Warnock Turns to Obama to Help Boost Turnout in Final Days of Runoff Campaign

ATLANTA — Former President Barack Obama will visit Georgia on Thursday night, the second time in just over a month, to hold a campaign rally for Senator Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent locked in a hotly contested runoff with his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker.

For Democrats, Mr. Obama’s visit is the emotional high point of weeks of nearly nonstop organizing, canvassing and voter mobilization efforts ahead of the runoff election on Tuesday. His last visit to Georgia came in October during the general election, just shy of two weeks before Election Day. His event in Atlanta with Mr. Warnock on Thursday is viewed by Democrats as an ironclad way to ensure that Black voters, a must-win constituency in the state, remain enthusiastic, despite back-to-back elections and runoffs that have sent Georgia voters to the polls four times in the last two years.

Mr. Warnock and Mr. Walker are contending with a shortened campaign schedule: Last year’s Senate runoff period lasted nine weeks, but the state’s new election law cut the time to four weeks. Each party has deployed a wealth of resources to the state, including millions of dollars in advertising and close to 1,000 new field staffers.

What to Know About Georgia’s Senate Runoff

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Another runoff in Georgia. The contest between Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker, will be decided in a Dec. 6 runoff. It will be the state’s third Senate runoff in two years. Here’s a look at the race:

What is a runoff election? A runoff is essentially a rematch, held when none of the original candidates meet the criteria for winning. Under Georgia law, candidates must receive a majority of the vote to win an election, but Mr. Warnock and Mr. Walker both failed to clear the 50 percent threshold in the Nov. 8 election.

How long will the process take? Two years ago, Georgia was the site of two Senate runoffs that weren’t decided until January 2021, but a new election law shortened the runoff period from nine weeks to four. This year’s runoff will be on Dec. 6, with early voting beginning on Nov. 28, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Why does Georgia have a runoff law? Georgia’s runoff law was created in the 1960s as a way to preserve white political power in a majority-white state and diminish the influence of Black politicians who could more easily win in a multicandidate race with a plurality of the vote, according to a report by the U.S. Interior Department.

What are the stakes? Even though Democratic victories in Arizona and Nevada ensured that the party would hold the Senate, a victory by Mr. Warnock would give Democrats an important 51st seat ahead of a highly challenging Senate map in 2024.

Where does the race stand now? Both sides are pouring money into ads and courting national allies for visits. But the outcome will probably come down to one big factor: turnout. With the shortened window for runoffs, the parties are investing heavily to mobilize voters during the early voting period.

Counties across Georgia have seen record-high turnout numbers in the seven-day early voting period, with hourslong lines at precincts in Metro Atlanta. More than 1.1 million voters have cast ballots in the runoff as of Thursday, according to data from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

Even with the high turnout, some Democrats continue to fret over motivating voters.

“There’s a lot of folks who are going to turn out regardless, but we need some inspiration to really turn out the people who — no matter who’s in office, no matter who is senator — their situation can be a bit rough,” said John Jackson, chairman of the Democratic Party in DeKalb County, a Democratic stronghold that contains parts of Atlanta. “Housing isn’t affordable. Crime is up. You know, we’ve got to have a better message for them.”

The party has relied on grass-roots organizing and a heavy dose of star power to encourage voters to return to the polls in the final days of the runoff. Michelle Obama, the former first lady, recorded robocalls asking Atlanta voters to cast ballots ahead of her husband’s visit. On Wednesday, two actresses — America Ferrera and Tessa Thompson — held a voter mobilization event for Latino voters in Atlanta.

Mr. Obama also cut a 60-second advertisement for Mr. Warnock, now running in Atlanta markets. In it, he said he had known Mr. Warnock for years, calling him “a man of great integrity” and a “clear voice in the fight to defend our democracy.”

“There aren’t a lot of people in Washington like Reverend Warnock and that’s exactly why we need to send him back,” Mr. Obama says in the ad. “This is going to be a close race and we can’t afford to get it wrong. So make your voice heard.”

Mr. Walker, who is fighting a fresh wave of negative stories about his personal life and some grumblings among members of his party about his campaign strategy, has used Mr. Obama’s visit as a fund-raising peg. In an email Thursday morning, he solicited money from his supporters to counter the enthusiasm Mr. Obama would bring for Democratic voters.

“Last time President Obama was in Georgia, he rallied 7,000 voters and got wall-to-wall TV coverage for Raphael Warnock in the final days of the general election,” the email reads. “Now he’s looking to have a bigger impact in the runoff.”

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