“You are going to take away our democratic rights one after another,” state lawmaker Nan Orrock long warned supporters at a birthday party for the senator, who turned 53 on July 23. “Failure,” she said, “is not an option.”
Warnock took a different tack.
“I work with anyone to do something good for the people of Georgia,” he told the same crowd, singling out a trio of Republican senators with whom he has made legislative deals. Warnock mentioned the name of President Joe Biden only once and referred several times only to “President of the United States”, trying to distinguish himself from Biden, and from the rising inflation that has marked his term.
Running for his first full term in the Senate, Warnock casts himself as a senator willing to do whatever it takes to help his state. That’s a change from his focus on what they were up for nationally. twin runoff campaigns won by Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff in January 2021, giving his party control of the Senate two months after Biden was elected president.
Now with inflation goes up Y Biden’s popularity fallsWarnock requires a more nuanced argument, and he is selling his work in Washington, especially on the economy, as something other than the White House and Senate Democratic leadership.
Republicans see an opportunity in a state they dominated for two decades before 2020. Walker, a first-time candidate like Warnock was two years ago, is doing his best to shape the race as a referendum on what his campaign calls the “Biden-Warnock”. diary.”
“This is still a national race,” said Gail Gitcho, senior adviser to Walker. “The burden is on Raphael Warnock and the extremely close ties he has with Joe Biden in this environment. Herschel has put him on the defensive.”
Warnock’s strategy of exaggerating his “bipartisan” credentials and letting other Democrats attack Republicans and rally the party faithful could be the incumbent’s only chance to recreate his runoff coalition. In that election, the Democrats were united and enthusiastic; Republicans don’t, especially the Republican-leaning moderates whom then-President Donald Trump alienated with his lies that Biden’s victory was rigged. Some of those voters helped Warnock win his vote of 94,000 by a 2% margin. This time, Warnock cannot depend on Trump to nudge those key voters in his direction.
Bringing them back starts with not directly dignifying Republican attacks.
When asked about Walker’s broadsides, Warnock brushed off the details, lamenting “demagogues trying to divide us.”
He turned again when asked about Biden’s performance. “I’m focused on the job I’m doing,” Warnock said. “When that means supporting this or that person, it’s based on what he does for Georgia.”
Even on the president’s accomplishments, Warnock avoids partisan cheering. He praised the American Bailout Plan, a coronavirus relief package passed without a Republican vote, for its targeted tax cuts for low-income workers. He hailed a long-sought infrastructure bill as a “bipartisan” success that included “the Cruz-Warnock amendment.”
“Listen to me now,” Warnock said, laughing as some of his supporters mocked Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. The two men, Warnock explained, wanted to make the eastward expansion of Interstate 14, now just a short stretch in central Texas, a federal priority. Because a Senate committee had not endorsed the idea, the unlikely partners had to work with the entire Senate.
The amendment was approved unanimously.
“Guess what: The highway that runs through Texas also runs through Georgia,” Warnock said. “It passes red districts and blue districts. … Everybody needs to be able to get where they need to go.”
Warnock highlighted other efforts with Republican Sens. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and Marco Rubio of Florida. With Tuberville, he spearheaded a measure that would open up European markets to peanut farmers in his two states. With Rubio, he worked on legislation to improve maternal mortality rates in the United States.
Tuberville is a staunch Trump ally. Rubio came to Georgia to campaign against Warnock at the start of the second round. Warnock did not mention those details.
As for the lopsided economy, Warnock notably referred to “global inflation” while sidestepping Biden.
He highlighted his work on a job and technology measure, which cleared the Senate on Wednesday with 17 Republican votes. The bill, which aims to boost the production of computer chips in the United States, would strengthen supply chains and expand domestic technology production, among other investments, Warnock explained.
The senator emphasized his proposals to cap insulin costs for people with diabetes and allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices from drug companies. He reminded his supporters that he asked Congress to suspend the federal gas tax in February, at the beginning of the 2022 energy price hike.
“Someone must have been listening,” Warnock said, because Georgia’s Republican administration suspended the state gas tax in March and “the president of the United States now officially says we should suspend the gas tax” nationwide.
Warnock reminded reporters that he came out on top when Biden’s budget plans called for closing the Pentagon’s combat readiness center in Savannah. “I took on the administration” and “a terrible idea,” Warnock said, taking a position that aligns him with Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation.
In addition, he said he is “pressuring the President of the United States right now” to cancel student loans for some borrowers. Biden’s Education Department has already eased some rules on debt repayment, and the president is still considering more general forgiveness up to a cap. The White House has said a decision on the amount could come in August.
In the Walker camp, Gitcho loves the idea of Warnock replaying scenes from the two-month-old runoff, when Biden twice traveled to Georgia and shared stages with Warnock and Ossoff. “The best replacement Warnock could have,” he said of the embattled president. “But we know that won’t happen.”
Warnock, on the other hand, seems ready to brandish his party credentials carefully. In fundraising solicitations and online ads, Warnock says he’s “running to keep Georgia blue.” But the campaign is targeting those trusted Democratic voters.
Standing in front of birthday cakes and candles, the senator fondly recalled his victory in the second round and thanked the Georgians who “gave us the narrowest majority”.
“Think about what would have happened if it had been the other way around,” he allowed. But in his crescendo 15 minutes later, the Baptist minister was bigger, and perhaps into a potentially decisive middle.
“We are a nation,” he said, raising his voice. “We are one people. And in November, Georgia will do it once again.”
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