Tuesday’s Georgia runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker once again puts antisemitism and the Jewish vote in the spotlight, as Democrats seek to pad their narrow Senate majority following the midterms.
The race was among the most highly monitored during the midterms cycle due to controversies related to Walker’s personal life and the apparent lack of impact these had on his electoral prospects as the Republicans unsuccessfully sought to flip the Senate.
Kanye West’s antisemitic tirades were beginning to make national headlines prior to the midterms, and Walker’s critics used his failure to condemn the rapper as an attack point amid rising antisemitism.
Thanks to Georgia’s electoral system, where a 50-percent majority is required to avoid a runoff, Walker averted the fate met by many GOP candidates endorsed by Donald Trump. However, Warnock has only gained momentum over the past month, with polling indicating that he leads among both likely and independent voters. The Democratic candidate has also significantly outraised and outspent Walker.
Both candidates are hoping to capture the crucial Jewish vote in a state where Jews vote disproportionately to their makeup of the general population – highlighting the importance of the Black-Jewish alliance that helped propel Warnock and fellow Democrat Sen. Jon Ossoff to victory in 2020.
Georgia has 100,000 registered Jewish voters, 36,000 of whom identify as Democrats and a further 50,000 as independents – numbers that are crucial to a state that narrowly made Warnock and Ossoff its first-ever Black and Jewish senators.
Walker has continued to embrace Trump over the past month, despite the former president’s waning local popularity. Local officials are tempering expectations, with Democratic early-voting turnout remaining high and rain predicted on Election Day, when the GOP will need heavy in-person voting to flip the seat.
In another sign of low GOP hopes, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp – who soundly won reelection over Democrat Stacey Abrams last month – did not campaign with Walker on the final weekend ahead of the runoff.
Walker has faced the same problems as other Trump-backed Republicans concerning proximity to antisemitism, which has only ratcheted up since Trump hosted West and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes at his Mar-a-Lago home a few weeks ago.
The GOP candidate came under fire last year when a film producer due to host a pro-Walker fundraiser was revealed to have displayed an anti-vaccine symbol in the shape of a swastika on her Twitter profile. His campaign initially botched its condemnation, saying it was “clearly an anti-mandatory vaccination graphic,” while noting Walker “unequivocally opposes antisemitism and bigotry of all kinds.” The campaign would soon reverse course and cancel the fundraiser.
He also attracted criticism for invoking his devotion to Jesus during a candidate forum with local Republican Jewish voters, and Georgia Republicans circulated a fundraising email for Warnock centering around criticisms of George Soros – a frequent target of antisemitic tropes by Republican lawmakers.
Both candidates have highlighted the Black-Jewish alliance. In 2020, Walker co-authored an op-ed for Fox News calling on Blacks and Jews to combat racism and antisemitism together. In it, he criticized Black celebrities for espousing conspiracy theories aimed at Jews, and other celebrities for remaining apathetic in the face of such antisemitism.
Warnock, for his part, made the alliance a central tenet of his 2020 campaign. He connected the 1958 bombing of the Temple – a Reform synagogue in Atlanta attacked over its congregation’s support of the civil rights movement – to how the Black and Jewish communities came together after the 2018 Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh and last year’s George Floyd protests.
Republicans, however, have targeted Warnock as “one of the most anti-Israel Democrats in Congress.” Much of that belief is rooted in attacks against Warnock from his first Senate campaign concerning his signature on a 2019 letter criticizing “the heavy militarization of the West Bank,” which was “reminiscent” of the way apartheid-era South Africa governed the colony of Namibia.
Warnock strongly came out against the BDS movement and conditioning military aid to Israel while promoting a two-state solution – a posture he maintained during his two years in office.
Making the difference
The Jewish-Democratic establishment has come out in full force in hopes of bolstering Warnock. Pro-Israel, liberal group J Street has raised $426,000 for Warnock this cycle, including the runoff, and ran a phone bank during its annual conference in Washington, which ended Tuesday.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America, unlike most races in which it involves itself, is centering Warnock’s Israel policy in its efforts, highlighting how he has been an advocate for the U.S.-Israel relationship since being elected.
It spent over $250,000 ahead of the runoff on two online ads targeting Georgia’s Jewish voters, focusing on his commitment to Jewish values – notably including defense of democracy.
It has made direct voter contact with nearly 30,000 Georgians, and also hosted a phone and text bank for Warnock the night before Election Day, moderated by political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen and featuring Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Pennsylvania Gov.-Elect Josh Shapiro.
“Just as it did during the midterms, the Jewish vote will help to determine the outcome of the Georgia Senate runoff and make the difference in support of Sen. Warnock. We are confident that these ads, combined with our outreach efforts, will help to deliver this 51st Senate seat to Democrats in December,” said Jewish Democrats’ CEO Halie Soifer.
Democratic Majority for Israel’s PAC invested in Warnock’s runoff efforts as well, focusing on his record on Israel and antisemitism.
“Two years ago, Rev. Warnock met with our leadership and gave us his commitment to advance the Biden-Harris agenda and support a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. He has delivered on that commitment, and we strongly believe his continued vision and leadership in the Senate will serve Georgians and all Americans well,” said DMFI PAC Chairman Mark Mellman.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, meanwhile, is maintaining its support for Walker. “RJC is deploying our entire Victory Team to the Peach State to support Herschel Walker for U.S. Senate. RJC volunteers are already conducting extensive Jewish grassroots outreach – making phone calls, knocking on doors, sending text messages,” RJC National Political Director Sam Markstein said.
“Utilizing the most advanced, cutting-edge data operation in Jewish politics, RJC will be actively turning out Jewish voters for Herschel Walker and defeat Raphael Warnock – a rubber stamp for the disastrous Biden agenda that has resulted in skyrocketing costs of living, an unprecedented rise in crime, and foreign policy that has abandoned Israel and emboldened Iran.” Markstein added.
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