Outgunned financially as Democrats dominate early voting, Herschel Walker’s Georgia Senate campaign Thursday begged donors to pony up more money because of Sen. Raphael Warnock’s growing sense of momentum.
“Simply put, we’re being outspent 3 to 1 by Warnock, and we’re being outspent nearly 2 to 1 by outside groups. We need help,” Walker campaign manager Scott Paradise wrote in the memo sent to donors Thursday, which was obtained by NBC News ahead of Tuesday’s runoff election.
The memo calculates that Warnock and the Democratic groups backing him have spent and committed a combined $92 million since the November election, compared with $45 million that Walker and his Republican allies have ponied up.
While urgent last-minute fundraising appeals are a staple of any campaign in the closing days, the sense of concern underlying Paradise’s plea is underpinned by data and concerns from fellow Republicans that suggest the election is trending in Warnock’s favor.
Polling has been relatively scant during the runoff. Most surveys show Warnock ahead of Walker — albeit by an amount that’s inside the margin of error — so the race could be statistically tied. The closeness of the race is emphasized in Paradise’s memo, which calls the contest “winnable” — but only if Republicans, who outnumber Democrats in the state, turn out in force.
So far, however, the opposite is happening. Democrats are dominating early voting, and more Republicans are publicly voicing their doubts about Walker, who has been savaged by news articles and Democratic ads that raise questions about his character, honesty and fitness for office.
Republican former lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan, an anti-Trump Republican, said he waited in line for an hour to get into the early voting polling station but ultimately didn’t vote because “the Republican Party deserves better than Herschel Walker.”
John Cowan, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran in 2020 against Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, described the GOP mood as “honestly not good” in a text message.
“Not a lot of energy here for Walker,” Cowan said, adding: “Current turnout favors Democrats. We’ll see what next Tuesday looks like.”
As of Wednesday morning, early ballots cast by Democratic-aligned voters statewide outnumbered Republican-cast ballots by 21 percentage points — Democrats had only a 7-point advantage at this same point ahead of November’s Election Day, according to data from TargetSmart, a top Democratic data firm whose research Walker’s campaign didn’t dispute.
Tom Bonier, the CEO of TargetSmart, said part of the reason for Democrats’ relative advantage now is that large urban counties held early voting on the weekend, while Republican counties didn’t. But, he said, GOP turnout in Republican-heavy rural counties is also down by anywhere from 3 points to 1 point when compared to the November early vote.
That indicates a GOP turnout problem for Walker, who was the only statewide Republican not to beat his Democratic opponent in November. Walker got about 203,130 fewer votes than Republican Gov. Brian Kemp — who cruised to a win — and he got 37,675 fewer votes than Warnock.
“Core Republican voters just can’t get fired up about Walker, and they came out in the general because they liked Kemp or their congressional candidates. But Walker wasn’t the reason, and they’re not coming out for Walker,” Bonier said.
“The other possibility is they’re waiting for Election Day,” he added. “But for that to add up, to be a plausible explanation, you would have to explain why more are waiting around for Election Day now than compared to this point in the general election in November.”
On Thursday, former President Barack Obama rallied in Atlanta with Warnock for the second time in six weeks, seeking to keep Democrats motivated and tout the importance of defeating Republicans for the 51st seat.
“They know they don’t have winning ideas. Their strategy is to scare you and confuse you and bamboozle you, run the okey-dokey on you and make you believe that your vote does not matter,” he said. “Here’s the thing: That only works if you let it. You have the power to decide this election.”
The Walker campaign is no longer beaming with the confidence it had heading into Election Day in November. Walker’s stump speeches sound less joyful. His media appearances have been limited to friendly conservative outlets. His campaign is going to greater lengths to keep reporters away from him at rallies, literally erecting barricades to keep the media at bay. And his pleas for money are getting sharper.
Walker’s strongest message evaporated when Democrats clinched Senate control in the general election. He ran on hitting the brakes on President Joe Biden’s agenda, which has lost some of its power with the Senate majority off the table.
NBC News exit polls from the Nov. 8 election show that Walker benefited more from the fight for Senate control, whereas Warnock scored better in the contrast between candidates.
The large majority of Georgia voters who said Senate control was “very important” to them favored Walker by 4 points, NBC News exit polls found. Among the smaller slice of voters who said Senate control was “somewhat” important, Warnock won by 21 points. And those who said the Senate majority was not important preferred Warnock by 14 points.
Meanwhile, voters said by a slim majority that Warnock shows good judgment, and they said by a nearly 2-to-1 spread that Walker doesn’t.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, downplayed the elimination of Senate control from the equation, arguing that the 50th vote for Republicans still matters to the balance of power.
“Everything that we’re seeing — it’s really tight,” Scott said, saying the race was still up for grabs. “It’s 50-50%, 48-48% right now, so it’s really going to be turnout.”
The Walker campaign’s internal research shows that former President Donald Trump, a friend who recruited him to run, is toxic to swing voters Walker needs to win, and as a result, Trump has stayed out of the state in recent months.
Trump’s possible Republican presidential rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has pitched in to help raise money for Walker, but he hasn’t been invited to campaign for Walker in the state, in part because Walker doesn’t want to upset Trump, according to two sources familiar with Walker’s thinking.
“Some people still can’t get over the Trump connection,” said Ed Muldrow, the former chairman of the Gwinnett County GOP.
But Muldrow said that “Kemp’s support seems to be helping Walker” as the governor campaigns for him, which he didn’t do in the general election. At the same time, Muldrow said, Democrats’ ads against Walker “are brutal.”
And they’re numerous.
Warnock and Democrats have aired TV ads that have run a total of more than 17,200 times in Georgia (80% of which cast Walker in a negative light), compared to fewer than 5,000 ads that Walker and Republicans have aired (91% of which are negative), according to AdImpact, a tracking service.
In his memo, Paradise credited the help of the national party, national Republicans and the state GOP, saying they “have been tremendous partners during this runoff and have invested millions of dollars and deployed hundreds of personnel.”
“That said, the advertising spending is drastically in favor of Warnock, and we’ve got five days to make that change.”