watched Senate and gubernatorial races. This comes as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was caught on a hot mic Thursday saying the race between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Trump-backed anti-abortion Republican nominee Herschel Walker is “going downhill,” and recent polls show Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is trailing Republican Governor Brian Kemp. We speak with Carol Anderson, professor of African American studies at Emory University, who says 2020 was a “dry run” for Republican plans to subvert democracy. We also speak with reporter Ari Berman, who says the media is lauding Kemp as a “defender of democracy even though he systematically has undermined voting rights.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Former President Barack Obama is campaigning in Georgia today in an effort to help Democrats in the closely watched Georgia Senate and gubernatorial races.

Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock is in a tight race with Herschel Walker, a Trump-backed anti-abortion Republican who’s been immersed in numerous scandals ranging from reports he paid girlfriends to have abortions to lying to his own staff about the number of children he’s secretly had. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was heard on a hot mic telling President Biden the race is, quote, “going downhill” for the Democrats.

Meanwhile, polls show Democrat Stacey Abrams is trailing Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp in a rematch of their 2018 gubernatorial race.

In the coming days, Obama is also scheduled to campaign in Michigan, in Wisconsin, in Nevada and Pennsylvania, all key battleground states.

Meanwhile, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are holding a rare joint campaign event in Pennsylvania today to help boost Democratic senator — or, Senate candidate John Fetterman, who’s in a close race with the Trump-backed Mehmet Oz. Democrats are hoping to capitalize on Oz’s comment at this week’s debate that abortion should be decided between, quote, “women, doctors, local political leaders.” Meanwhile, questions continue to swirl about Fetterman’s health as he recovers from a stroke suffered just days before the primary.

With the midterms less than two weeks away, today we spend the hour looking at what’s at stake and what it could mean for the 2024 presidential race. The Washington Post recently reported 291 Republicans on the ballot in congressional and statewide races have denied or questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

We begin in Georgia, where we’re joined by Carol Anderson, professor at Emory University, author of The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. She’s also the author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy and White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.

Professor Anderson, it’s great to have you back on Democracy Now! Can you talk about first the broad picture, what’s at stake in these midterm elections, and then talk about where you are, in the state of Georgia, that could determine so much?

CAROL ANDERSON: What’s at stake is American democracy, because, as you noted, there are 291 election deniers on the ballot. And these are the folks who are really fine with the big lie that there was this massive rampant voter fraud that stole the election from Donald Trump, and refuse to acknowledge that there is no evidence of widespread rampant voter fraud. Instead, what they’ve done is they’ve conjured up these notions of people of color stealing the election, stuffing ballot boxes, stuffing drop boxes, forging absentee ballots — the whole nine yards — without evidence, the kind of not-evidence that led to Rudy Giuliani having his law license suspended from New York and Washington, D.C.

So, when you have these folks on the ballot, it means that if they gain control — and they’re running for the governorship, they’re running for secretary of state, they’re running for attorney general — what that means is that these are the folks who have their hands on the levers of power that determine how an election is certified. And so, it’s like that, after 2020, that this was a dry run, as they tried fake electors, as they tried — as the Trump folks tried putting enormous pressure on the state officials — and you had some state officials who said, “No, we’re not doing that” — because they were trying to erase millions and millions of votes for Joseph Biden. And if they win, it means then that the certification of elections for 2024, the presidential election, cannot really be certified, because they are going to put in power who they want, not who the people have voted for.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the races in Georgia. First let’s go to Kemp versus Stacey Abrams now and the national significance even of this gubernatorial race. It’s a rematch. And I think Kemp has very much been portrayed nationally as the person, the Republican, who stood up, along with the secretary of state in Georgia, to President Trump around the issue of the 2020 election. But, in Georgia, can you talk about his history with voter suppression?

CAROL ANDERSON: Right. You know, so, when Brian Kemp was the secretary of state, he went after a group of Black women in Quitman, Georgia, because they had discerned how to use absentee ballots, and they were able then to gain access, they were able to win elections to the school board. And so, “voter fraud,” “voter fraud,” “voter fraud” was plastered by Brian Kemp. And you see the newspaper that has what’s called the Quitman 10+2, above the fold, all in their orange traveling jumpsuits, just making it really clear: Black folks use absentee ballots; it must be fraudulent. And he brought the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in there to investigate this voter fraud. There were no convictions. The charges were dropped. But these women went through four years of hell, and then losing their jobs. And this was the pressure, the intimidation that Brian Kemp brought onto these women.

He also did the same thing with the New Georgia Project and with Fair Fight, again charging voter fraud, voter fraud, voter fraud. And these are organizations that are about really registering folks to vote, those who had not been in the system, the marginalized. And so you see this pressure. So, we’ve got Brian Kemp on tape saying, “You know, these groups are all out here registering all these minorities to vote, and if they show up in November, we will lose.” And so, you get the sense where the secretary of state has identified minorities as the way that the Republicans will lose.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to Stacey Abrams at a debate against Brian Kemp earlier this month.

STACEY ABRAMS: Let’s be clear about ballot access and voter access. Brian Kemp was the secretary of state, and he has assiduously denied access to the right to vote. We know that the right to vote is the only way that we can make the changes we need in the state, the only way we can make the changes we need in this country, whether it’s access to the right to an abortion, the ability to take care our families. We need a governor who believes in access to the right to vote and not in voter suppression, which is the hallmark of Brian Kemp’s leadership.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response?

CAROL ANDERSON: She nailed it. Absolutely. One of the key pieces that he did was the massive voter roll purges, over half a million in one fell swoop, and then, in October of 2018, on the last day of voter registration, using a racially discriminatory policy called exact match, removed 53,000 voters from the rolls. And fewer than 10% of those that he removed were white. The vast majority, 70%, were African American. And this is a month before the election date between him and Stacey Abrams in 2018.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to turn to the senatorial race, the new ad by Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock about his opponent Herschel Walker.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: I’m Raphael Warnock, and I approve this message.

NARRATOR: For you, Herschel Walker wants to ban abortion.

HERSCHEL WALKER: We have no exception, in my mind. Like I say, I believe in life. … There’s not a national ban on abortion right now, and I think that’s a problem.

NARRATOR: But for himself?

UNIDENTIFIED: Herschel Walker paid for an abortion for his then-girlfriend. … She supported her claims with a $575 receipt from the abortion clinic.

UNIDENTIFIED: Even his own son is saying Walker is lying.

KRISTEN WELKER: Is that your signature on the check, though?

HERSCHEL WALKER: Yes, that’s my —

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the ad. And, by the way, another woman has come forward to claim anti-abortion Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker pressured her into having an abortion, as well. She’s unidentified. She said it happened in the '90s while they were dating and that Walker drove her to the clinic to have the procedure. On Wednesday, her lawyer, Gloria Allred, spoke to the press about her client's allegations and played audiotape of the woman.

JANE DOE: Herschel Walker is a hypocrite, and he is not fit to be a U.S. senator. We don’t need people in the U.S. Senate who profess one thing and do another. Herschel Walker says he is against women having abortions, but he pressured me to have one.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance, of course, of this, Professor Anderson, is that he supports an almost total ban on abortion. So, talk about this race overall, which doesn’t just involve abortion, though it certainly — this issue has come front and center. His son has come out against him. He talked about being a police officer, showing a sheriff’s badge. Well, you can lay it out for us.

CAROL ANDERSON: Wow. And so, what we have to remember is that Herschel Walker was tapped by Donald Trump, when Herschel Walker was living in Texas, to run for the U.S. Senate here in Georgia. And so, it’s so cynical, because Raphael Warnock is African American, and so you can see in the kind of cynicism of Donald Trump, “Well, Herschel Walker is Black, and he was a big football star at Georgia. Let’s pit him against Raphael Warnock. They won’t be able to tell the difference.”

There is a fundamental qualitative difference between the two. Herschel Walker lies. He lied about his graduation. He lied about his businesses. He lied about being a law enforcement officer, about being in the FBI. He lies, he lies, he lies. And remember, when the issue about how many children he had started coming out, there was an incredible report about how his staff had asked him, “Are there any more children?” He’s like, “No.” And then another one would pop up. “Are there any more children?” “No.” And then another one would pop up. And so his own staff didn’t trust him. Yet they’re asking us to vote for him, to trust him with our lives in the U.S. Senate.

And so, what we’re seeing here is that Herschel Walker really plays to the stereotype of who the Republicans believe African American men are, that they’re sexually promiscuous, that they’re violent — because, you know, he held a gun to his wife’s head and threatened to blow her brains out — that they are liars, that they aren’t smart, they’re all brains, no — they’re all brawn, no brains — I mean, all of these stereotypes. And what they know about Herschel Walker is that he is pliable, that he will do what they say. So, with those stereotypes, they’ve got all of the horrible stereotypes, and they’ve got that actual stereotype coming back from the slavery days of being compliant. And that is who they’re trying to foist upon us in this election.

And what this means for who controls the Senate — and because what we know about the control of the Senate is that that’s where judiciary appointments come through. We know that that’s where voting rights come through and were blocked this last time. We know that that’s where the right to reproductive rights comes through. And so, who controls the Senate has so much to do about the quality of the lives that we will be able to lead. And to foist Herschel Walker up there as a viable candidate is unconscionable.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, it was Georgia that determined the balance of the Senate this time around with both Senators Ossoff and Warnock winning, to the surprise of many, last time around. I also want to bring Ari Berman into this conversation, one of the leading journalists covering voting rights, a reporter at Mother Jones, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. Ari, before we go to our second segment with you to talk about Wisconsin, if you can talk more about — you’re just back from Georgia — what you found as you traveled there?

ARI BERMAN: Well, thank you for having me again, Amy, and great to be on with Carol.

One of the things that happened is that in the last year Georgia passed a law that severely restricted voting rights. And this has led to a lot of uncertainty in the states. We saw that vote by mail has gone down dramatically in Georgia during this election. Part of that is because some people are going to vote in person now that we’re in a different phase of the pandemic, but it’s also because vote by mail has become a lot more difficult now than it was before. We have seen tens of thousands of voters have their eligibility challenged by Trump-backed election deniers, which has led to a major level of uncertainty in terms of whether votes will be counted.

A lot of people are voting early, which is a good thing — there’s been record early voting turnout — but then that record early voting turnout has been spun by Republicans to say, “Oh, there’s record turnout. There is no such thing as voter suppression,” as opposed to the fact that the record turnout is an example of how folks are navigating the barriers of voter suppression.

Then there’s the fact that Brian Kemp has a long history of voter suppression. He has a very extreme record when it comes to issues like abortion, guns, etc. But he is getting a tremendous amount of credit, and basically a complete free pass from the media, simply for certifying the 2020 election, like every other Democratic and Republican governor did in 2020. So, Brian Kemp has been lauded by the media as this defender of democracy even though he systematically has undermined voting rights, first as secretary of state in 2018, where he was both secretary of state and a candidate for governor, which undermined all sorts of democratic norms, and then last year, when he signed the voter suppression law that became a template for voter suppression all across the country. And so, I think that Stacey Abrams is struggling to deal with that perception of Kemp, because even though he’s very extreme, he is being portrayed as more of a moderate simply for doing his job, which every other governor in America did.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Carol Anderson, you not only look at Georgia but, as a voting rights expert, have been looking at races across the country. Can you talk about Arizona, where Kari Lake, who is running for governor there, said that she will only accept the elections if she wins?

CAROL ANDERSON: And that has been the mantra of these election deniers who are running for office, that the only viable election, the only valid election, is one in which they win. That’s not democracy; that’s autocracy. And she really is like Donald Trump in a kind of gussied-up fashion, more polished, more photogenic. And so it doesn’t look as horrific, but it is equally as horrific as Donald Trump. And remember that Donald Trump’s big lie, that he lost the election, that it was stolen from him, is what led to the insurrection, the invasion at the Capitol on January 6th, the attempt to overthrow the U.S. government. That’s where this leads.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s remember that the Secretary of State Hobbs, who’s running against her on the Democratic line, just had her campaign offices broken into.

CAROL ANDERSON: The kind of violence that election deniers generate, because it plays to a sense of grievance that something valuable is being stolen from them, is what creates this destabilization in the system. It creates a level of distrust. It’s how Ari talked about the massive voter challenges, voter registration challenges that are happening. Gwinnett County here in Georgia, the most diverse county in the state, had over 37,000 voters challenged by these right-wingers who were funded by Michael Flynn and Patrick Byrne. And so, this is —

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Flynn, the former Trump —

CAROL ANDERSON: — what’s at stake when you have this kind of lack of credibility.

AMY GOODMAN: The former Trump national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

CAROL ANDERSON: Yes, the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. His organization is helping to fund the group that is challenging these voter registrations across the state, particularly in the Atlanta metro area and the other counties that have strong cities.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Carol Anderson is professor at Emory University, author of a number of books, including The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America and One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, another book, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.

We also want to ask Ari Berman to stay with us, so that you can talk more about your new Mother Jones cover story, “How Wisconsin Became the GOP’s Laboratory for Dismantling Democracy.” Stay with us.

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