5 things to watch for in Tuesday’s Georgia Senate race



CNN

The final drama of the 2022 midterm elections comes to a head in Georgia on Tuesday, as voters in Peach State – for the second time in as many years – voted in a US Senate runoff high stakes.

Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock was the leading voter in the November general election, ahead of Republican candidate Herschel Walker, but he fell short of the majority required to win the race.

It’s now a head-to-head contest and both parties have gone all-in to bolster their ranks in the Democratic-controlled Senate and send a message ahead of the 2024 presidential election, when Georgia could once again to be a decisive pivotal state. Spending by campaigns and aligned outside groups was stratospheric and turnout, despite new state election laws allowing fewer early voting days, was robust ahead of Tuesday’s election.

As voting wraps up in Georgia one last time this year, here are five things to watch during and immediately after the runoff.

In recent weeks, Republican election officials in Georgia have touted early turnout for in-person voting. On Friday, the state again broke its single-day record, when more than 350,000 people went to the polls to vote before Election Day.

But those numbers, and the narrative around them, could ultimately be misleading. Although several days last week ended with historically high one-day tallies, the total number of early voters – compared to the 2021 election – actually fell from around 3.1 million the last year to about 1.87 million during this year’s condensed early voting period. (In this year’s general election, about 2.5 million people cast ballots before Election Day.)

The reason is simple: Under Georgia’s controversial election law, passed in the months following last year’s runoff, the time between the general election and the runoff was reduced from nine weeks to four. The reduced deadline also meant fewer early voting days and less time for voters to return mail-in ballots.

Given the obvious interest in the race, the question is whether voters accustomed to voting before Election Day will show up on Tuesday, and how this change in behavior could affect wait times and vote counting. . Difficulties at the polls are more likely to appear in urban centers, where Warnock hopes to up the score against Walker.

In the 2020 cycle, Democrats had to sweep both Senate ballots in Georgia to secure the 50-50 Senate split that, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s status as the deciding vote, would give them control. .

This time, the Democrats have already retained control, with 50 seats won last month and Georgia representing a potential 51st.

But the stakes remain high: A Warnock victory would give Democrats an outright majority, rather than requiring the power-sharing deal that is now in place. And this absolute majority would bring significant advantages to the party. Democrats would have a majority on the committees, making it easier for them to advance President Joe Biden’s nominees.

For example: the Senate Judiciary Committee, with its 22 members, would go from a split of 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans to 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans. It would remove a GOP procedural mechanism to slow the confirmation of Biden’s judicial nominees.

That’s why second-round ad spend topped $80 million, according to a CNN analysis of data from ad-tracking firm AdImpact. Democrats have outspent Republicans so far, by about $55.1 million to $25.8 million.

Walker secured the Republican nomination in Georgia largely thanks to the support of former President Donald Trump.

But Trump’s endorsement — while powerful enough to catapult his favorite contenders to nominations in Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere — has proven to be an anchor in competitive races statewide. This year.

Trump-backed candidates such as venture capitalist Blake Masters in Arizona, famed doctor Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and former state attorney general Adam Laxalt in Nevada missed winnable races, while venture capitalist JD Vance, who won the Republican Senate primary in Ohio thanks to Trump’s last-minute endorsement, survived a much tougher-than-expected contest with Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan.

A Walker defeat could further erode Republicans’ confidence in Trump’s ability to pick winners. It would also demonstrate what every national election since 2016 has shown: In many places, a close connection to Trump is a political handicap.

As the 2024 Republican presidential primary begins to take shape, Trump — who hosted a tele-rally for Walker on Monday night — is already facing potential rivals within the party, emboldened by the 2022 results. A Walker loss would amplify calls for the party to look elsewhere for leadership.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp kept his distance from Walker as he headed for re-election in a rematch with Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams. Since his victory, however, Kemp has embraced his party’s Senate nominee much more fully — despite the governor’s bad blood with Trump.

Kemp appeared with Walker at rallies. He cut TV commercials for the former University of Georgia football star. And he lent the vote-out operation that helped propel him to victory to a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, seeking to help Walker with the ground game that was lacking in his campaign.

If Walker wins, it will be Kemp’s direct involvement in helping convince commuters who shared their tickets in November, rather than Trump’s occasional backing from afar, that played the larger role.

As states like Florida and Ohio turn redder, Democrats are desperate to expand their national playing field. And Georgia appears to be their top target after the 2020 election, when Biden won the presidency and Warnock and Jon Ossoff flipped the state Senate seats. Biden even suggested moving his presidential primary to fourth on the calendar in his recent letter to the Democratic National Committee.

That theory — or hope — faces an important test on Tuesday.

With Kemp emerging as Walker’s go-to backup down the stretch, the runoff results could be seen as a litmus test for Georgia Democrats. Specifically, whether the state emerged as a true toss-up.

If Warnock wins despite Kemp’s willingness to lend his personal popularity and turnout apparatus to Walker, the Democrats might actually be onto something. Although many in both parties would agree that Walker has been a less than stellar candidate, he now has the firm and outspoken support of the state and national GOP behind him. If that’s not enough to put him over the top, Republicans’ problems in Georgia are likely due to something more enduring than “candidate quality” issues.

On the other hand, a Walker victory would point – for many of the same reasons – in precisely the opposite direction. Georgia Republicans have swept statewide positions this year, with the exception, so far, of the U.S. Senate seat still up for grabs. If Walker wins, despite all the concerns surrounding his campaign, it will underscore the GOP’s enduring strength in the Peach State — as long as Trump is out of sight and out of mind.

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