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STEVE PAVLICK: A Herschel Walker Victory In Georgia Is Dependent On One Key Factor

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Steve Pavlick Partner & Head of Policy at Renaissance Macro and a former Treasury official.
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Once again, the voters of Georgia will head to the polls tomorrow to decide if either Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock or if former Republican football star Hershel Walker will represent them in the U.S. Senate. It’s all going to come down to turnout.

Pundits believe Warnock has the edge over Walker, but it’s easy to come up with a scenario where Walker is the winner especially after looking at the numbers. In the November general election, Warnock received 38,000 more votes than Walker. Libertarian Party candidate Chase Oliver’s 81,000 votes kept either candidate from going over the 50% threshold, forcing a runoff. Most people believe these Libertarian voters are right leaning, and if they turnout in the runoff, a big percentage will vote for Walker. (RELATED: DEROY MURDOCK: Herschel Walker’s Fate Is Tied To The Senate’s Balance Of Power. Here’s Why It Matters)

Another sign that Walker could have a surprise upset is that Republican incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp received more than 203,000 votes than Walker. The math here implies that Walker could pull ahead of Warnock if he can convince a substantial amount of the Libertarian and Kemp supporters to vote his way.

Georgia runoff electorates tend to be smaller than midterm general elections. In January 2021, when Warnock ousted Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a runoff for an unexpired two-year term, turnout was 430,000 votes lower than it had been in the general election in November, according to Roll Call.

The outcome of runoff elections depends largely on which side can mobilize its base. Republicans are concerned that voters who showed up for Kemp in November will stay home and not support Walker. It’s unclear if turned off Libertarian voters will reverse course to support either candidate in a runoff. Had control of the Senate been at stake, it would have been easier for Republican voters to put aside their reservations about Walker to deprive Democrats of control of the Senate.

A Warnock victory matters to both parties. It’s a big difference if the Senate ends up 50-50 rather than 51 Democrats to 49 Republicans. In a 50-50 Senate, the political parties have equal representation on committees based on a power-sharing agreement that the two parties reached early in the current Congress, according to the University Virginia Center for Politics. An extra seat for Democrats would render such an agreement unnecessary and give Democrats the advantage on committees.

Warnock has chosen to campaign with former President Barack Obama rather than current President Joe Biden. This indicates two things. One, Warnock believes Obama can help energize black voters in Atlanta he will need to win as part of his electoral base strategy. Two, Warnock believes Biden is an electoral liability. According to the FiveThirtyEight average of polls, Biden’s approval rating is 41.6% compared with a disapproval rating of 53.1%.

Walker was a handpicked candidate of former President Donald Trump. However, Walker is not campaigning with Trump in the closing days. This reflects the belief that Walker’s campaign sees Trump as a political liability in a state where his election track record is abysmal. Instead, Walker is campaigning with Kemp, who recently won re-election comfortably by more than 7% over Democrat challenger Stacey Abrams.

Kemp had kept a noticeable distance from Walker during his re-election bid, presumably not to jeopardize his candidacy. Now, Kemp is actively campaigning for Walker.

Some Republicans view Kemp as a possible 2024 presidential candidate because he prevailed in his re-election bid despite Trump’s criticism. Kemp also shares many of the same qualities as Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in being quick to oppose coronavirus lockdown restrictions as well as being willing to fight back against “woke capitalism” like the decision by Major League Baseball to pull its All-Star game out of Atlanta.

If Walker does prevail, the credit will go to Kemp as being able to help the former football star across the goal line. If Walker loses, as most expect, the blame will fall on Trump and add to a string of recent political setbacks for the former president, who has already formally declared his 2024 candidacy.

Democrats have overperformed in Georgia during the last two election cycles, where demographics have trended in their favor, with a larger percentage of black and younger voters in the Atlanta suburbs.

Whether this represents a permanent change or was an anomaly will be partially determined in this runoff.

Steve Pavlick is a Partner & Head of Policy at Renaissance Macro and a former Treasury official.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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