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Hmm: Is Herschel Walker Losing Badly, or Narrowly Leading, in Georgia's Senate Race?

AP Photo/Ben Gray

It's time to play pick your poll, Georgia edition.  

At the tail end of June, Quinnipiac released a splashy poll showing the state's gubernatorial race tied up, and incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock crushing GOP nominee Herschel Walker by ten points. I didn't address that survey at the time, but here's the quickie analysis: State-level Q-polls have been particularly dreadful in recent cycles, with some embarrassing misses blotting their reputation along the way. Think Florida 2018 (off by roughly eight points in both major statewide races), then a string of bad misfires in 2020 (see link below). A number of plugged-in reporters and analysts reacted to the Georgia numbers by noting that operatives on both sides were dismissing them as not an accurate picture of where either race stood at the time – and it seemed pretty telling that even Democrats were racing to tell journalists about how the Quinnipiac results were far-fetched: 


That was June 29th. Quinnipiac put Warnock up by ten, Warnock's own internals showed him exactly tied. And if Warnock was roughly tied with Walker, there's no way Stacey Abrams would be deadlocked with Kemp, who is expected to run a solid distance ahead of his party's Senate nominee. I was suspicious of both the Q-poll outcome, for obvious reasons, but also the campaign's internals, which are often released for purposes of political spin and gamesmanship. My best guess at the time – having spoken to people in Georgia and watched that state's political battles closely in recent years – was that Kemp held a mid-single-digit lead over Abrams, while Walker was approximately tied with Warnock. Then this survey dropped a few days ago: 


Kemp up eight, and Walker out in front by a nose? Much more plausible. I'm not sure I'd bet the farm on either outcome (Kemp's margin could end up being tighter, and Walker could well lose), but it's important to bear in mind the national environment, which is utterly horrendous for the Democrats. Biden is an anchor around their necks in many states, very much including Georgia. Candidates representing the president's party will need to hugely out-perform his approval ratings, which may prove tricky-to-impossible in some important races. Undecided voters are likely to break fairly heavily against the ruling party in a political climate like this. Candidates do matter, however, and there have been a flurry of ugly headlines for Herschel Walker over the last few weeks, raising questions of vetting and preparedness. Reports have emerged that his own staff has been jolted by various revelations (language warning):  

“He’s lied so much [including about previously-undisclosed children] that we don’t know what’s true,” the person said, adding that aides have “zero” trust in the candidate. Three people interviewed for this article independently called him a “pathological liar.”…“A campaign’s worst nightmare,” the source said. “It’s like a shitshow on a train in the middle of a wreck.”… Aides have secretly derided Walker for months, according to the person and internal communications seen by The Daily Beast. They have ridiculed his intelligence. They fear his mood swings and instability. And staffers worry he could embarrass himself at any moment, setting the campaign back yet again and burning energy on damage control. The overriding concern is that the stress and pressures of campaigning—criticism and backlash in particular—might make him “just not mentally stable,” the source said.

And even some major conservative voices within the state have been critical of the quasi-"basement" campaign he's been running: 


Red flags galore. And yet...from where I sit, in early-to-mid July, Walker's election is at worst a 50/50 proposition right now. Warnock is a gifted communicator and a formidable, well-funded opponent – but he also has his own serious issues across multiple fronts. And sometimes wave years sweep even deeply flawed candidates into office. Walker is an icon and legend within the state, with a lot of goodwill behind him. And cycles don't get much redder than this one. Nail-biter. It looks, yet again, like the state of Georgia could determine control of the United States Senate. Hoo boy. By the way, the point about Biden's drag on Democrats isn't just pom-pom waving from Team Red. His side knows it, too. Remember how Abrams declined to show up for an event featuring both Biden and Harris, in her own state, on her signature "voter suppression" issue (built on a disproven lie), last year? Democrats in other battleground states have been adopting a similar approach

When President Joe Biden visited Ohio on Wednesday, the top Democrats seeking statewide office in November both had other places to be. Democratic Senate hopeful Tim Ryan and gubernatorial aspirant Nan Whaley’s decisions to steer clear of the president in a state Biden lost by more than 8 percentage points in 2020 exposes a gap between how the White House views Biden’s political clout and the view for candidates on the ground...It wasn’t a first for Biden, who has visited Ohio six times as president. Ryan and Whaley also were absent in May, when he toured a manufacturing facility in suburban Cincinnati and demanded Congress pass legislation to make the US more competitive with China.  It was the same story in February, when he spoke in Lorain, Ohio...

Thanks, but no thanks, over and over again. Republicans will spend the next four months relentlessly tying Democrats to their party's leader, from coast to coast. And with even modest success, they'll win quite a few seats. 

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