Warnock and Walker make one last push in high-stakes Georgia Senate runoff


Atlanta
CNN

On the final day of overtime in Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock exuded confidence but warned fans against complacency in his runoff with Republican nominee and former football great Herschel Walker.

“There is still a path for Herschel Walker to win this race,” Warnock said after a campaign stoppage here on Monday. “If there’s anything that worries me, it’s that people will think we don’t need their voice. We do. We need you to introduce yourself.

Warnock was the leading voter in last month’s general election, but the contest dragged on until December as he failed to secure a majority. After four weeks on the campaign trail, Warnock and Democrats are optimistic he can outlast Walker and secure a full six-year term. Such a victory would help solidify Georgia as a purple state after Joe Biden narrowly carried it in 2020 and Warnock and Jon Ossoff won the January 2021 runoff that gave the president a Democratic Senate.

Tuesday’s race, however, is still expected to be close, with both parties and allied groups pouring tens of millions into a contest that will shape the balance of power in the Senate over the next two years.

Democrats have already taken control of the chamber, but Warnock’s victory – after the party secures a seat in Pennsylvania – would give Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a vote to spare and allow Democrats to lead committees that have been divided since Biden took office. With that in mind, Walker and a host of GOP senators implored Republicans to send him to Washington to vet Biden and his policies.

“We’re working on turnout, turnout, turnout,” Walker said as he drove through northern Georgia to five rallies scheduled on the eve of the election. “A vote for Warnock is a vote for those failed policies. A vote for me is a better coming.

At a campaign rally for Warnock in Atlanta last week, former President Barack Obama stressed the immediate impact of the possibility for Democrats to win a 51st Senate seat. “It prevents one person from blocking everything,” he said, while considering the upcoming election and its implications.

“It also puts us in a better position in a few years when you have another election and the Senate map is tilted in favor of the Republicans,” Obama said. “And it will help prevent Republicans from getting a filibuster-proof majority that could allow them to do things like pass a federal ban on abortion.”

In the final act of the 2022 midterm elections, Georgian voters again have the final say.

In recent weeks, Republican leaders in Georgia have touted early in-person voter turnout. That’s despite GOP officials unsuccessfully seeking to close polls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving due to a contentious reading of state election laws. The Georgia Supreme Court ultimately upheld a lower court’s decision that allowed them to open.

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, while impressive, came during an early voting period that had been significantly condensed from 2021. Although several days last week ended with a historically high number of votes cast, the total number of voters ahead of this runoff — compared to the 2021 election — has actually fallen from about 3.1 million last year to about 1.87 million in 2022. (About 2.5 million voted before Election Day last month.)

Despite the uncertainty some Democrats feel about turnout, especially given the weather forecast for Tuesday, Walker faces big money and math challenges.

Democrats more than doubled GOP ad spending in the past month alone, according to a CNN analysis of AdImpact data. Democrats have spent a staggering $55 million versus the GOP’s $26 million on TV spots since Nov. 9.

Walker is also struggling to overcome an extraordinary 200,000-vote gap between his November vote tally and that of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who easily beat Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams. It’s a deficit that complicates Walker’s path as he seeks to win over Republican or Republican-leaning voters who didn’t run for him last month.

Still, his GOP supporters remain hopeful.

“I think there are a lot of people who are sorry they didn’t come out to vote last time,” said Elizabeth Walters, a retiree who came to see Walker on a weekend trip to Loganville. “I think it might be tight, but I think he’s going to win.”

Optimism is far more muted in many Republican circles in Washington, where a mix of dissatisfaction and disappointment is directed at the Walker campaign and former President Donald Trump, who recruited him to run.

Trump avoided Georgia, but held a tele-rally Monday night to rally his supporters.

“If Herschel wins this race, Republicans can make Chuck Schumer’s life a little harder and we can put the brakes on every far-left justice and everything that’s been going on right now for two years, is going on in our country,” Trump said in remarks that lasted less than 10 minutes.

“We’re in dire straits in this country,” said John Hayes, a Republican voter who watched Walker’s campaign over the weekend. “I think there will be a lot of Republicans coming to vote on Tuesday. That’s what we need.

Kemp did his best to help the cause after firmly arming Walker for most of the campaign trail. With Trump effectively out of sight, Kemp became Walker’s top surrogate, appearing in a pair of television ads in the run-off for his fellow Republican.

Walker’s victory would be a boon for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the next Congress. And Trump, ignoring all the evidence that his involvement has complicated the GOP’s path here, would surely demand vindication.

But the most profound effect of a Walker win could be to bolster Kemp’s national stature. After defeating a Trump-backed primary challenger last spring and winning re-election by a wide margin last month, he is the rare top Republican to publicly reject Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election and maintain, if not to increase, his popularity with the GOP. base.

Warnock’s efforts to build and grow his support among so-called Crusader voters further underscores the growing strength of the Kemp brand. As the second round approached, Warnock launched an ad highlighting voters who said they backed Kemp and planned to do the same for Warnock on Tuesday.

But in the final sprint, the Democrat also sought to energize young voters who over the past two cycles have become increasingly crucial parts of the party’s coalition.

At Georgia Tech on Monday, Warnock urged students who hadn’t yet voted to get out on Tuesday — and asked them to encourage their friends and family to do the same.

“I want you to know that your mission, if you have already voted, your mission is not over yet. Your mission is to get a little more out of your friends,” Warnock said. “Call Lottie, Dottie and everyone. Tell them it’s time to vote.

Warnock was introduced by Florida Representative-elect Maxwell Frost, who will become the first Gen Z member of Congress.

“We know young people aren’t the biggest electoral bloc right now,” Frost said, “but we’re the bloc that matters.”

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