The Political Report – December 8, 2022

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock won a full six-year term by defeating Republican Herschel Walker in Tuesday’s runoff in Georgia, a victory that gives his party an outright 51-49 majority in the upper chamber. Warnock​ leads 51.4-48.6 with the Associated Press estimating that​ 99% of the vote is tailed.

While Democratic control of the Senate was assured once it became clear that Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto had secured a second term last month, the stakes were still high in Georgia. Warnock’s win leaves his caucus far less reliant on its least reliable members, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, and gives the party some welcome breathing room ahead of a tough 2024 map. Democrats will also hold majorities on previously tied committees, which will allow them to issue subpoenas without any Republican support and speed up procedures for bringing judicial nominations to the floor.

Warnock, who became Georgia’s first African American senator after he won a special election runoff in January of last year, edged out Walker 49-48 on Nov. 8, which was just below the majority that the Peach State requires to avert a runoff because of a 1964 law originally designed to undermine Black voters. The following four weeks saw the incumbent and his allies massively outspend Walker’s side in a contest that took place as two of the most prominent GOP groups, the NRSC and the Senate Leadership Fund, were openly feuding with one another.

Democratic ads emphasized the many scandals surrounding Walker, including allegations that the former University of Georgia football legend had threatened to kill both his ex-wife and son and had pressured two former girlfriends to have abortions. Other spots focused on Walker’s own embarrassing behavior during the campaign, including a rambling speech in which he declared, “I don’t want to be a vampire anymore. I want to be a werewolf.”

Warnock also worked to tie Walker to Donald Trump, who helped saddle his party with its disastrous nominee in the first place when he convinced the longtime Texas resident to return to Georgia to run for office. Conservative commentator Erick Erickson told Politico in the days leading up to the runoff, “There is a palpable sense of frustration with Georgia Republicans who saw their entire statewide slate win except the guy Trump convinced to get into the race, and there is a lingering sense of frustration that anyone else would have won, and Herschel’s baggage weighed him down.”

Walker’s side, in addition to running its own ads trying to call Warnock’s character into question, pushed back with several ads starring Gov. Brian Kemp, who decisively won re-election last month. Kemp, though, didn’t seem to want to associate himself with Walker’s chaotic effort any more than he actually had to, as he didn’t campaign with his party’s nominee during the final week of the runoff.

Warnock’s win makes this the first midterm since 1962 where Democrats netted Senate seats while controlling the White House; that previous election took place just days after John F. Kennedy successfully resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis. And until now, the last midterm where the president’s party didn’t lose a single Senate seat was 1934, when Franklin Roosevelt was in charge. This was also the first time since FDR’s first midterm that the president’s party netted both Senate and gubernatorial seats.

NBC News: “That strong turnout was the key to Warnock’s victory, as the Democrat improved his results in almost two-thirds of Georgia’s 159 counties. The biggest improvements came in Stewart and Johnson counties, where Warnock’s share of the vote rose by more than 5 percentage points.”

“Warnock did better even in Republican areas of the state, as he improved his vote margin in 77 counties that voted for his GOP challenger, former football star Herschel Walker, in November’s election. Warnock also flipped two counties, Baldwin and Washington.”

“For decades, Florida and Ohio reigned supreme over presidential politics. The two states relished their role crowning presidents and spawning political clichés. Industrial Cleveland faced off against white-collar Cincinnati, the Midwestern snowbirds of the Villages against the Puerto Rican diaspora of the Orlando suburbs,” the New York Times reports.

“But the Georgia runoff, the final note of the 2022 midterm elections, may have said goodbye to all that. The Marietta moms are in charge now.”

Ron Brownstein: “Sen. Raphael Warnock’s win in yesterday’s Georgia Senate runoff capped a commanding show of strength by Democrats in the states that decided the 2020 race for the White House—and will likely pick the winner again in 2024.”

“With Warnock’s victory over Republican Herschel Walker, Democrats have defeated every GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidate endorsed by Donald Trump this year in the five states that flipped from supporting him in 2016 to backing Joe Biden in 2020: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona.”

Herschel Walker’s son, Christian, took aim at his father after his election loss, claiming Donald Trump convinced Herschel to run despite everyone else’s pleas against it.

Said the younger Walker: “Don’t beat women, hold guns to peoples heads, fund abortions then pretend you’re pro-life, stalk cheerleaders, leave your multiple minor children alone to chase more fame, lie, lie, lie, say stupid crap, and make a fool of your family. And then maybe you can win a senate seat.”

NBC News: “The GOP cavalry never really showed up for Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia’s upcoming Senate runoff — or if it did, it was with far fewer horses than we saw in November’s general election.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said that Herschel Walker (R) lost the Senate runoff in Georgia because his campaign team didn’t want her to speak at any of his campaign events, which she “found extremely insulting.”

Josh Marshall: “I’m a bit of a broken record on this. But it’s true enough to bear some repeating. Raphael Warnock and Mark Kelly are two incredibly able politicians. Until 2018 and 2020 Democrats hadn’t been elected to Senate seats in Arizona and Georgia for decades. They’ve now both done it twice, in two consecutive cycles and under dramatically different political conditions. Of course, these aren’t feats of superhuman political powers. This is the direction of these states. But they are only on the cusp of being purple states. To chalk up two consecutive wins you need to be doing everything right. And both of them did.”

“Should’ve been clear in the 2020 election and runoffs and even clearer when Kemp trounced his primary opponent earlier this year — Georgia has grown impervious to President Trump’s charms. If he’s on a future ballot there I’d count the state in the blue column (again).”— GOP strategist Matt Whitlock, on Twitter.

“Georgia may be remembered as the state that broke Trump once and for all.” — Republican strategist Scott Jennings, on Twitter.

Playbook: “Over the past 30 months, Raphael Warnock has won a Senate primary, got the most votes in two general elections and won two runoffs. On Tuesday night, he finally won a full six-year term in the United States Senate.”

“A lot has been said about how flawed a candidate that Warnock’s opponent, Herschel Walker, was. (A lot.) And so much of the conversation and coverage of Georgia’s election centered on what it would mean for the power of a current and a former president.”

“But Warnock’s three-point win Tuesday underscored his own talents and cemented the 53-year-old pastor as one of the nation’s most compelling and effective Democratic politicians…”

“Warnock heads back to Capitol Hill with his political stock at a new high. While Georgia’s runoff system is uniquely exhausting and historically suspect, it has redounded to Warnock’s benefit: Saturation coverage of two consecutive runoffs has made him one of the most recognizable United States senators in the country.”

Punchbowl News: “This also closes the book on a utterly disastrous cycle for Senate Republicans and former President Donald Trump. Despite a favorable political landscape, a first-term president stumbling in the polls and hundreds of millions of dollars in TV ads, Republicans squandered chances to pick up winnable seats in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and New Hampshire. Trump-backed candidates lost all those races.”

“Maybe nowhere was that more evident than the Peach State, where Trump recruited Walker to run. Trump’s endorsement and his status as a Georgia football icon got Walker through the GOP primary pretty easily.”

“But an unending stream of scandals involving Walker’s personal life, coupled with his subpar performance as a candidate, doomed his campaign.”

Cook Political Report: “Now, every single Senate incumbent — most notably the quartet of first-term Democrats who seemed particularly vulnerable just a year ago — has won re-election.”

“That’s a first in American history since the direct election of senators. The last cycle when no incumbent lost re-election in the general election was in 1914 — the first under the newly-ratified 17th Amendment. However, that year two incumbents did lose in primaries.”

“And it marks the first time that our final Toss Up races split 100 percent toward the same party. There is no equivocating — this was a completely and totally disappointing midterm for Senate Republicans and a huge indictment on Trump, Trumpism and the mutually assured destruction the former president insists on taking the party even as he’s still myopically focused on the 2020 election and his bogus claims of fraud.”

Jonathan Bernstein: “For a non-negligible minority of Americans, the biggest political story of the moment isn’t who won last night’s runoff in Georgia. It’s the supposed conspiracy to suppress the truth about corrupt business dealings by President Joe Biden’s son Hunter.”

“The crusade against the younger Biden is easy to dismiss as yet another trumped up narrative designed to keep Fox News viewers engaged. But the continued obsession with fringe theories and paranoid claims helps explain why Republicans have wound up with so many embarrassing and unsuccessful candidates, culminating in the defeat Tuesday of Senate hopeful Herschel Walker in his attempt to unseat Democrat Raphael Warnock.”

“While former President Donald Trump has made the bad-candidate problem worse — he did, after all, personally recruit Walker, and he frequently tried to boost the nomination chances of candidates who ran poorly in November — the underlying supply-side and demand-side problems were there before Trump, and they aren’t going away even if the former president finally does. And the predicament is making it harder for Republicans to govern effectively when they do win.”

“Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida whose resounding reelection victory last month established him as a possible contender for his party’s 2024 presidential nomination, is huddling with some of his top donors this month as he charts his plans for the future,” the Washington Post reports.

“Invitations went out this week for an ‘intimate dinner’ on Dec. 11 in Miami with DeSantis and his wife.”

A 2020 Donald Trump adviser tells CNN: “So far, he has gone down from his bedroom, made an announcement, gone back up to his bedroom and hasn’t been seen since except to have dinner with a White supremacist.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) announced he will not be challenging Ronna McDaniel for Republican National Committee chair.

Said Zeldin: “I won’t be running for RNC Chair at this time with McDaniel’s reelection pre-baked by design, but that doesn’t mean she should even be running again.”

He added: “Republican voters already believe that Washington, D.C. is an irredeemable swamp. They will be proven right, yet again, if Chairwoman McDaniel moves forward with running for a fourth term, despite her prior pledge not to do so.”

Erick Erickson: “No RNC Chair in the history of the whole party, beginning in 1856, has lasted as long as Ronna McDaniel without seeing at least one winning election season.”

“The GOP has lost every election cycle since she took the job in 2017.”

Thomas Edsall: “How, in a matter of less than a decade, could this once-proud country have evolved to the point at which there is a serious debate over choosing a presidential candidate who is a lifelong opportunist, a pathological and malignant narcissist, a sociopath, a serial liar, a philanderer, a tax cheat who does not pay his bills, a man who socializes with Holocaust deniers, who has pardoned his criminal allies, who encouraged a violent insurrection, who, behind a wall of bodyguards, is a coward, and who, without remorse, continuously undermines American democracy?”

“Jill Biden, the first lady, told President Emmanuel Macron of France at the White House state dinner last week that she and her husband are ready for his re-election campaign, according to two people with knowledge of the discussion. President Biden then joined the French president and the first lady in a playful toast,” the New York Times reports.

“It was a lighthearted moment — and Mr. Biden still intends to make a formal decision about whether he will run again after the holiday season — but the fact that the Bidens were willing to signal to an important foreign ally about the president’s plans hints at how committed they are to a second term.”

“The interaction also offered a window into the thinking of Dr. Biden, who has been held up as a decisive voice in her husband’s deliberations.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) said he has no plans to run for president in 2024, Florida Politics reports.

Said Scott: “I have no plans to run for President and I have a 100% plan to run for the U.S. Senate.”

He added: “I’m running for re-election for Senator from the great state of Florida. I will, you know, work my butt off for the next two years for my re-election.”

Ross Douthat: “Like a miracle sports team, the ’69 Mets or this year’s Moroccan World Cup soccer squad, Trump earned himself a storehouse of belief with his stunning upset in 2016. That the Republican Party then lost the House in 2018 — well, that was to be expected, since incumbent parties generally struggle in the midterms. That the G.O.P. lost the presidency in 2020 — well, there was a plague, mass protests, rejiggered election rules and a general atmosphere of craziness, and anyway the polls were wrong and Trump almost pulled it out in the Electoral College, the miracle juice still there but just not quite enough.”

“But to disappoint again in 2022, in a context where many Republicans expected to do extremely well — and more, to have so many of Trump’s preferred candidates flop while less other Republicans won easily — well, at a certain point the memory of 2016 fades, and the storehouse of faith and good will is depleted.”

Matt Lewis: Republicans are losers if they continue using same playbook.

No Labels, an advocacy group laying the groundwork for a unity ticket presidential campaign in 2024, is in turmoil, Politico reports.

“Interviews with 14 former employees—including five who left in the last few months—and four other people familiar with No Labels reveals a cutthroat culture, one where staffers are routinely fired or pushed out, have little trust in management, and believe the workplace environment can be difficult for minority and female colleagues.”

“The internal discord threatens to hamper the well-financed plans that the group has for the next election.”

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