After Herschel Walker was roundly mocked in October for pulling out an honorary police badge during his debate with Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Georgia sheriff came out to run defense for him.
That sheriff, Greg Rowland, is from Johnson County, which includes Walker’s birthplace of Wrightsville. And, with Walker’s past in mind, Johnson County was an interesting outlier in the runoff election.
Johnson appears to be the only county that saw an increase in voters from the general election to the runoff. And while Walker still won the deep red, rural county by a large margin, that margin fell, from about 48 to 43 percentage points.
And that small-yet-significant shift of a few dozen votes, which was replicated to varying degrees in red counties across Georgia, appears to be the result of deliberate action the Warnock campaign took in the lead-up to Election Day. I reported in late November that Warnock’s camp intentionally scheduled stops in Wrightsville to energize voters in Walker’s hometown ahead of the runoff. (Among those voters was one of Walker’s former football coaches, who announced his support for Warnock.)
Warnock saluted Walker’s athletic accomplishments and acknowledged the pride voters may have felt over them, while also highlighting Walker’s clear unfitness for office.
I think Dems can learn a thing or two from Warnock’s ability to boost his support in Johnson County. As I noted in my post a couple weeks back, Team Warnock hired hundreds more staffers after the general election to aid their get-out-the-vote efforts in the runoff. So one obvious lesson for Democrats is that investing in these systems is fruitful.
When you have a robust ground game, it gives candidates the means to expand the electoral map by campaigning in areas they and their team might have otherwise deprioritized or ignored due to a lack of resources. Much like the way Pennsylvania Sen.-elect John Fetterman “jammed up” Republicans by campaigning in traditionally red areas, Warnock deployed a similar strategy in Georgia — and won. As The Washington Post noted, dozens of rural counties all across Georgia shifted slightly toward Warnock in the runoff. Some of that is surely due to the lessened stakes after the November election, since GOP voters knew a Walker win would no longer determine Senate control.
But it would be naive to discount the role Warnock and his campaign's strategy played in their runoff win.
That’s another lesson for Democrats: You don’t need to pick a milquetoast centrist to pick up valuable votes in red counties. Sometimes, all it takes is a strong progressive salesperson with a pitch to convince just enough voters to propel you to victory.