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Why Herschel Walker won Hall County but lost other key areas across the state
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Voters enter the polls Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, at the North Hall Community Center as the polls open for voters to decide Georgia's next U.S. Senator. - photo by Scott Rogers

Despite falling short in a close runoff race to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, GOP candidate Herschel Walker carried Hall County on Tuesday – taking 72% of the vote to Warnock’s 27%, a slightly higher margin compared to the Nov. 8 election when Walker earned 70% to Warnock’s 26%.

In Hall County, total voter participation in the runoff was down overall, with 47,424 ballots cast for Walker – 4,219 less than the 51,643 votes he received in November. Only 1,423 fewer ballots came in for Warnock on Tuesday, as he earned 17,773 votes in the runoff and 19,196 in the Nov. 8 election.

While lower voter turnout in a runoff election isn’t unusual, Glen Smith, a professor of political science at UNG, noted that conventional wisdom in general is not necessarily as reliable in contemporary politics as it once was, citing the ever-changing political landscape.

“Prior to 2021, Republicans usually outperformed (in runoffs), and that was mostly because of a Democratic drop-off,” Smith said. “Then you saw, in 2021, there was no Democratic drop-off and there was, even slightly, a Republican drop-off … it seemed like there was a little bit of a Republican drop-off (in 2022). The drop-off was less (among Democrats).”

Elections often come down to which candidate appears more likable to voters – which Smith said might as well have been an uphill battle for Republicans, as accusations of domestic violence emerged against Walker after he was named as the GOP’s nominee.

“It seemed like voters rejected the candidate – Walker – more than they did the Republican Party,” Smith said. “I wanted to see if it held up without the third party candidate there … it seems pretty clear, if you look up and down the ballot in Georgia, you had Republicans winning by almost the same margin in every race. But in that one race in the Senate, Walker just couldn’t get over 50%.”

“Clearly, Walker was not a very good candidate,” he said. “He had a lot of baggage coming into the race – a lot of stuff primary voters didn’t even know about until the general election. 

Like Smith, President of Republican Women for Hall Betty Fisher agreed allegations against Walker could’ve alienated some female voters – specifically in crucial battleground areas like the Atlanta suburbs.

“It seems kind of obvious that we didn’t work outlining counties as much as we could have,” Fisher said. “... I know the ads got more and more rough as the election went on, and unfortunately I believe they might’ve played a part in the (outcome).”

Smith attributed Walker’s inability to match the performance of other Republicans like Gov. Brian Kemp – who was successful in defeating Democratic challenger Stacy Abrams in November – to the candidate’s political alignment with former president Donald Trump.

He noted a handful of Republicans at odds with the former president all won their races, including Kemp, whereas Walker fell short.

“If you look at the primaries, some of the ones Trump attacked like Brian Kemp, Brad Raffensperger (won),” Smith said. “... I think it’s fairly clear in the postmortem – I think it’s very comparable to the Pennsylvania race with Dr. (Mehmet) Oz. They both came in with a lot of baggage, not very much experience (and) connected to Trump.”

“I don’t know how much Trump was weighing on voters’ minds,” he added. “But it does seem like the one candidate of all the statewide races that was most closely tied to Trump ended up losing, and that was Walker.”

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker signs a man's shirt Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, during an early morning campaign stop at Curt's Restaurant in Oakwood. - photo by Scott Rogers

Evidence of Republican voters possibly disaffected by Walker’s relationship with Trump, according to Smith, was apparent in November’s election in Gwinnett and Cobb counties, where Kemp came within a closer margin to Abrams than Walker did with Warnock. 

“If you look at the areas where Kemp outperformed Walker the most in the general election – it was Gwinnett, Cobb County … that seemed to be the largest difference, to me, where you could really see the influence and the difference of people voting for Kemp and then the same people voting for Walker. And you had about a 7-10 point difference between Walker and Kemp in those races.”

Smith went on to say he believes GOP turnout might’ve been greater in an election with higher stakes, particularly if a Republican win in Georgia would’ve flipped the U.S. Senate.

“Since Democrats already had control of the Senate … the difference was between having 49 seats and 50 seats, and Democrats were still going to be in control regardless. But then again, we are talking about a very small percentage of votes here.”

With Warnock elected to the Senate for another six years, Smith said Georgia can no longer be considered GOP turf by default, stating that the once-red state will likely be a key battleground for the two parties in the upcoming 2024 election.

“The demographics are moving in the direction, overall, of Democrats,” Smith said. “... particularly in those suburban counties in Atlanta. But if Trump is off the ballot, who knows … if Republicans can do as well as Kemp, obviously we’re not going to be as competitive. It depends … it’s so hard to predict without knowing the candidates.”

Fisher, who said she doesn’t believe Walker was a poor choice of a candidate, said she remains optimistic on the future of the GOP despite Tuesday’s loss.

“As Republican women, we did everything we could to get him elected – we waved signs, held rallies, so we did everything we could,” Fisher said. “... we didn’t win this time, but we’re not down and out. We’re still going strong.”