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GA Senate Runoff Has Bitter Closing    11/27 09:15

   

   WARNER ROBINS, Ga. (AP) -- Ads with the candidates' ex-wives. Cries of 
"liar" flying in both directions. Stories of a squalid apartment building and 
abortions under pressure. Questioning an opponent's independence. His 
intellect. His mental stability. His religious faith.

   The extended Senate campaign in Georgia between the Democratic incumbent, 
Raphael Warnock, and his Republican challenger, football legend Herschel 
Walker, has grown increasingly bitter as their Dec. 6 runoff nears. With 
Democrats already assured a Senate majority, it's a striking contrast from two 
years ago, when the state's twin runoffs were mostly about which party would 
control the chamber in Washington.

   "Herschel Walker ain't serious," Warnock told supporters recently in central 
Georgia, saying that Walker "majors in lying" and fumbles the basics of public 
policy. "But the election is very serious. Don't get those two things confused."

   Walker casts Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, as a 
"hypocrite" and servile to President Joe Biden. Underscoring the insult, Walker 
calls the incumbent "Scooby-Doo," complete with an impression of the cartoon 
hound's gibberish.

   The broadsides reflect the candidates' furious push in the four weeks 
between the Nov. 8 general election and runoff to persuade their core 
supporters to cast another ballot. For Walker, it also means drawing more 
independents and moderates to his campaign after he underperformed a fellow 
Republican on the ticket, Gov. Brian Kemp, by 200,000 votes.

   Warnock led Walker by 37,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast in the first 
round, but the senator fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

   In many ways, the shift from his first runoff campaign is exactly what 
Warnock wanted: a straightforward choice between two candidates. Two years ago, 
then-President Donald Trump, fresh off his defeat, and Biden, then 
president-elect, made multiple Georgia trips to illuminate the national stakes 
of the races between Warnock and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and between 
Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. David Perdue as control of the Senate 
hung in the balance.

   Trump ended up alienating his own supporters and many moderates with his 
false claims of a rigged 2020 presidential election. Victories by Warnock and 
Ossoff put the Senate at a 50-50 split, with Democrats gaining control by 
virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote. Warnock also became 
Georgia's first Black senator.

   This year, with Warnock vying for a full six-year term after winning the 
2021 special election, Democrats have already guaranteed control of the Senate 
by flipping a seat in Pennsylvania. A Warnock win would give Democrats an 
outright majority at 51-49, meaning that the parties would not have to 
negotiate a power-sharing agreement.

   Warnock's preferred emphasis for most of his reelection bid has been his 
deal-making in Washington and the personal values he brings to the job. It took 
until the campaign's final stages -- only after two women accused Walker, an 
opponent of abortion rights, of encouraging and paying for their abortions -- 
for the senator to ratchet up his attacks, arguing Walker is "unprepared" and 
"unfit" for the job.

   "My opponent lies about everything," Warnock said in a recent campaign stop, 
ticking off a litany of Walker's repeated falsehoods and exaggerations. "He 
said he was a police officer. He's not. He said he worked for the FBI. He did 
not. Said he graduated from the University of Georgia. He did not. Said he was 
valedictorian of his class. He was not. ... He said he had another business 
with 800 employees. It has eight."

   Walker, alternately, has relished the jousting since he won the GOP 
nomination in the spring.

   "Herschel is a competitor. He's very comfortable with the mano a mano," said 
Scott Paradise, Walker's campaign manager, noting the candidate's athletic 
prowess as a football running back, kickboxer and Olympic bobsledder.

   Indeed, Walker takes his attacks right to Warnock's strengths as the pastor 
of the famous church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Walker has 
criticized Warnock over an Atlanta apartment building, owned by a foundation of 
Warnock's church, where residents have complained to The Washington Free 
Beacon, a conservative media outlet, of eviction notices and poor conditions.

   "What he's doing in this apartment building at Columbia Towers is not 
right," Walker said recently at a suburban Atlanta campaign stop. "You 
shouldn't put Jesus' name on what you're doing to people, and don't put Martin 
Luther King name on it. ... You're not Jesus, and you're not Dr. King."

   Warnock, who says no residents of Columbia Tower have been evicted, 
incorporates Walker's attacks into the list of the challenger's documented 
exaggerations and falsehoods. "What kind of a person lies on the church?" 
Warnock said in Macon. "This isn't the first time people attacked Ebenezer 
Baptist Church. They attacked Martin Luther King Jr. I'm in good company."

   Still, asked whether he's reconsidered his church's stewardship of Columbia 
Towers, Warnock sidestepped: "I've already answered the question. I'm proud of 
what my church does to feed and house the hungry and the homeless every single 
week."

   Walker also accuses Warnock of "getting rich" as a senator, a nod to the 
pastor's $7,500-a-month housing allowance from the church. The payments are not 
a violation of Senate ethics rules that limit senators' outside income.

   On at least one occasion during the runoff, Walker has suggested Warnock is 
a negligent father. Warnock told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the comment 
"crossed a line." Earlier in the campaign, Walker publicly acknowledged three 
of his children for the first time, doing so only after The Daily Beast 
reported on their existence. Warnock has not mentioned those children in any of 
his critiques of Walker.

   Walker, meanwhile, has not taken reporters' questions at an open campaign 
event since late October, when a second accuser came forward to say he had 
pressured her to have an abortion -- a contradiction of his advocacy as a 
candidate for a national ban on all abortions. Walker has denied the women's 
claims.

   Both candidates' former wives also loom in the campaign, though the two men 
avoid the topic themselves, leaving the discussion of their marriages mostly to 
paid advertising. In one ad, Warnock's former wife tells Atlanta police that he 
ran over her foot. The Republican ad doesn't note that a police report states 
that officers found no physical evidence supporting her claim. A Democratic ad 
features an interview with Walker's first wife detailing that he threatened 
violence against her, circumstances Walker has confirmed in an autobiography.

   Since the two men met for their lone debate Oct. 14, Warnock has hammered 
Walker for a lack of policy details and sometimes flubbing what policy he does 
discuss.

   Warnock promotes his new federal legal provision capping insulin costs for 
Medicare recipients and notes Walker said diabetics could manage their health 
by "eating right," a practice that isn't enough for insulin-dependent diabetic 
patients.

   "Maybe he ought to apply to be a dietician. I'm running for the United 
States Senate," Warnock said in Macon.

   He pounced when Walker declared the United States is "not ready" for climate 
action and should "keep having those gas-guzzling cars" that he said already 
have "good emissions" standards. Warnock added gleeful mockery when Walker 
recently introduced a tangent about vampires to a campaign speech.

   "I mean, who says that kind of stuff?" Warnock asked supporters.

   Paradise, Walker's campaign manager, insisted the Republicans' best argument 
remains Warnock's alignment with Democrats on economic policy. Still, he 
acknowledges the campaign's tone has darkened.

   "We're certainly going to continue to aggressively prosecute the case 
against Warnock," he said, "and I suspect they'll do the same."

 
 
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