ATLANTA — Former president Barack Obama will headline a rally for Sen. Raphael G. Warnock on Thursday aimed at energizing Democratic voters ahead of the Dec. 6 Georgia runoff against Republican Herschel Walker.
This is the second trip to the Peach State for Obama, who was widely viewed as the surrogate of choice for Democratic candidates across the country in the midterms. He is the most high-profile Democrat to stump for Warnock, who has had few national members of his party join him on the campaign trail.
By contrast, top Republicans have been descending on the state throughout the general election and the runoff to try to boost Walker, a Georgia football legend whose candidacy has been beset with controversy.
Obama’s visit comes in the final days of one of the most contentious, tight and expensive Senate races this year. Both parties have spent aggressively to boost their candidates in the general election and now the runoff. It’s the final Senate contest and could strengthen Democrats’ majority in the upper chamber.
Neither President Biden nor former president Donald Trump, who encouraged Walker to challenge Warnock, is expected to come to Georgia before Tuesday’s election.
Warnock received about 36,000 more votes than Walker during the general election, but fell short of garnering the 50 percent needed to win outright under Georgia law, triggering the runoff election. Obama’s mission on Thursday was to energize the Democratic base, as early voting ends Friday. More than 1.1 million Georgians had voted in the runoff as of Thursday morning, and daily in-person early turnout has been at historic highs.
“Obama is by far the most popular and influential Democrat nationally that we have. Him coming can only increase enthusiasm and focus attention on the task at hand, which is to get as many people as possible” out to vote, said Michael Thurmond, chief executive of DeKalb County and a Democrat. “You could have no better surrogate and motivator in chief coming to Georgia.”
Walker, for his part, has frequently appeared at campaign events and in TV interviews flanked by Republican lawmakers and leaders ahead of the general election and again for the runoff. His campaign has been dogged by allegations of violence and domestic abuse, and that he paid for two former girlfriends to have abortions, even as he has campaigned as a staunch opponent of abortion. In the final days of the campaign he has faced renewed questions about his residency status in Texas and Georgia.
Walker on Thursday had been scheduled to campaign with former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, but Walker’s campaign said Pompeo was unable to make it due to a family emergency. In recent weeks, Walker has campaigned with Republicans such as Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Rick Scott (Fla.) and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, some of whom have visited the state multiple times to stand with him.
Following a campaign stop in Powder Springs, about 20 miles west of Atlanta, last week, Cruz told reporters part of the reason so many Republicans were flocking to Georgia was because of the importance of keeping the Senate 50 to 50.
“There is a big difference between a 50-50 Senate, which is what we have if Herschel wins. … If the Democrats grow their majority, they get a majority on every single committee,” Cruz said, explaining that such an advantage would allow Democrats to expedite their priorities, including approving judicial picks.
Warnock and Walker have been making a clear play for the more than 200,000 general-election voters who supported Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for reelection but did not vote for Walker. Warnock’s campaign has used Kemp-Warnock voters to tout his candidacy in their ads. Walker’s campaign and Republican groups have been emphasizing support from Kemp, who decisively defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams and largely kept his distance from Walker during the general election. Kemp appeared at a rally with Walker earlier this month and has been used in TV and mail ads supporting the former Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Georgia.
Ahead of his Thursday visit, Obama recorded a television ad in support of Warnock, who is the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was co-pastor during the civil rights movement.
“This is going to be a close race, and we can’t afford to get it wrong,” Obama said in the ad. “So make your voice heard. Please join me in supporting Raphael G. Warnock for Senate.”
During his late October appearance in Atlanta, Obama questioned whether Walker was fit to be a U.S. senator, saying it seemed Walker was a “celebrity that wants to be a politician.” Walker, in a Fox News interview, later said he would put his résumé against Obama’s “any time of the day.”
The former president is not the only Obama to wade in the Georgia runoff. Former first lady Michelle Obama taped two robocalls urging voters to cast their ballots. One is aimed at early voting and the other is an Election Day reminder for Georgians who haven’t voted by then.
“This election is going to be very close, and there are a lot of folks on the other side hoping you stay home,” the former first lady said in the early-voting robocall. “But we need you to get out and vote one more time for Raphael G. Warnock.”
A Warnock campaign spokesperson shared that not all of Warnock’s surrogates have taken the stage for rallies with him — with many instead being deployed in other ways to mobilize voters across the state. The surrogates have launched canvasses, led phone banks, produced digital content and conducted radio and television interviews in an effort to increase turnout across Georgia, the spokesperson said.
Republicans have sought to tie Warnock to Biden, who has faced low approval ratings. Walker repeatedly mentions in his campaign speeches that Warnock “votes with Biden 96 percent of the time.”
The White House has not announced any plans to travel to Georgia and declined to comment on Biden’s plans beyond highlighting a fundraiser he will attend in Boston on Friday in support of Warnock. Biden will appear at the fundraiser alongside Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (Mass.). Warnock will remain in Georgia to campaign.
Trump may hold a tele-rally for Walker but does not plan to campaign for him in Georgia, according to Trump advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal conversations. They said teams for Walker and Trump agreed it wouldn’t be helpful.
This week, Warnock and Walker have been crisscrossing the state for final rallies to drum up excitement ahead of Tuesday. On Friday, Walker will make stops for his “Evict Warnock” bus tour in Macon and Valdosta. Warnock will campaign in Hinesville and his hometown of Savannah.
Warnock also has received support from the entertainment community. Earlier this week, singer Dave Matthews headlined a concert for Warnock. The senator’s campaign sent an email to supporters on Sunday with singer-songwriter John Legend urging them to help Warnock, as “the future of our democracy is at stake in this race.”
On Wednesday night, while Warnock was hosting a rally in Columbus, Georgia Democrats held an event in Atlanta aimed at getting Latino voters out to the polls. Actors America Ferrera and Tessa Thompson and former congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), who was the first South American-born immigrant elected to the House, spoke at the event.
“Every single one of us in this room is a massive influence on our circles, in your workplace, in your families, in your classrooms,” Ferrera said to a crowd of dozens of Latino Warnock supporters as they ate pupusas at a local Latino-owned brewery. “We need to do the work of talking about the incredible representation that Senator Warnock has done for our community, how the work he has pushed forward impacts our community.”
Over the weekend, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) came to Georgia to make campaign stops with Warnock, who has also campaigned with Georgia Democrats such as Rep. Hank Johnson and Sen. Jon Ossoff. Warnock and Ossoff both won their Senate seats in the 2021 runoffs. Warnock captured the seat that was up for a special election after Sen. Johnny Isakson stepped down in 2019 over health issues. Ossoff flipped the seat that had been held by Sen. David Perdue (R) for a full six-year term that is up in 2026.
Tamar and Charleslyn Roques of Covington said they were looking forward to seeing Obama in person. They remember watching his inauguration as children in their classroom in 2008.
The sisters, who are in their early 20s, said they wish Biden and other Democrats in Washington would have come to Georgia, particularly to smaller cities outside of Atlanta, to show they care. Tamar, 22, said she would have liked to see Abrams on the campaign trail for the runoff because “even though she didn’t win, she’s still a big representative for a lot of Georgians.”
But they both said they thought it was a decision made to try not to turn off certain voters ahead of the runoff.
“I know that just given the turmoil between Republicans and Democrats it may not be as good to [have national Democrats] coming if you’re trying to pull Republican votes,” Charleslyn, 20, said. “But if they actually came down here … I think it would bring people out and would help encourage people to go out and vote.”
Mary Tapp, 42, of Sandy Springs said she was pleased to see how many Republicans in Georgia and nationally were on the campaign trail supporting Walker.
“It means a lot to all of us just to see that they’re still having a presence” after the general election, she said. “As a Republican, we’ve had some rough spots, so we just really need that unity and they need to rally us up.”
Hannah Knowles and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.