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Georgia: Warnock-Walker Senate Race Could Head to Runoff; Gov. Kemp Defeats Abrams

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Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and his opponent Republican Herschel Walker will likely head to a runoff if neither candidate wins 50% of the vote needed to win the election outright. Warnock was able to capture more white and rural votes than Stacey Abrams, who lost to Georgia’s incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp, explains ​​LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund. “Voter suppression has had an impact in this election,” says Brown, who joins us from Atlanta and notes how mail-in ballots in Georgia went down since 2018. We also continue our conversation with John Nichols, who describes the impact of gerrymandering in the tight House races and the Ohio Senate race, which he says was a “big loss for Democrats.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Georgia, where it appears increasingly likely the race between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker will go to a runoff. So, 95% of the vote has been counted. Warnock is leading with 49.4% of the vote — just shy of the 50% needed in Georgia to win the election outright. Walker has 48.5% of the vote. Reverend Warnock, Senator Warnock, spoke to supporters early this morning.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Well, good evening, Georgia. Or maybe I should say “good morning.” Here’s where we are: We are not sure if this journey is over tonight or if there’s still a little work yet to do. But here’s what we do know: We know that when they’re finished counting the votes from today’s election, that we are going to have received more votes than my opponent. We know that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re joined now by LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, speaking to us from Atlanta, Georgia. Talk about what’s happened in your state.

LATOSHA BROWN: I think what we see happened in the state is we are at — find ourselves at this runoff. It’s a very, very tight — a tight race, which we anticipated. I don’t think there were any big surprises in this particular race. You know, I think that there was a disappointment for many around — in the loss in the governor’s race, in the governor’s race between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams. You know, but, ultimately, what I think is there was no big surprises in terms of we expected this to be a tight race. It’s unfortunate that we are now pushed in a runoff with candidates that I think are starkly and distinctively different.

You know, I think part of what we — we’ve been saying it for probably about — we’ve been saying it for over a year, but voter suppression has had an impact in this election. Yes, it has been, when we saw early vote turnout. When we look at what has happened, it’s like death by a thousand cuts. When we look at S.B. 202, which was the law that was passed in Georgia immediately after the 2021 election, what you saw, there was a number of things that had been put in place. One of those was really around restricting access to mail-in ballots. And so, what we saw is we saw a drastic drop. It went from mail-in ballots for 1.2 million mail-in ballots last election, went down to 0.2 million. So that means a million mail-in ballots — a million people did not access or utilize mail-in ballots. And I think that that’s had an impact on the race, as well.

But we knew that this was a critical race. A lot of money was poured in. You could not turn your television on and you were not seeing commercial after commercial after commercial with Herschel Walker.

I think there’s another thing that we can actually take from this, as well, that Herschel Walker is — out of the candidates, was probably one of the weakest candidates in the country. And so, there’s this question around: Well, why is he performing that way? Because I think this was a — we have to really recognize this was a strategy. This was someone who was actually picked out of Texas. The Republican Party recruited him, moved him to Georgia and literally ran and came around his campaign. It didn’t matter what negative information came out. It didn’t matter what factual information had come out around his ability or lack of ability to be able to serve. This was really around pure raw power and literally operating in a way that we’re seeing we’re going into this election, this runoff election.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk a little more about the gubernatorial race and the difference in the vote for Stacey Abrams versus Raphael Warnock among Democrats and the general electorate?

LATOSHA BROWN: You know, there were two, I think, phenomenals that — or, phenomenas that — in consideration. Warnock was able to capture votes, particularly white votes, that Stacey Abrams was not able to capture. In addition to that — so there a vote spread between both of their candidacies. And then, when you look at — what’s interesting in many of the rural areas, in some of the rural areas, Warnock actually outperformed Stacey Abrams in man of the rural areas. Some of that, I think that he had a campaign that literally focused on around what the economic implications of his seat would have to the state, and I think that that actually resonated with some people.

I also think that he had a message around — I think that there was a — while Herschel Walker overwhelmingly got Republican support, I think that there were some moderate Republicans, that it was just too much for them, that his candidacy was just too much for them. And I think that Warnock was able to actually build on that and really be able to coalesce around that he was a stronger and more viable candidate and would be able to get some things done.

And so, as a result, I think what you see is you see this vote spread difference. And I think part of it’s because of not only just who the candidates are, but literally around how those seats were perceived by voters in the state of Georgia. And I think — and he was able to get some Republican or some moderate voters to actually vote for him. So, what we saw is we saw — going into the runoff, we see is as a split ticket, that people actually voted for Brian Kemp, and they voted for Warnock. So there were thousands of votes that he was able to capture in a split ticket.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Stacey Abrams, the voting rights activist, the gubernatorial candidate, conceding last night.

STACEY ABRAMS: I am here because this is a moment where, despite every obstacle, we are still standing strong and standing tall and standing resolute and standing in our values. And we know Georgia deserves more. And whether we do it from the Governor’s Mansion or from the streets, whether we do it from the Capitol or from our communities, we are going to fight for more for the state of Georgia.

AMY GOODMAN: Your final thoughts, LaTosha Brown, on where Georgia goes from here? It is hard to believe that we’re seeing a replay of two years ago. While Stacey Abrams didn’t win — and again, this was a rematch for her against Brian Kemp — December 6th would be, if there is a runoff, if Warnock doesn’t hit 50, will be the day of the final election between Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock. The whole country then. You talk about the ads now. Can you imagine the amount —

LATOSHA BROWN: Oh my goodness!

AMY GOODMAN: — of money that’s going to pour in because this could determine the balance of the U.S. Senate?

LATOSHA BROWN: Yeah. You know, I think that there are three points that I want to raise. One, in terms of Stacey Abrams, let’s be clear that part of the pathway that was opened up for us to have a Senator Warnock in position, and Ossoff, was actually laid out of the infrastructure that Stacey Abrams helped to build in the state. And so, part of — while she did not capture the seat last night, she has certainly forever shifted the political landscape in the state of Georgia. And so, I commend her for that. I think she ran a strong, credible campaign. There were many obstacles along the way.

I think one of the things that Brian Kemp was able to do, in some ways, I think, even quite effectively, he was able to rebrand himself as if he was different, that he was a moderate Republican, and that — brand himself in the context of separating that “I was a person that stood up against Trump.” And so, he didn’t have the weight of the Trump factor as some of the other Democrats — I mean, as some of the other Republicans had. And I think that that worked in his favor.

I think the third thing to really look at around, even as we’re going forward, and I think something that she said, is that the state of Georgia, what we saw happen in 2020 and '21, you know, with the state as we're seeing, a purple state or a state that is actually changing, that we’re in the middle of a transition, that it wasn’t a fluke. That is the future of Georgia. As we are, yes, we are going — this is a hard campaign. It is very tight, as we anticipated. But there’s absolutely been a shift in the state, the state of Georgia, and part of that has really — Stacey Abrams has been partly responsible of that — responsible for that.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Ohio right now, back to John Nichols, The Nation's national affairs correspondent, from Wisconsin to J.D. Vance's victory over the Congressman Tim Ryan. How surprised were you, and what do you think was at stake in Ohio, this taking a Republican seat, keeping it in Republican hands, of Senator Portman?

JOHN NICHOLS: A great deal was at stake in Ohio — there’s no question of that — because Democrats were looking to pick up at least two seats on Tuesday so that they could expand their majority in the Senate to a point where they wouldn’t have to deal with Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, who have been barriers, in many cases, to advancing the Democratic agenda. And Ohio emerged late in the campaign as a place where it looked like that might have been possible because of a very effective economic populist campaign by Tim Ryan.

But the thing to understand about Ohio and Florida, two states that produced very significant Republican results on Tuesday night, is that these traditional battleground states have increasingly become Republican states. The wins in Florida for the Republicans were striking. And frankly, in Ohio, the Republicans held a lot of their strength throughout the state. Ohio saw some victories for Democrats, particularly Marcy Kaptur’s win up in northwest Ohio, a really quite remarkable victory in a district that they had sought to gerrymander for her. But on balance, the Democrats still have an immense amount of rebuilding to do in Ohio.

And that Ohio result certainly looks like it has cost them the ability to claim two seats — a two-seat advance. Now, their hope, obviously, as we talked about a moment ago, is that Mandela Barnes might be able to pull it out in Wisconsin, and that’s something we’re going to keep an eye on. And then, the other thing that we’re also going to be keeping an eye on now, because Ohio wasn’t a win, is going to be those two western seats in Arizona and Nevada. If Democrats were to win both of those, they’d still be very well positioned. They would have an advance into a clearer majority. If they lose one of them, then, as we were just talking about, that Georgia runoff becomes a definitional contest. So, losing Ohio was a big loss for Democrats.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John—

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I just wanted to ask John — you mentioned gerrymandering. We often — we too often forget that many of these lines were redrawn, and Republicans clearly had an advantage in terms of the number of states that they control in terms of redistricting. How do you get a sense of how redistricting has played in terms of the potential, the possibility or the likelihood that Republicans will end up controlling the House?

JOHN NICHOLS: It’s huge. And I think this is something that people need to understand. We have a system in the United States where politicians pick their voters. The voters do not — you know, are not given the opportunity to have fair district lines where they can have real competition. This benefited the Republicans in a number of states. In fact, had you had fair maps across the country, the 2022 midterm election cycle would have been a very, very different competition. It wouldn’t have had, throughout much of that cycle, the assumption of Republican wins, especially in House races, because you would have had much more competitive contests. So gerrymandering is a big factor. And I can tell you that this is something that Democrats have got to focus on going forward, because they lost a number of seats this time around that, you know, with a fair map, even perhaps with the lines that you had had in 2018, they probably would have won.

AMY GOODMAN: In New York, it was the Democrats’ fault.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: They so overreached. They could determine, in a very Democratic state, that the House goes Republican because of what they did and then a judge pushing back.

JOHN NICHOLS: That’s right. And remember, when we talk about gerrymandering, both parties do it. That’s something that has to be understood. It’s just that in 2022, at the end of the day, the gerrymandering tended to be, I think, a little more beneficial to the Republicans. And if the Republicans take the House by a handful of seats, I think we’re going to be able to point to gerrymandering as a factor in their ability to claim that victory.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, John Nichols of The Nation, thanks so much for being with us, from Madison, Wisconsin, and LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, from Atlanta, Georgia.

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