Herschel Walker’s baggage hurts him with a key group of voters


In Georgia, a public poll showed Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) with a small but steady lead over Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

At the same time, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) led Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams by an even larger margin.

To an outside observer accustomed to hearing supporters on either side, the disparity in how respective candidates from the same party fare seems curious.

But after HuffPost attended a focus group of eight Georgia swing voters who voted for Donald Trump for president in 2016 and for Joe Biden in 2020, it became clearer why some hard-to-categorize voters without strong partisan identities choose both Kemp, a Republican, and Warnock, a Democrat.

Biggest takeaway? Walker has been dogged by the series of scandals surrounding his personal conduct, including the recent allegation that he paid for the abortion of a girlfriend he impregnated in 2009 despite his anti-abortion beliefs. Among this particular group of swing voters, who were mostly critical of Biden’s performance and supportive of Kemp, a generic Republican without Walker’s baggage might have had more appeal.

A northern Georgia white man initially said he was inclined to ignore Walker’s story in the name of electing a Republican who would thwart Biden’s economic policies, which the voter said he had been harmful.

But at the end of the discussion, the man wasn’t so sure anymore. He called Walker a “joker” and feared that Walker’s messy personal history ― and his failure to report it properly ― would interfere with his ability to govern.

Warnock “didn’t ― what I call with politics ― ‘crash the car,'” the man said. “Walker, I like the way I think he’s going to vote, but he might ‘crash the car.’ Pretty soon, he might just knock this thing off a cliff.

Longwell Partners, a consulting firm run by Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump conservative, convened the group of voters on behalf of the Republican Accountability PAC. The super PAC, which Longwell co-founded, pools the resources of conservatives and anti-Trump Republicans to defeat Republican candidates who remain loyal to Trump and continue to deny the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The super PAC spent more than $450,000 on ads attacking Walker and bolstering Warnock, but did not choose sides in the gubernatorial race.

The focus group, conducted on Zoom Thursday night, was made up of five women and three men — all of whom had voted in Georgia’s Republican primary this year. The contingent included three black women, a Latino man, two native-born white men, and other participants of undetermined race or nationality.

HuffPost is permitted to discuss the opinions of participants as long as we do not release their names or other details that might compromise their anonymity.

Although most attendees remained undecided in both the Senate race and the gubernatorial race, moderator Meaghan Leister of Longwell Partners ultimately pressed them on how they would vote if they were to decide on -field.

When asked about the Senate race, seven participants said when pressed they would vote for Warnock, and one chose Walker.

When asked about the gubernatorial race, all eight participants said they would vote for Kemp over Abrams.

“He’s the current governor, and I haven’t really had any issues with him in that time, so it’s kind of like, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” said a black woman from Atlanta. region, which had described itself as undecided before the moderator forced it to consider the possibility of having to vote immediately. “But at the same time, Stacey Abrams is an African-American woman like me. I feel a kind of obligation to her, but really, I don’t have a problem with Kemp.

The woman said she was “neutral” about Biden because she appreciates the student loan forgiveness but struggles with inflation and worries about the decline in value of her financial investments. (Biden’s student loan forgiveness and marijuana decriminalization measures were his most popular policies among attendees, who ranged in age from younger to middle-aged adults.)

She sounded like the type of voter open to an alternative to Warnock, expressing her disappointment that Warnock’s ex-wife had accused him of domestic abuse.

The moderator failed to correct erroneous impressions about the validity of the allegations against Warnock. Warnock’s ex-wife accused him of running over her foot with his car in March 2020, but when police arrived at the scene they found no evidence of a bruise on his foot, which led fact-checkers to question the validity of the accusation.

Either way, the woman on the panel seemed more skeptical of Walker than Warnock given the amount of controversy hanging over the former NFL star and his unwillingness to take responsibility for any of them. allegations made against him.

“I don’t trust any of them, but I definitely don’t trust Walker because it’s just way too many lies that are easily identifiable with him,” she said. “I know they have both been charged with domestic violence. I don’t agree with that. But that’s why I say it’s the lesser of two evils at this point.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (right), left, faces a rematch against Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams. Kemp is leading in the polls.

Brynn Anderson; Associated press

No one in the group had much criticism to level at Kemp. Several people, including the black woman quoted above, said they appreciated her willingness to stand up to Trump when Trump tried to mingle in the 2020 election results after losing Georgia to Biden. Still angry with Kemp, Trump ultimately backed a unsuccessful main challenge against him in May.

“Kemp is not just a Republican toy,” she said. “He’s really doing what’s right for his condition.”

Other participants agreed.

“To me, that gave Kemp a lot of credibility,” said a white man from suburban Atlanta. “Before that, I thought he was just a die-hard Republican and some kind of Trump puppet.”

An Atlanta woman said she heard “something” about Kemp “purging voters” from Georgia rolls, but she wasn’t sure what that meant. Otherwise, she had heard he was trying to keep taxes low and help small businesses, which she liked.

Before being elected governor in 2018, Kemp served for eight years as Georgia’s secretary of state, overseeing election administration. During this time he purged 1.4 million names state voter rolls with the stated purpose of weeding out those who are deceased, displaced, or otherwise ineligible to vote in the state. But in 2017 alone, the state canceled the registration of over 100,000 people just because they don’t vote frequently, which results in charges that Kemp had sought to disenfranchise black voters and other constituencies politically less favorable to him.

In some ways, the roundtable showed the benefits of tenure. The attendees didn’t have a lot of negative things to say about Abrams, but they just thought Kemp wasn’t bad enough to trade him for someone new.

Governors like Kemp also had the advantage of being able to use the federal stimulus funds that Biden signed into law without laying blame for inflation like he did. Thanks to a budget surplus enabled in part by federal largesse, Kemp suspended his state gasoline tax until after the election and provided $350 relief checks to 3 million low-income Georgians, all without having to drastically cut spending elsewhere.

Three people in the focus group sounded a note of skepticism about Abrams: They said they considered her comfortable with the entertainment industry – or “more commercial”, as the company put it. black woman from the Atlanta area.

In the Senate race, Warnock also appeared to benefit from his tenure, with many describing positive qualities they saw during his tenure.

“He crosses party lines a lot if he believes in the cause, the white man from suburban Atlanta said. “That’s a very positive quality in a politician.”

The North Georgia white man wasn’t so sure about Warnock’s commitment to bipartisanship, but he praised him for other qualities.

“He followed suit with the Democratic and Biden agenda,” the man said. “But he has done a good job of visiting Georgian businesses, and I’ve seen press releases about his visit and taking the time to look at the specific needs of certain industries.”

Roundtables are inherently limited as tools for measuring public opinion. Among other shortcomings, the sample sizes are small. People who participate ― in exchange for modest compensation ― may not be representative of other voters with similar preferences. And moderators provide information that can steer discussion in a way that doesn’t exactly replicate the way voters typically learn their information.

But political candidates, parties and the various groups aligned with them employ focus groups to get a sense of how voters think and how political memes are taking hold among the dwindling population of swing voters, many of whom remain undecided. until the last minute.

As public polls attest, it’s rare for voters to be undecided with about a month to go before an election. According to a Fox5 Atlanta Poll performed on Tuesday evening.

Those who remain undecided so close to an election often do not follow politics very closely.

The focus group participant who said he would vote for Walker if he were to vote today was an Atlanta-area Latino who described himself as feeling “neutral” about Biden.

When asked why he would vote for Walker, the man replied: ‘That’s just the first option I could think of. But really, I don’t have enough context or information to give you a solid answer.

He said he plans to learn more about the two Senate candidates before casting his vote.

The Atlanta woman who recalled hearing something about Kemp purging voters echoed her sentiment.

“I might just follow my intuition when I walk through the door, to be honest,” she said.


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