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Opinion Runoff results show why Georgia should be a 2024 early primary state

Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker takes photos with supporters during a tailgate party outside the SEC championship game between Georgia and LSU in Atlanta on Dec. 3. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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The reelection of Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) in Tuesday’s runoff testifies to the discernment of Georgia voters and offers a refreshing reminder that character still counts. Republicans won every other Georgia statewide race last month, but about 200,000 citizens who voted for Gov. Brian Kemp (R) refused to support GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker. Most Georgians, especially his fellow Black Americans, were embarrassed by the former football star’s ignorance and incoherence on the issues, disturbing allegations of hypocrisy on abortion and a history of domestic violence accusations.

Former president Donald Trump saddled Republicans with this nominee, despite widespread warnings that Mr. Walker was unelectable. Mr. Trump deserves as much blame as anyone for his party’s failure to win back the Senate. Historical trends and the national environment should have made it easier.

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The runoff results add to the evidence that the Peach State has turned purple. In 2020, Mr. Trump became the first Republican presidential nominee to lose Georgia in 28 years. His dishonest denial of that defeat led to the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. Less remembered is that Mr. Trump’s campaign to cast doubt on the integrity of the election also depressed Republican turnout in Georgia’s runoffs the day before — costing the party two Senate seats and control of the chamber.

Tellingly, Mr. Walker didn’t campaign with Mr. Trump during the general election or runoff. Mr. Walker’s advisers concluded, correctly, that a visit by the former president would motivate Democrats more than Republicans. It would have also made it harder to woo college-educated suburban voters who backed Mr. Kemp last month but not Mr. Walker.

David Von Drehle: The tragedy of Herschel Walker

People in both parties rewarded Mr. Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) for resisting presidential pressure to “find” votes that didn’t exist. Both defeated Trump-backed primary challengers in May and secured second terms in November. And turnout remained high despite hyperbolic warnings by President Biden and other Democrats that updated voting rules amounted to Jim Crow 2.0.

Georgia, with 11 million residents and 16 electoral votes, is becoming in American politics what Ohio and Florida used to be: a genuinely competitive battleground. The state is more reflective of the United States than Iowa, which through poorly administered caucuses squandered any claim to its role as the starting gate of the quadrennial nominating process. This is why we applaud the Democratic National Committee’s move last week to make Georgia an early primary state, following South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire.

Mr. Raffensperger is pouring cold water on this proposal. His office wants Republicans and Democrats to vote on the same day. The Republican National Committee has no plans to adjust its nominating calendar or change its rules for 2024, which means that Georgia could be stripped of GOP delegates if it skips the line to vote before Super Tuesday.

It’s understandable that Mr. Raffensperger doesn’t want Republicans in his state to hold less sway over picking the party’s nominee. But we predict the outcome would be the opposite. If Georgia schedules early presidential primaries, candidates in both parties would almost certainly invest time and resources there, even if fewer delegates were available to Republicans. A primary win in Georgia would send a signal that a candidate has broad appeal — and, ultimately, that they would be a credible contender as a party’s standard-bearer in the 2024 general election.

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