Former President Barack Obama on Thursday warned Democrats against becoming complacent in the final days of Georgia’s Senate runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, describing the GOP nominee as unfit to represent the state and stressing the value in adding a key vote to the slender Democratic Senate majority.
In his second visit to Atlanta during the campaign, having previously stumped for Warnock ahead of the November 8 general election, Obama pushed back against any suggestion that the race had since diminished in importance. Warnock and Walker advanced to the Tuesday runoff after neither candidate received a majority of the vote last month, when Democrats held control of the Senate.
“What’s the difference between 50 and 51 (senators)?” Obama asked. “The answer is a lot.”
“An extra senator gives Democrats more breathing room on important bills. It prevents one person from holding up everything. It also puts us in a better position a couple years from now when you’ve got another election and the Senate map is going to be tilted in the favor of Republicans,” the former president said, warning that a potential future GOP supermajority could pass a federal abortion ban.
Obama’s visit comes days before the end of a condensed runoff campaign of only four weeks – down from the nine the state previously mandated before the passage of a controversial voting law in 2021. He urged the audience not to become complacent, alternately praising the Democrat’s character and criticizing Walker’s assorted controversies and bizarre campaign trail rhetoric.
Obama’s presence, too, marked a stark difference between the two campaigns. While Democrats were able to call on Obama, a singularly popular figure within their party, to energize voters, the most popular figure among Republicans nationally, former President Donald Trump, has stayed away amid fears of alienating swing voters. (Democrats, though, have also been cautious in choosing surrogates: President Joe Biden has not appeared in Georgia, a state he very narrowly carried in 2020.)
Walker spent the night before the final day of early voting railing against Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine policies, while surrounded by Republican surrogates including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Faith & Freedom Coalition Founder Ralph Reed and Rep.-elect John James of Michigan.
Obama said the Republican makes the case against himself “every time he opens his mouth.”
“Mr. Walker has been talking about issues that are of great importance to the people of Georgia, like whether it’s better to be a vampire or a werewolf,” Obama joked. “This was a debate that, I must confess, I once had myself… when I was seven.”
The riff followed a puzzling sidebar from Walker at a rally a few weeks ago, when the Republican recounted having recently seen a movie that he said was called “Fright Night, Freak Night, or some type of night.”
“I don’t know if you know, but vampires are some cool people, are they not? But let me tell you something that I found out: a werewolf can kill a vampire. Did you know that? I never knew that,” Walker said, before adding: “So I don’t want to be a vampire any more. I want to be a werewolf.”
Obama had clearly become familiar with the video, which Warnock has replayed in part in recent campaign ads.
“In case you were wondering, Mr. Walker decided he wanted to be a werewolf. Which is great. As far as I’m concerned, he can be anything he wants to be. Except for a United States Senator,” Obama said, before continuing with another story about Walker’s past claim to having let Obama beat him at basketball only to admit, later, that the two had never met.
Looking back at the 2021 runoff elections that put Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff into office and handed Democrats their current majority, Obama reeled off a list of the party’s policy achievements in Washington, DC, since winning a governing trifecta nearly two years ago.
“That happened because of you, Georgia,” the former president said. “And now we need you to do it again.”
Republicans, Obama added, have “spent millions of dollars here in Georgia, over the past few weeks, trying to get their folks to show up and get you to stay home. Because they know they don’t have winning ideas, their strategy is to scare you and confuse you and bamboozle you. Run the okey-doke on you. And make you believe your vote does not matter.”
Democrats, he said, “have to run through the tape,” ignore the other side’s messaging and not “let up.”
After touting the failures of some 2020 election deniers in this year’s midterms, Obama told the crowd he took heart in the results – and hoped the message would carry through into next Tuesday’s results. While Democrats will still hold the Senate in January, Republicans gained a majority – albeit smaller than they had hoped – in the House.
“It turns out that most Americans prefer leaders who want to bring people together to solve real problems as opposed to conspiracy theorists and fearmongers,” he said. “That makes me somewhat optimistic. It’s good to know that folks would prefer normal to looney tunes.”