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Georgia Senate runoff election reaches final week of campaigning

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Now to Georgia, where voting ends Tuesday in the runoff election between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. WABE's Sam Gringlas is following a couple of key voter groups and joins us now to explain how they could shape the results.

Good morning, Sam.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Hey, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: This is a quick turnaround here. Campaigns had just four weeks to get their base supporters back to the polls again for this runoff. How's each campaign approaching that task?

GRINGLAS: Let's start with Walker. He has been rallying voters in some deep-red counties, and his stump speech remains pretty focused on these conservative voters. He really leans into culture war issues more than he talks about the economy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HERSCHEL WALKER: We may need to get to leaders in Washington and say, if you don't like the rules of the United States of America, you can leave. We're not going to keep you here. That's what we need right now.

GRINGLAS: On the other hand, Warnock needs to juice turnout among reliable Democratic voters. The turnout rate for Black and Hispanic voters was down in November compared with 2018, and Warnock talks about student debt relief and his vote to confirm Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. But he is also making an explicit play for independent voters and even Republicans who have reservations about Walker, given allegations of domestic violence and his many false claims.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: This is not about right and left. This is about the difference between right and wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yes.

MCCAMMON: Sam, I want to talk about those Republican-leaning voters. Why is Senator Warnock angling so hard for them?

GRINGLAS: Well, you've probably heard the term split-ticket voters pop up around this election specifically. These are people who voted Republican for governor in November but then Democratic for Senate. And while that might seem like this unicorn voter, they do exist, especially in the suburbs. And Walker got about 200,000 fewer votes than Republican Governor Brian Kemp did. One of those voters who I have followed up with over the course of this campaign is Republican Cameron Lewellyn, and he told me recently he is going back to the polls to vote for Warnock again. He just can't look past Walker's controversies.

CAMERON LEWELLYN: I care about my taxes. I care about my kids, right? I care about inflation. So if you can speak intelligently about those things, you can earn my vote for that. But you're not going to earn my vote if essentially you try to portray yourself as something that you're not.

GRINGLAS: The question is whether others like Lewellen come back or they stay home now that the Senate is the only race on the ballot. Plus, there are people who voted libertarian or left that Senate race blank in November. What will they do? It's an open question.

MCCAMMON: All very interesting - any other groups you're watching heading into Tuesday?

GRINGLAS: I am keeping my eyes on 18- to 29-year-olds in Georgia. This is a group that broke heavily for Democrats, but their share of the electorate actually dropped in November over the last midterm. And older age brackets - they vote at way higher rates than these younger people do. But for the runoff, the Warnock campaign and voter outreach groups have amped up their canvassing on campuses. Jordan Madden is helping organize at Georgia State University.

JORDAN MADDEN: All of us are working. All of us are studying and wrapping up our semesters and getting final - some people are graduating in December. We had to move very swiftly and effectively.

GRINGLAS: Organizers say that pop-up early vote locations on three Atlanta campuses surpassed November's early vote turnout at those places, and at least 16,000 voters under 30 who did not vote in November - they have voted in the runoff so far.

MCCAMMON: That's WABE's Sam Gringlas.

Thanks so much, Sam.

GRINGLAS: Thanks, Sarah.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELI WINTER'S "BRAIN ON ICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.