Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock launched an ad on Thursday that, at first, might confuse you.
The ad opens on Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential announcement earlier this week – and specifically his support for Warnock’s Republican opponent in the Georgia Senate runoff, Herschel Walker.
“We must all work very hard for a gentleman and a great person named Herschel Walker, a fabulous human being who loves our country and will be a great United States senator,” Trump says.
As Trump continues to speak, six words appear on screen to close the ad: “Stop Donald Trump. Stop Herschel Walker.”
And that’s it. That’s the whole ad.
It is, simply put, what Republicans have been openly worrying about – and why even many of those close to Trump wanted him to delay his campaign announcement until after the December 6 runoff between Warnock and Walker.
“I don’t think President Trump should announce his run tonight,” South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday before Trump’s speech. “I think most people in the conference would prefer President Trump not announce tonight.”
Looking at the midterm elections, it’s clear that Trump and the election-denying candidates he pushed to GOP nominations were a drag on the overall performance of the party.
Just 39% of midterm voters viewed Trump favorably, while 58% viewed him unfavorably, according to the national exit polls. Another 28% said that their vote for House was to show opposition to Trump, while just 16% said it was to show support for him.
In Georgia specifically, that margin was narrower. Among voters in the first round of the Senate race, more said they voted to oppose Trump (24%) than to support him (19%), the exit polls show. Which is notable because 48% of the Georgia Senate electorate said they voted for Trump in 2020, while 43% said they voted for Joe Biden. (Biden won the state by less than 12,000 votes.)
Warnock’s strategy to make the race a straight referendum on Trump has two targets:
1) The Democratic base in the state. Much of the work of a runoff election wedged in between Thanksgiving and Christmas is to get the people who are already for you out to the polls. As was demonstrated in the past several election cycles, Trump is a massive motivator for Democratic voters.
2) The Atlanta suburbs. In the general election, Walker took 49% of the suburban vote compared to 48% for Warnock, according to the exit polls. Warnock is betting that linking Walker so directly to Trump will be a turnoff for swing suburban voters.
The Point: Warnock’s decision to nationalize this race around Trump tells you that he believes the former president is a net negative in the state, and will function as an anchor on Walker’s attempt to get a majority of the vote.