On the final day of overtime in Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock beamed with self-confidence, but warned his supporters not to get complacent in a runoff with Republican nominee and former football great Herschel Walker.
“There’s still a way for Herschel Walker to win this race,” Warnock said after his campaign stop here on Monday. “If there is anything that worries me, it is that people think we don’t need their votes. We do need them. We want you to come.”
Warnock was the favorite in last month’s general election, but the contest dragged on until December after he failed to secure a majority. After four weeks of a runoff campaign, Warnock and Democrats are optimistic he can outlast Walker and secure a full six-year term. Such a victory would help cement 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 the Democratic Senate.
However, Tuesday’s race is still expected to be a turbulent one, 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 already took control of the chamber, but a Warnock victory — after the party secured a seat in Pennsylvania — would give Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a vote to spare and allow Democrats to lead committees that have split since Biden took office. With that in mind, Walker and a group of Republican senators begged him to send him to Washington to check on Biden and his policies.
“We’re working on turnout, turnout, turnout,” Walker said, as he toured North Georgia to five scheduled rallies the day before the election. “A vote for Warnock is a vote for those failed policies. A vote for me is the next best thing.”
At Warnock’s campaign rally in Atlanta last week, former President Barack Obama stressed the immediate impact of the Democrats’ potential win in the 51st Senate seat: “It stops one person from disrupting everything,” he said, as he looks ahead to the next election. and its dependencies.
“It also puts us in a better position two years from now when you have another election and the Senate map is tilted in favor of the Republicans,” Obama said. “That would help prevent Republicans from getting a filibuster majority that would allow them to do things like pass a federal ban on abortion.” »
In the final act of the 2022 midterm elections, Georgian voters once again have the final say.
In recent weeks, Georgia Republican leaders have promoted early in-person voter participation. This is despite the fact that GOP officials unsuccessfully tried to close the polls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving due to a controversial reading of the state’s election laws. The Georgia Supreme Court eventually upheld a lower court ruling that allowed them to open the case.
On Friday, the state broke the single-day record again, when more than 350,000 people went to the polls to vote before Election Day.
But those numbers, while impressive, came during this period of early voting that has increased dramatically from 2021. Although several days last week ended with a large number of votes cast historically, the total number of voters before this second round – Compared to the 2021 election – it’s already down, 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 Tuesday’s unfavorable weather forecast, Walker faces serious financial and accounting problems.
Democrats have more than doubled GOP ad spending in the past month alone, according to a CNN analysis of AdImpact data. Democrats have spent $55 million of the Republican Party’s $26 million on television advertising since November 9.
Walker is also seeking to close an unusual 200,000-vote gap between the vote tally in November and that of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who handily defeated his Democratic challenger, Stacey Abrams. The deficit complicates Walker’s path as he seeks to win over Republican or Republican-leaning voters who did not show up for him last month.
However, his GOP supporters still held out hope.
“I think there are a lot of people who regret not voting last time,” said Elizabeth Walters, a retiree who came to see Walker this weekend in Luganville. “I think he may be close, but I think he will win.”
The optimism is very muted in many Washington Republican circles, as a mixture of resentment and disappointment pours into Walker’s campaign and former President Donald Trump, who recruited him to run.
Trump withdrew from Georgia but held a phone call Monday night to rally his supporters.
“If Herschel wins this race, the Republicans can make Chuck Schumer’s life much more difficult, and we can rein in all the far-left judges and everything that has happened in the last two years in our country,” Trump said. he said in remarks that lasted less than 10 minutes. .
“We’re in dire straits in this country,” said John Hayes, a Republican who followed Walker’s campaign over the weekend. I think there will be a lot of Republicans who will vote on Tuesday. This is what we need. »
Kemp did his best to help the cause after Walker had been hard-armed for much of the general election campaign. With Trump effectively out of the public eye, Kemp has emerged as Walker’s top surrogate, appearing in a pair of television commercials during the Republican runoff.
A Walker victory would be a boon for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the next Congress. And ignoring all evidence that his involvement complicated the course of the GOP here, Trump certainly claims his justification.
But the more profound effect of Walker’s victory may have been to enhance Kemp’s national standing. After beating Trump’s challenger in the primary last spring and being re-elected by a large margin last month, he is the rare Republican president to have publicly dismissed Trump’s lies about the stolen 2020 election, and now, if not rising, his popularity with the GOP. Base.
Warnock’s efforts to promote and increase his support among potential voters across the country underline the growing strength of the Kemp brand. With the second round approaching, Warnock posted an ad highlighting voters who said they support Kemp and plan to do the same with Warnock on Tuesday.
But in the latest race, 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 haven’t yet voted to get out on Tuesday — and asked them to encourage friends and family to do the same.
“I want you to know that if you have already voted, then your mission is not complete yet. Your mission is to get more of your friends,” Warnock said. “Call Lottie, Dottie, and all the others. Tell them it’s time to vote. »
Warnock was introduced by Florida Representative-elect Maxwell Frost, who would become the first Generation Z member of Congress.
“We know that youth are not the largest electoral bloc right now, but we are the important bloc,” Frost said.