Lee Zeldin has a lesson for Georgia Republicans. The Long Island congressman may not have defeated Gov. Kathy Hochul, but he brought out the red in a deep-blue state. In New York that made the difference in numerous congressional and state legislative races.
In Republican-leaning Georgia, the Zeldin strategy is what can elect Herschel Walker to the US Senate.
Walker and his team know what the lesson is, but the obvious needs repeating. All liberal-leaning media tell Republicans day and night, from the Empire State to the Peach State, that elections are really about Donald Trump and abortion. It’s a psych-out.
If Republicans listen to the liberal chorus, they’ll believe that voters have already decided against them — that they just can’t win in this environment.
And if Republicans buy the premise but not the conclusion, they risk sending a mixed message as they try to appeal to a pro-Trump and anti-abortion base while also reaching for independent voters, especially single women, who are anti-Trump and want abortion to be legal.
Zeldin avoided the trap. And Walker shouldn’t fall for it when Democrats bring up his troubled personal history to get him to talk more about abortion. The issue that maximized turnout for Republicans in New York was crime. That’s what will draw out the GOP vote in Georgia, too.
Republicans and red-leaning independents who may be divided about Trump or abortion have absolute clarity on crime. City voters and suburban women who might otherwise write off the Republican Party pay attention when it talks about the mayhem in our streets — and how Democrats foster more of it.
Walker’s election is critical because Republican numbers in the Senate will determine whether President Joe Biden can pack the federal judiciary. If Walker wins Georgia’s Dec. 6 runoff, the Senate remains 50-50. Democrats would just barely retain control, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.
But their ambitions would be checked by the need to work with Republicans on keeping the chamber operating without a regular majority. Biden’s judicial nominees would remain under close scrutiny, and the president will have little chance to appoint judges who are tougher on cops and crime victims than they are on perpetrators of violence.
With a 51-seat Senate majority, on the other hand, Democrats would be unchecked, and Biden would have more power to reshape the federal bench than he’s had these first two years in office. The Democratic Party’s radical left still wouldn’t get everything on its wish list — but it would get more than it can now, and the consequences for the justice system would be dreadful.
Georgia is still a red state, as Gov. Brian Kemp’s 53-46 re-election victory over Stacey Abrams in this month’s midterms proved. The voters who backed Kemp over a champion of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing have every reason to support Walker in the Senate runoff.
The national media would like to make the runoff about Trump’s endorsement of Walker and Walker’s private life. But what’s actually at stake is a check on progressive plans for the criminal-justice system. If Georgia voters give Biden a Senate majority by re-electing Sen. Raphael Warnock, they’ll wind up with policies more like Abrams’ than Kemp’s. And so will the rest of us.
Even a blue state like New York was moved by Lee Zeldin’s tough-on-crime and tough-on-enablers-of-crime message. He was fighting a steep uphill battle against Hochul, yet he gained ground and forced her to sweat for her victory. Imagine what that spirit and message can do in a Republican state like Georgia. It can defeat Raphael Warnock and stop the Senate from becoming an accessory to criminal injustice.
Herschel Walker will not have an easy time. The 2022 midterms were favorable to incumbents of all stripes, and Warnock is counting on Republican divisions and distractions to keep the GOP from uniting behind his challenger. Walker is renowned for his football career but has struggled to translate fame into political charisma. Yet for all that, victory will be his if his campaign has the clarity and resolve of Lee Zeldin’s effort in a much more liberal environment.
Even blue states, blue cities, and blue demographics have red votes to turn out when Republicans put crime on the ballot. In New York that wins seats in the state Assembly and Senate — and Congress. In Georgia, it’s the way to win a US Senate runoff.
Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review.