On the final day of overtime in Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock exuded confidence but warned supporters against being complacent in his runoff election 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 stop Monday. “If there’s anything I worry about it’s that people will think we don’t need their voice. We do. We need you to show up.”
Warnock was the leading vote-getter in the general election last month, but the contest extended into December since he failed to win a majority. After four weeks of runoff campaigning, Warnock and Democrats are optimistic that 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 January 2021 runoffs that delivered the president a Democratic Senate.
“We’re working on turnout, turnout, turnout,” Walker said as he barnstormed across northern Georgia at five scheduled rallies on the eve of the election. “A vote for Warnock is a vote for these failed policies. A vote for me is a better coming.”
Tuesday’s race, though, is still expected to be tight, 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.
On the eve of the nation’s final Senate contest of the midterm elections, Herschel Walker implored Georgia Republicans to cast their ballots Tuesday in his race against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, urging them, "Vote, vote, vote. Flood the polls!”
“I’m not going to sleep tonight,” Walker told a crowd of his supporters. “Before a big game, I don’t sleep because I’m ready. I want y’all to get ready!”
After making four stops across northern Georgia on Monday, Walker returned to Kennesaw in the northern suburbs of Atlanta to deliver his final message. It was the same spot he appeared on the eve of the general election, but a sense of confidence that hung in the air on that November night was far less palpable tonight among Walker and his supporters.
“This is about turnout. This is about turnout,” Walker said. “Now, we’ve got to get in the game. We can’t sit on the sideline anymore.”
The former Georgia football great spoke with a measure of nostalgia about his first bid for public office.
“The best thing I’ve ever done — including the Heisman Trophy — the best thing I’ve ever done is run for office right here,” Walker said. “I saw my heavenly father show me my family ... I will always, always fight for my family.”
With control of the Senate set to stay in Democratic hands, Walker implored Republicans to send him to Washington as a check on President Biden and his policies.
“A vote for my opponent is a vote for Joe Biden and a vote for Chuck Schumer,” Walker said. “A vote for me is a vote for Georgia values.”
Former President Donald Trump urged voters to cast their ballots for Georgia Republican Herschel Walker in a brief tele-rally on the eve of the state’s runoff election, arguing sending the former football star to the US Senate could help impede the Democrats’ agenda in Congress.
“If Herschel wins this race Republicans can make Chuck Schumer's life a little more difficult and we can slam on the brakes on every extreme left-wing judge and everything else that's happening right now for the last two years, been happening to our country,” Trump said in remarks that lasted less than 10 minutes. “It will make it all much more difficult. The future of our country is truly at stake. Victory is crucial. Herschel has to win," he added.
Democrats already secured control of the Senate in November’s midterm elections but the stakes are still high as the party looks to win an outright majority instead of the 50-50 split that is currently in place.
“This election is your last time in the defense against Joe Biden and the radical left Democrats in Congress. A vote for Raphael Warnock is a vote to give Chuck Schumer and the unhinged far-left Democrats total control of the United States Senate. We can't let this happen,” Trump said.
Trump falsely claimed that a difference between Tuesday’s contest and the 2021 runoff election that Warnock won is that Trump didn’t endorse then-Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Trump endorsed Loeffler and campaigned for her in Georgia ahead of the 2021 runoff.
President Joe Biden said Monday it’s “critical” for Georgia voters to head to the polls in the runoff election between Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
“It really is critical because look, all the things that Reverend Warnock has supported are things that the people of Georgia care a great deal about,” Biden said, speaking to Atlanta radio personality Ryan Cameron in a phone interview.
Biden cited Warnock’s support for things such as capping the price of insulin and making hearing aids available without a prescription, as well as Democratic efforts that lowered the deficit this year.
The president did not visit Georgia during the runoff campaign but has stumped for Warnock in Washington, DC, and in cities such as Boston, where Biden attended a fundraising event last week.
At his second event of the day, incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock implored Georgia Tech students in Atlanta to spread the word about getting their friends and family out to vote — and vote themselves if they hadn’t already.
"I want you to know that your assignment, if you've already voted, your assignment is not yet done. Your assignment is to get some more your friends," he said. "Call Lottie, Dottie, and everybody. Tell them it's time to vote."
Warnock joked that he wasn’t “worried about anybody in the room,” saying he knows many of those who came to hear him speak plan to vote or already have voted. He added that no movement in the US has happened without “the energy and enthusiasm from young people.” He also said he had heard from a number of college students and their parents, thanking him for suing to allow for counties to allow Saturday early voting.
"It all comes down to this. We need you to show up,” Warnock said.
Asked by CNN why he was putting such an emphasis on younger voters, Warnock answered, “Young people have little tolerance for inauthenticity. They want to know that you mean what you say and they want to see you’re showing up and they have a way of holding us all accountable.”
In his pitch to get the young electorate to the polls, the incumbent senator was introduced by incoming congressman Maxwell Frost, the first Gen-Z member of Congress.
“We know that young people don't make up the biggest voting bloc right now, but we are the bloc that matters,” Frost said.
Warnock narrowly leads his Republican opponent Herschel Walker among likely runoff voters in the latest CNN polling, but he says this race isn’t over.
“There is still a path for Herschel Walker to win this seat,” Warnock said. He went on to say that event though this election won’t determine who controls the Senate, it’s still of great importance to voters here.
“This is a Georgia seat. It matters to Georgians. This is about who is going to represent 11 million people for six years. I think that matters,” he said.
For the past two years, the eyes of the political world keep turning back to Georgia.
And for the second time in two years, voters in this key state will choose their senator in a runoff election, which this time will determine whether Democrats expand on their 50-50 majority.
Early data shows voters are not tired of their civic duty:
Heading into Tuesday’s Senate runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, more than 1.8 million Georgians have voted early after only about a week. Black voters have made up nearly a third of the early electorate so far, while more than a quarter of voters so far are under 50.
About 300,000 Georgians have voted early each day this week – setting records for the largest single-day early voting turnout in state history. Early voting for the runoff ended on Friday.
Georgians had only five mandatory days of early voting this year, compared with three weeks during the last runoff and for last month’s general election. All but 22 counties chose not to allow early voting last Saturday and Sunday as well.
Overall, 2022 midterm turnout was slightly up from the 2018 midterms but down more than 21% from the 2020 general election.
While midterm voters typically skew older and Whiter, turnout data from the Georgia secretary of state’s office shows that in 2022, midterm voters in Georgia were older and Whiter than they have been in the past four elections, including the 2018 midterms. Those voters tend to lean Republican. The fact that Warnock not only forced a runoff but also narrowly led Walker in the first round of voting last month suggests he had the support of independent and some Republican voters, political scientists told CNN.
“The key to Warnock was that according to the exit polls, he won the independent vote by a pretty big margin,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. “And that was enough to pull him through. In the runoff, I think he’ll need to do that as well.”
CNN exit polls of Georgia voters in the November election show that the share of independent voters shrank 4 percentage points compared with 2020. However, independent voters were 24% of the electorate, which Warnock won by 11 points, according to CNN exit polls.
At his third campaign stop of the day, Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker spoke for about two minutes as he implored voters to have his back in Tuesday’s runoff election against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.
“Get out and vote! Tomorrow is the big day,” Walker told a crowd Monday of cheering supporters in northern Georgia. “Who has voted already? And who all has to vote tomorrow?”
His remarks were short, and he repeatedly asked people to help get others to the polls on Tuesday. He spent far more time taking pictures individually with his admirers who gathered at the Engelheim Vineyards outside Ellijay, a town near the beginning of the Appalachian Trail.
“You know you got a champion in Herschel Walker,” he said. “You always have a champion in me because I love y’all and we are going to win this election and get Georgia back together.”
Walker is scheduled to make five stops today, focusing on rural Republican-rich counties, before his final rally in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. It’s the biggest burst of campaigning, holding nearly as many events in the final day as he has often held in a week.
Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young rode his scooter alongside Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, Martin Luther King III and a fervent crowd of marchers on a recent Sunday through a southwest Atlanta neighborhood.
The group stopped at an early polling location to vote, forming a line with some waiting as long as one hour to cast their ballots.
At the age of 90, Young says he is selective about public appearances but felt the “Souls to the Polls” event was one where he could motivate Black voters in Tuesday’s hotly contested US Senate runoff between Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker — a historic matchup between two Black men.
Community leaders and political observers say the Black vote has consistently played a pivotal role in high-stakes races for Democrats, including in 2021, when Warnock defeated then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a runoff.
A key demographic for Democrats: Black voters likely to cast a ballot are near unanimous in their support for the Democrat (96% Warnock to 3% Walker), according to a CNN poll released last week that showed Warnock with a narrow lead.
A second runoff victory for Warnock could once again hinge on Black voter turnout in a consequential race. If Warnock wins, it would give Democrats a clean Senate majority — one that doesn’t rely on Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote and allows Majority Leader Chuck Schumer more control of key committees and some slack in potentially divisive judicial and administrative confirmation fights.
Voting, Young said, is the “path to prosperity” for the Black community. He noted that Atlanta’s mass transit system and economic growth have been made possible by voters.
“Where we have voted we have prospered,” Young said.
The rally led by Young, King and Warnock seems to have set the tone for many Black voters in Georgia. Early voting surged across the state last week with long lines reported across the greater Atlanta area.
Early voting numbers look promising: As of Sunday, more than 1.85 million votes had already been cast, with Black voters accounting for nearly 32% of the turnout, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. The early voting period, which was significantly condensed from 2021, ended on Friday.
Billy Honor, director of organizing for the New Georgia Project Action Fund, said the Black turnout so far looks promising for Democrats.
“When we get Black voter turnout in any election statewide that’s between 31 and 33%, that’s usually good for Democrats,” Honor said. “If it’s between 27 and 30%, that’s usually good for Republicans.”
Honor added: “This has an impact on elections because we know that if you’re a Democratic candidate, the coalition you have to put together is a certain amount of college-educated White folks, a certain amount of women overall, as many young people as you can get to turn out – and Black voters. That’s the coalition. (Former president) Barack Obama was able to smash that coalition in 2008 in ways we hadn’t seen.”
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A slightly larger share of White voters and smaller shares of Black, Asian and Latino voters cast their ballots in 2022 compared with Georgia’s previous three midterm elections and runoffs. The share of Black voters was the lowest of any Georgia election since the 2018 midterms.
A CNN exit poll from 2021 showed that Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock won 93% of Black voters in Georgia’s last runoff election, a 6-point improvement from the general election held in November 2020.
Black voters’ share of Georgia’s electorate increased in the 2021 runoff election when Warnock faced Sen. Kelly Loeffler after neither took a majority of the vote in the 2020 general election. Black voters made up 28% of the Georgia electorate in that runoff, slightly higher than their share in the 2020 general election. Black voter turnout was highest when Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, first ran against now-Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, for governor in 2018.
Voters in the 2022 midterms were also older. Georgians over 50 represented 59% of the electorate this year, a new high since 2018. The share of voters under 30, meanwhile, shrank to 11%, its lowest point since 2018.
Exit polls show Warnock was able this year to sustain the improvements he made in the 2021 runoff election with the youngest voters and those in urban areas. He won 68% of the 18-24 vote in the 2021 runoff – a 16-point improvement over Democrats in the 2020 general election. He also won the support of 67% of urban voters in the 2021 runoff, 4 points more than Democrats’ share in 2020. Warnock won 69% of 18-24 year-olds and 68% of urban voters in last month’s general election.
Last month’s election was unusual in that more than 17,000 Georgians skipped the Senate race at the top of the ballot but did vote for governor.
“We aren’t entirely sure, but it is highly likely that those voters are probably Republicans,” said Amy Steigerwalt, a political science professor at Georgia State University.
There were also Kemp voters this year who crossed the aisle to vote for Warnock and then voted for the rest of the Republican ticket, Steigerwalt said. Kemp received 2.1 million votes, roughly 200,000 more than Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
The big question for this runoff is how Walker does when he runs on his own and without a chance of Republicans regaining control of the Senate, Abramowitz told CNN.