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Obama says 'democracy on the ballot' in Georgia early voting rally

Former President Barack Obama cast voting for Democrats in this year's midterm elections as necessary to save democracy while campaigning for Sen. Raphael Warnock and gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams in Georgia Friday.

"Democracy is not self-executing," he said. "It depends on us working, nurturing, caring for it not just on Election Day, but every day in between. It depends on us as citizens saying 'This matters!' This election matters, Georgia."

Obama delivered a winding address that served as a closing message for Democrats in several key battleground states, acknowledging the impact of inflation, rising crime and other issues salient with voters while painting the election as a referendum on the future of America.

"There may be a lot of issues at stake in this election," he said. "But the basic question, fundamental question that you should be asking yourself right now is 'Who will fight for you? Who cares about you, who sees you, who believes in you? That's the choice in this election."

He warned that a Republican majority in the House and Senate could gut abortion rights and potentially target other rights like same-sex marriage in future years.

"If that's not worth 15 minutes of your time, I don't know what is," Obama said.

Typically the party in power suffers losses in midterm years, and Obama told the crowded arena next to Atlanta's airport that the tough national environment should not discourage them from voting early in this year's election.

"I get why people are anxious, I get why you might be worried," he said. "I understand why it might be tempting sometimes just to watch football or Dancing with the Stars. I'm here to tell you that tuning out is not an option."

The former president's visit comes during the final weekend of in-person early voting in Georgia ahead of the heaviest typical turnout. More than 1.38 million Georgians have already cast their ballots in the 2022 election, shattering in-person early voting records for a midterm and approaching levels of enthusiasm typically reserved for presidential years.

So far, early voting data from the Georgia Secretary of State's office shows an electorate that is older and Blacker than similar points in previous elections and nearly 5% of the early voters are either newly registered or sat out the 2018, 2020 and 2021 elections.

Control of the Senate could run through Georgia again

Warnock is locked in one of the closely contested Senate races in the country against Trump-backed Republican Herschel Walker after Warnock and fellow Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff narrowly won Jan. 2021 runoffs to flip control of the U.S. Senate.

Now, the road to a Senate majority may run once again through the Peach State, as polls show a tight race that could lead to a Dec. 6 runoff if neither candidate earns a majority in November, as Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver is also polling in the low single digits.

"We're turning out because we know that democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea," Warnock, the pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta said Friday. "The vote is a sacred thing, your ballot is a bloodstained ballot. By all means, use it and make sure everybody you know uses it."

Warnock's campaign has leaned into his brief time in the Senate so far, touting work to lower health care costs for seniors and bipartisan initiatives with colleagues like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

At the campaign rally, though, Warnock pivoted his message from achievements to attacks on Walker's character and campaign dogged by revelations of falsehoods about his personal story and professional record.

"This is a man who lies about the most basic facts of his life," Warnock said. "And we all saw it with our own eyes – he wears his lies, quite literally, as a badge of honor. If we can't trust him to tell the truth about his life, how can we trust him to protect our lives and our families and our children and our jobs and our future?"

The final days of the Senate race have been roiled by allegations from a second woman that Walker, a staunch abortion opponent, pressured her to get an abortion and paid for it.

A rematch four years in the making

Abrams faces a much tougher road in a rematch against Gov. Brian Kemp after narrowly losing by about 55,000 votes in 2018. Kemp has run a campaign on Georgia's thriving economy and a first term that includes teacher pay raises, record budget surpluses and one of the earliest reopenings after widespread closures because of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The former state House minority leader has centered her second campaign around her signature issue of Medicaid expansion and the argument that Republican leadership in the state has left behind voters from both parties.

"Every election is a choice, and for so long, they've tried to make us believe that it's a choice between parties or personalities," Abrams said. "This time we know it's different. This time it's an election about the choice between someone who attacks our freedoms and someone who will protect our freedoms."

Kemp has led in nearly every poll for much of the campaign, and will be joined by former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in the final days of the campaign.

A closing message for Democrats

Obama's services as a campaign surrogate have been in high demand in recent elections, both in Georgia and nationally, as President Joe Biden's favorability has lagged amidst rough economic headwinds.

Ahead of the 2018 governor's race, he rallied for Abrams and assailed Republicans for "trying to scare you with all kinds of divisive issues" and less than 24 hours before Election Day in 2020 visited Georgia because it represented "the place where we put this country back on track."

Now in the closing days of 2022 he is visiting Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and Pennsylvania as Democrats hope to retain their Senate majority and win governorships in a national environment that has typically favored Republicans but has seen weaker GOP candidates in key races.

"Democrats aren't perfect, I'm the first one to admit it," he said. "Politicians just like all of us can make mistakes. But right now, with a few notable exceptions most of the GOP – and a whole bunch of these candidates – are not even pretending that the rules apply to them anymore.

Before leaving the stage, Obama reiterated the importance of showing up to vote for all candidates, including those running for offices like Secretary of State - offices that play a role running elections.

"It's not enough to elect Democrats at the top of the ticket," Obama said. "We need to elect good people up and down the ballot. Across the country, some of the folks who tried to undermine our democracy are running for offices that will oversee the next election. And if they win, there's no telling what might happen."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.