By Jack Phillips
Voters went to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots in Georgia’s Senate runoff race between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Republican former football star Herschel Walker after neither candidate garnered 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 8 midterms.
A runoff, under Georgia state law, is an additional election that is used to determine the winner of a race if neither candidate gets 50 percent. In the Nov. 8 midterm election, Warnock had led Walker by about 37,000 votes.
Ahead of the Dec. 6 runoff, about 1.85 million early votes were cast. Those figures broke all-time state records, according to top Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling in Twitter posts.
“If you haven’t voted in the runoff, you have a little less than 12 hours to vote at your polling location. #PlanYourVote and make your voice heard,” Sterling, who faced significant criticism from Republicans in the aftermath of the 2020 election, wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning.
As the polls opened Tuesday morning, cold, rainy conditions greeted voters in the Atlanta area. At an elementary school in suburban Johns Creek, voters lined up before the polls opened to cast their ballots, undeterred by a 40-degree wind chill and steady rain. The line moved swiftly.
A victory for Warnock would solidify Georgia’s status as a battleground heading into the 2024 presidential election. A win for Walker, however, could be an indication that the Democrat gains in the state might be somewhat limited, especially given that Georgia Republicans swept every other statewide contest last month.
Walker campaigned Monday with his wife, Julie, greeting supporters and offering thanks rather than his usual campaign speech and full-throated criticism of Warnock. For the past several weeks, Walker has targeted Warnock for embracing Biden’s agenda, essentially becoming a rubber stamp for his party’s initiatives in Congress.
“I love y’all, and we’re gonna win this election,” he said at a winery in Ellijay, comparing it to championships he won as an athlete. “I love winning championships.”
Warnock spent his final day on the campaign trail in Atlanta, including stops at Georgia Tech and a barbershop. He again accused Walker of lacking qualifications to be a senator.
“We’ve been engaged in this work and in this movement together for a while now. I started on this journey to the Senate about three years ago and now there’s only one day left. But it all really comes down to this: We need you to show up,” Warnock told students at Georgia Tech, according to ABC News.
Days before that, Warnock leaned on support from former President Barack Obama during an event in Atlanta. Notably, President Joe Biden did not campaign in favor of Warnock ahead of the Dec. 6 contest.
“Since the last time I was here Mr. Walker has been talking about issues that are of great importance to the people of Georgia. Like whether it’s better to be a vampire or a werewolf,” Obama said, referring to a joke that Walker had made during a speech several weeks ago.
Some Georgia residents said that both Walker’s and Warnock’s campaigns have bombarded the airwaves with election-related advertisements in recent weeks. A number of Georgia residents on social media wrote that they wished the runoff would simply be over.
“It’s been very, very exhausting,” said Ana Gomez, a Georgia Tech student, told NBC News, regarding the ads.
While the runoff election will not determine who controls the upper congressional chamber, Senate leaders said it’s important nonetheless. They noted if Democrats have control of the Senate with a 51-seat majority, it means Democrats will have a majority on Senate committees.
Also, if Democrats take control of the Senate, they would be able to more easily secure confirmations for Biden’s judicial nominations.
“Having an evenly divided Senate means that you get equal representation on committees,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters this week. “We’ve been successfully able to bottle up some bad nominees at the committee level. So (the Georgia race has) got real consequences.”
And Thune said that the GOP could generate a morale boost if Walker wins after their party underperformed during the Nov. 8 midterms in both chambers of Congress. In recent years, Georgia has been trending towards becoming a swing state following Warnock’s and fellow Sen. Jon Ossoff’s (D-Ga.) wins in January 2021, also a runoff election.
“It’d be nice to get a win on the books, and especially in a state like Georgia, where, frankly, we think we should be winning,” Thune said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.