Former President Barack Obama told Georgia voters at a rally on Thursday that he is a bit more optimistic about the country's future ahead of the rematch between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, urging party voters to turnout for next week's runoff election.
As early voting begins for the Dec. 6 runoff, Obama noted how Americans showed they cared about issues such as abortion access, gun violence, and environmental protections. He called out how voters rejected conspiracy theorists and election deniers on the ballot in key states.
"It's good to know folks would prefer normal to Looney Tunes," Obama said.
The former president then touched on how after months of campaigning the Peach State might be fatigued with politics, but that they cannot rest on Warnock's attempt to stiff-arm Walker in the last major race of this year's campaign cycle.
"I'm here to tell you we can't let up, I'm here to tell you we can't tune out, we can't be complacent, we have run through the tape," Obama said.
The Atlanta rally marked the second time Obama, a popular surrogate for Democrats during the 2022 midterms, trekked to Georgia to energize supporters on Warnock's behalf.
Obama proved to be one of the most effective get-out-the-vote draws for Democrats during the midterms. He is also one of the most prominent party figures who has joined Warnock on the trail during this tight and expensive runoff.
That is in sharp contrast to Walker's campaign, which has seen multiple top GOP leaders flock to Georgia to help put the former football star over the goal line in their sprint to keep the Senate a 50-50 split.
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Obama outlines what's at stake
Democrats averted a predicted red wave by Republicans and retained their Senate majority, but Obama told Warnock's supporters that sending the Atlanta pastor back to Washington serves a purpose.
"Some folks are asking, 'why does this matter? What's thedifference between 50 and 51?' The answer is a lot," Obama said.
For starters, Democrats won't have to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris's tie-breaking floor vote which gives them added cushion when it comes to judicial nominations and other critical confirmations in the coming year.
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Besides putting Democrats in a better position ahead of the 2024 Senate map, which favors the GOP, Obama alluded to how having a 51-seat majority means less leverage for moderate to more conservative-leaning Democrats.
The former president didn't mention Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, who has complicated President Joe Biden's legislative goals, by name. But Warnock winning the runoff "gives Democrats more breathing room" next year, adding how it also "prevents one person from holding up everything."
Character and policy
Warnock leaned into how next week's election against Walker is as much about character and competence as their diverging political views.
"I believe in my bones, I believe in my soul that Georgians - Republicans and Democrats - if we're honest, I believe in my soul that Georgia knows that Georgia is better than Herschel Walker," he said.
The Warnock campaign directly attacked Walker with its most recent ad, which features a split screen of voters watching a video of the GOP contender during an off-script moment on the stump.
During a late November rally in McDonough, Georgia, Walker talked to supporters about an unspecified horror film where a character couldn't kill a vampire because the character lacked faith.
"That's the way it is in our life," Walker said. "It doesn't work unless you have faith."
Obama mentioned the moment during Thursday's rally, saying it underscores how Walker isn't fit to be a senator.
"Since the last time I was here, 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," he said.
"This is a debate that I must confess I once had myself," Obama added "When I was seven. Then I grew up."
Walker's campaign hasn't backed down on attacking Warnock's character either while it has continued to connect the senator to Biden, who is unpopular in the state. As of Thursday, the White House has not announced any plans by the president to campaign for Warnock in Georgia.
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Hours ahead of Thursday's rally, the Walker campaign called out how as Georgians face higher gas prices Warnock has opposed key energy ideas such as the Keystone Pipeline.
"Raphael Warnock is just another hypocritical Washington politician," Walker campaign spokesman Will Kiley said in a statement. "While Georgians are struggling to make ends meet, Raphael Warnock voted against American energy independence and let gas prices skyrocket."
The former NFL star has been beset by controversies surrounding his personal life since announcing his candidacy for the senate seat. Walker, a pro-life-leaning conservative, vehemently denied a report that he paid for an abortion over a decade ago.
Republicans attempted to blunt Obama's appearance
In a campaign video released days before the Atlanta rally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, a vocal Walker supporter, said the runoff was a chance for the GOP to send the former president a message.
"Obama's coming back to Georgia. He'll create a lot of excitement," Graham said. "But we need you. If you help us, we will beat Obama," he added. "We will beat Warnock."
Republican surrogates have also talked up about why how having a 50-50 Senate is better for them in an attempt to energize their base.
"If the Democrats grow their majority, they get a majority on every single committee," Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, said last week during a campaign stop in Powder Springs, Georgia.
Much like how Democrats have attacked Walker's intelligence and personality, the Walker campaign and its allies have tried to steer voters' eyes to controversies Warnock would rather avoid.
Walker's team and GOP allies, for instance, have been putting a spotlight series of eviction notices filed against low-income tenants of a building owned by Warnock's church.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Barack Obama urges for Raphael Warnock turnout at Georgia Senate rally