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Maea Lenei Buhre
Maea Lenei Buhre
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In 2020, the state of Georgia flipped blue for President Biden and secured Democrats' control of the U.S. Senate by electing Sen. Jon Ossoff and Sen. Raphael Warnock. But in one of the country's most divided states — where Biden beat Donald Trump by fewer than 12,000 votes — the question is whether Georgia will stay blue come November. Geoff Bennett reports.
In 2020, the state of Georgia flipped blue for President Biden and secured Democrats control of the U.S. Senate by electing senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. But in one of the country's most closely divided states where President Biden beat Donald Trump by fewer than 12,000 votes, the question is, will Georgia stay blue come November?
No Name Given:
I want to make sure they register to vote.
Targeted outreach like this to Georgians of color helps secure President Biden's historic 2020 victory, the Democrats first since Bill Clinton's narrow win here in 1992.
Have you ever had those questions like oh, what's on the ballot?
This group works for the new Georgia Project, a voting rights and voter registration nonprofit founded almost a decade ago by now candidate for governor Democrat Stacey Abrams. Kendra Cotton is its Chief Operating Officer.
Kendra Cotton, The New Georgia Project:
Just in 2022 alone, our goal is to register 40,000 folks. And I believe we're only about 3500 people shy. So, you take what we're doing coupled with the progressive ecosystem writ large. And, you know, we feel like we're going to move the needle.
They're hoping that needle moves in a race that will be critical in deciding control of the U.S. Senate. Democratic incumbent Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock is seeking his first full term after a victory in the 2020 special election made him Georgia's first black U.S. senator. He's now facing Republican Herschel Walker, a former football player who was best known for winning the Heisman Trophy while playing at the University of Georgia.
Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
I mean, Herschel Walker to say he's an athlete is sort of an understatement. He really is a football hero to many in this state.
Greg Bluestein, is a politics reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He says support for Walker is high despite multiple scandals plaguing his campaign.
There has been damaging reports about his history of violence of erratic behavior lies about his academic record, his business background, his policy stance blunders, all these issues, and none of them have been campaign killers.
Earlier this month, The Daily Beast reported that Walker had paid for an ex-girlfriend to have an abortion, despite his pro-life policy stance. Walker denied the claims in the candidates first debate, Friday.
Herschel Walker, (R) U.S. Senate Candidate, Georgia: I say that was a lie, and I'm not backing down. And you have Senator Warnock, people that would do anything and say anything for to see, but I'm not going to back down.
Senator Warnock has steered clear of his opponent's missteps, instead focusing on expanding his base of support by appealing to moderate Republicans.
Martha Zoller, Republican Strategist:
People are taking pause. They're thinking about it.
Republican Strategist and Radio Host Martha Zoller says Walker's controversies may lead some conservatives to opt out of voting in the Senate race altogether.
Now, it has to be couched from this point is, if you want someone that's going to vote with President Biden and vote for Raphael Warnock, if you want someone that's going to vote Republican, vote for Herschel Walker.
I just don't think it's the right fit.
Reg Hannah, a former Republican says while he was a fan of Walker, the football player he isn't a fan of Walker, the politician.
I get so frustrated like, Dude, you're on TV, did — this is the wrong space. You should — you know, I feel uncomfortable that he is actually tearing down some of the things that we built up for folks that are look more like him. I think that bothers me.
Rosland Miller, who says protecting abortion and voting rights are some of her top priorities this cycle is also turned off by Walker's controversies.
I do not care for Mr. Walker. I didn't like him when he was played football. But now all of these things that I'm hearing about him, I really don't like him. I'm not voting for him.
Kindergarten teacher, Kara Bratton says she'll vote for him despite her reservations.
I look at what Warnock has been and there needs to be changed there. So, the only way to have change is to have somebody new.
While the Georgia Senate race remains close, current Republican Governor Brian Kemp is the head of Democrat Stacey Abrams in the polls. It's their second matchup after Kemp narrowly beat Abrams in 2018. Greg Bluestein says this year is different.
She's now running against a governor who has a record, is the record that, you know, plenty of Democrats don't like but it's still a record that he can defend out there. That make it really hard.
That record now includes signing a law, banning abortions in Georgia after a fetal heartbeat is detected. And signing a law allowing gun owners to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.
Gov. Brian Kemp, (R) GEORGIA: I think we're taking the right measured approach at the right time.
On the economy, Kemp touts his decision to ease COVID-19 restrictions early in the pandemic. At a recent campaign event, Stacey Abrams condemned Kemp's time as governor.
What do you plan to do in the month that remains between now and Election Day to overcome the polling margin between you and Governor Kemp?
Stacey Abrams, (D) Governor Candidate, Georgia: I am going everywhere and talking to everyone and just in case you didn't hear me say it, I am here to ask for your vote. Our second responsibility is to remind people of what has happened in the first four years, in the last four years, 38,000 people died of COVID. He risked our lives to be first. He did not put in place any protections for our workers. He did not put in place any investment for our people. And he did not put in place any plans for our future. You do not deserve to be rehired when you did such a substandard job the first time.
But Governor Kemp standing has led to a new dynamic emerging here, the prospect of split ticket voting.
I hear so much about split ticket voting that independent voters and even some Republican voters who have questions about Herschel Walker as a candidate, they're sold on Brian Kemp. That's not even an issue for them. But they're thinking about voting for Kemp and maybe Raphael Warnock for the Senate.
There's always this group of kind of suburban women that in '96, they voted for Clinton and in 2004, they voted for Bush and in 2016, they voted for Trump. Then they voted for Biden, they voted for Barack Obama also. So, they go back and forth. I could see where in metro Atlanta you might see a little more of that.
Uday Parikh owns a dentistry practice in Gwinnett, County. He showed me around his Hindu temple. It's one of the largest in the U.S. and reflects the growth of a community and one of Georgia's fastest expanding voting groups, Asian Americans.
We have a thriving Asian community of people from India, people from South Korea, people from Vietnam, Philippines. Yeah, a lot of different places.
While Asian American voters including Parikh turned out in force for Biden and 2020, two years later, amid a worsening economic picture, Republicans are gaining ground among this key voting bloc.
When you look at the governor's race and the Senate race, which way are you leaning?
I really appreciate the fact that he — the Governor — Governor Kemp opened up the state early on, and that kind of helped us get back on the feet faster.
But Parikh says he hasn't decided on whom he'll support to represent Georgia in the Senate.
I'm waiting to see, you know, how things shake around in a few days. And, we'll make a decision in that.
With control of the U.S. Senate in the balance, it'll be up to Parikh and fellow undecided Georgia voters to see if Democrats can pull off a repeat in Georgia on Election Day.
Watch the Full Episode
Geoff Bennett serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. He also serves as an NBC News and MSNBC political contributor.
Maea Lenei Buhre is a general assignment producer for the PBS NewsHour.
Kaisha Young is a general assignment producer at PBS News Weekend.
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