In Georgia, public polling has shown Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) with a small but consistent lead over Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
At the identical time, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has been leading Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams by an even greater margin.
To an outdoor observer accustomed to hearing from partisans on either side, the disparity in how the respective nominees from the identical party are faring appears curious.
But after HuffPost attended a spotlight group of eight Georgia swing voters who forged ballots 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 are picking each Kemp, a Republican, and Warnock, a Democrat.
The most important takeaway? Walker has been hobbled by the string 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 staunch anti-abortion views. Amongst 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 may need had more appeal.
One white man from northern Georgia initially said he was inclined to overlook Walker’s history within the name of electing a Republican who would counter Biden’s economic policies, which the voter said he believes have been harmful.
But by the top of the discussion, the person wasn’t so sure. He branded Walker a “wild card” and anxious that Walker’s messy personal history ― and failure to properly account for it ― might interfere together with his ability to control.
Warnock “hasn’t ― what I call with politics ― ‘crashed the automobile,’” the person said. “Walker, I like the best way I believe he’s going to vote, but he might ‘crash the automobile.’ Very early on, he might just run that thing off a cliff.”
Longwell Partners, a consulting firm led 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, marshals the resources of anti-Trump conservatives and Republicans to defeat Republican candidates who remain loyal to Trump and proceed to disclaim the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election.
The super PAC has spent greater than $450,000 on ads attacking Walker and boosting Warnock but has not picked sides within the gubernatorial race.
The main target group, conducted over Zoom on Thursday night, consisted of 5 women and three men ― all of whom had voted in Georgia’s Republican primary this yr. The contingent included three Black women, one Latino man, two native-born white men and other participants of indeterminate race or nationality.
HuffPost has permission to debate the participants’ views as long as we don’t disclose their names or other details that might jeopardize their anonymity.
Although many of the participants remained undecided in each the Senate race and the gubernatorial race, the moderator, Meaghan Leister of Longwell Partners, eventually pressed them to say how they’d vote in the event that they had to choose right then and there.
Asked that query concerning the Senate race, seven participants said when pressed that they’d vote for Warnock, and one picked Walker.
Asked that query concerning the gubernatorial race, all eight participants said they’d vote for Kemp over Abrams.
“He’s the present governor, and I haven’t really had any problems with him through the time, so it’s sort of like, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” said a Black woman from the Atlanta area, who had described herself as undecided before the moderator forced her to entertain the hypothetical of getting to vote immediately. “But at the identical time, Stacey Abrams is an African American female resembling myself. I feel some form of obligation to her, but really, I don’t have an issue with Kemp.”
The girl said she was “neutral” about Biden because she appreciates the coed loan forgiveness but is fighting inflation and nervous concerning the declining value of her financial investments. (Biden’s forgiveness of student loans and steps to decriminalize marijuana were his hottest policies among the many participants, who ranged in age from younger to middle-aged adults.)
She appeared like the form of voter who’s open to a substitute for Warnock, expressing disappointment that Warnock’s ex-wife had accused him of domestic violence.
The moderator didn’t correct mistaken impressions concerning the validity of the allegations against Warnock. Warnock’s ex-wife accused him of running over her foot together with his automobile in March 2020, but when police arrived on the scene, they found no evidence of bruising on her foot, leading fact-checkers to forged doubt on the charge’s validity.
Regardless, the girl on the panel seemed more skeptical of Walker than Warnock given the sheer quantity of controversies hovering over the previous NFL star and his refusal to take responsibility for any of the allegations against him.
“I don’t trust either one among them, but I definitely don’t trust Walker since it’s just been way an excessive amount of lies which are easily identifiable with him,” she said. “I do know they each had domestic violence charges. I don’t agree with that. But that’s why I say it’s the lesser of two evils at this point.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), left, faces a rematch against Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams. Kemp leads within the polls.
Brynn Anderson; Associated Press
Nobody within the group had much criticism to levy against Kemp. Several people, including the Black woman quoted above, said they appreciated his willingness to get up to Trump when Trump tried to meddle within the 2020 election results after losing Georgia to Biden. Still offended with Kemp, Trump ultimately backed an unsuccessful primary challenge against him in May.
“Kemp will not be only a Republican toy,” she said. “He really does what’s right for his state.”
Other participants agreed.
“To me, it gave Kemp numerous credibility,” a white man from the suburbs of Atlanta said. “Before that, I assumed he was only a hard-line Republican and sort of Trump’s puppet.”
One woman from Atlanta said she had heard “something” about Kemp “purging voters” from the Georgia rolls, but she was unclear what that meant exactly. Otherwise, she had heard he was attempting to keep taxes low and help small businesses, which she liked.
Prior to being elected governor in 2018, Kemp served for eight years as Georgia’s secretary of state, overseeing the administration of elections. During that point, he purged 1.4 million names from the state’s voter rolls with the stated goal of clearing out individuals who’d died, moved or were otherwise ineligible to vote within the state. But in 2017 alone, the state canceled the registration of greater than 100,000 people simply for not voting regularly, resulting in charges that Kemp had sought to disenfranchise Black voters and other constituencies that were less politically friendly to him.
In some ways, the panel discussion showed the advantages of incumbency. The participants didn’t have numerous negative things to say about Abrams, but they simply thought that Kemp was not objectionable enough to exchange him for somebody latest.
Governors like Kemp have also had the advantage of with the ability to use the federal recovery funds that Biden signed into law without shouldering the blame for inflation as he has. Because of a budget surplus partly enabled by federal largesse, Kemp has suspended his state’s gasoline tax until after the election and provided $350 relief checks to three million low-income Georgians ― all without having to significantly reduce spending elsewhere.
Three people in the main target group offered one note of skepticism about Abrams: They said they saw her as cozy with the entertainment industry ― or “more business,” because the Black woman from the Atlanta area put it.
Within the Senate race, Warnock appeared to profit from incumbency as well, with many describing positive qualities they saw during his tenure in office.
“He does go across the party lines lots if he believes within the cause,” said the white man from the Atlanta suburbs. “That’s a really positive quality in a politician.”
The white man from northern Georgia wasn’t so sure about Warnock’s commitment to bipartisanship, but he commended him for other qualities.
“He’s followed suit with the Democrat agenda and Biden,” the person said. “But he has done job going out to Georgia businesses, and I’ve seen some press releases about him visiting and taking the day out to look into specific needs in certain industries.”
Panel discussions are inherently limited as tools for measuring public opinion. Amongst other flaws, the sample sizes are small. The individuals who participate ― in exchange for modest compensation ― will not be representative of other voters with similar preferences. And moderators provide information that may steer discussion in ways in which don’t exactly replicate how voters typically learn their information.
But political candidates, parties and the assorted groups aligned with them employ focus groups to get a way of the best way voters think and the way political memes take root among the many dwindling demographic of swing voters, lots of whom remain undecided until the last minute.
As public polls attest, it’s rare for voters to be undecided with a few month to go before an election. Just 5% of likely Georgia voters are undecided within the Senate race and just 3% within the gubernatorial race, in accordance with a Fox5 Atlanta poll conducted Tuesday night.
Those that remain undecided this near the election often don’t follow politics very closely.
The main target group participant who said that he would vote for Walker if he needed to vote today was a Latino from the Atlanta area who described himself as feeling “neutral” about Biden.
Asked why he would vote for Walker, the person replied, “That’s just the primary option that I could consider. But in all reality, I don’t have enough context or information to present you a solid answer.”
He said he planned to read more concerning the two Senate candidates before casting his vote.
The Atlanta woman who recalled hearing something about Kemp purging voters echoed his sentiment.
“I’d just go along with my gut feeling once I get within the door, to be honest,” she said.