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U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is slightly ahead of Republican Herschel Walker in the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of a race that could decide control of the Senate, while Gov. Brian Kemp has an apparent lead over Democrat Stacey Abrams in a rematch for Georgia's top office.

The AJC poll is the latest that suggests a split-ticket dynamic may be emerging in Georgia's two marquee races, with a small but crucial bloc of voters indicating they're willing to cross party lines to cast ballots for both the incumbents in the nationally watched contests.

In his second election against Abrams, Kemp leads the Democrat 48% to 43% with an additional 7% of likely voters who haven't made up their minds. A statistically insignificant number of voters back Libertarian Shane Hazel and Al Bartell, an independent candidate.

Warnock edges Walker 46% to 43% in his bid for a full six-year term, with about 3% of voters indicating they'll support Libertarian Chase Oliver. About 8% say they're still undecided about the race, which is likely to be among the costliest in the nation.

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Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., joins Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to speak to reporters after the Senate advanced a $280 billion bill designed to boost the U.S. semiconductor industry and to accelerate high tech research that backers say will be critical to the economy in future decades, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

"Both of these races are very close statistically," said Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political scientist who conducted the poll.

"There's a long way to go before the general election, but a trend is emerging with recent polls: Kemp is consistently polling ahead of Abrams and Warnock is polling ahead of Walker."

Warnock's slim lead is one of the only bright spots for Democrats in the poll. Republicans are in better shape in the down-ticket races.

President Joe Biden's approval rating is underwater, with about 60% of voters disapproving of his performance and about 36% who give him a favorable review.

And more than three-quarters of likely voters — 78% — say the country is on the wrong track while only 10% say it's headed in the right direction. The pessimism pervades every bloc of voters regardless of ideology, age, financial standing or educational background.

The poll of 902 likely voters was conducted July 14-22 and has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points. It was conducted by UGA's School of Policy and International Affairs.

It's the first AJC poll since the May primary and June runoff decided candidates in Georgia's statewide races, and it offered a vivid portrait of the mood of the electorate in one of the nation's premier battleground states just months before the election.

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Herschel Walker, the Republican nominee for the state's U.S. Senate seat, takes questions from the media after a campaign event on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Athens, Ga. (Miguel Martinez/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

 

Economy, guns and abortion

Facing high energy prices and soaring inflation, the poll found that half of Georgia voters said rising costs were an "extremely important" factor in their vote. Gun violence and abortion were also top issues on voters' minds.

One reason that the economy outweighs other concerns: A majority of voters show that prices that have climbed 9.1% from a year earlier have had a "significant, negative" impact on the lives of Georgians. An additional 35% said it was a noticeable factor in their daily lives.

The economic woes have also dented Biden's approval ratings, which have suffered from a lapse of support from middle-of-the-road voters. While only about one-fifth of Democrats disapprove of his track record, roughly two-thirds of independents give him poor marks.

Voters are more split over whether Democrats should retain control of Congress, with 46% saying they want the GOP to take the legislative branch while 41% want Democrats to hold their advantages. About 12% are undecided.

In the lieutenant governor race, Republican Burt Jones edges Democrat Charlie Bailey by 41% to 36%, with 7% backing Libertarian Ryan Graham and an additional 16% undecided. One-third of independents say they haven't made up their minds yet.

In the contest for secretary of state, Republican incumbent Brad Raffensperger, best known nationally for rejecting then-President Donald Trump's demand to reverse his defeat in Georgia, leads Democrat Bee Nguyen 46% to 32%. That includes 16% of Democrats who indicate they'll cross party lines to back him.

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This combination of 2022 and 2021 file photos shows Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and gubernatorial Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

 

'Holding my nose'

The poll was the latest to detect a split-ticket trend at the top of the ballot, indicating that roughly 4% of Kemp voters are supporting Warnock and 4% are backing a third-party contender. An additional 9% say they're on the fence.

Hood, the UGA political scientist, said the undecided Georgians could wind up backing Walker or sitting it out. But, he added, "even a small number of defections and roll-offs could matter in a tight race."

Rob Cliatt, a small business owner in Evans, counts himself among the reluctant Walker supporters.

"I don't like Warnock. He isn't who he says he is. But to be honest with you, I don't know enough about Walker," he said. "I'd probably rather have him over the Democrat because there's too many things that Warnock stands for that I don't. I'm holding my nose and voting for Walker."

Kemp's edge is largely thanks to a giant gender gap. While Abrams leads the governor 51% to 33% among female voters, Kemp has an advantage with men of 57% to 41%. He also has solid leads among voters 45 and older, while Abrams is polling better with younger voters.

The two rivals, meanwhile, polled roughly even among independent voters, a bloc that once voted reliably Republican but migrated during Trump's rise to power. They also make up the large segment of undecided voters, with 28% of independents saying they still haven't decided.

Joanna Finkelstein is among those voters. She sees herself as a conservative and supports expanded gun rights. But she also backs protecting abortion rights, an issue that she agrees with Democrats on. Still, she said she plans to vote for Kemp in November.

"We voted for who aligned with as many tic marks as we can get, but we're not happy with everybody," said Finkelstein, a Coweta County resident who works part time doing accounting work. "Our governor is doing a good job. He's OK-ish."

By contrast, Warnock holdsheld a solid lead of 38% to 27% over Walker among independents in the Senate contest, with only about one-fifth undecided. DeAundrea Stephens, who runs a nonprofit and works several part-time jobs, said she made her mind up early.

"We just need to give Warnock a chance to finish it out," said Stephens, a Douglasville resident who plans to vote Democratic down the ticket in November. "I don't want Herschel anywhere near the Senate. He's just another mouthpiece for Donald Trump."

Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.

 

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