The finale of the U.S. Senate race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker — and the entire 2022 U.S. midterm elections — unfolds today.
With 12 hours of voting today, Republicans hope to defy expectations and overtake what election data suggests is Warnock’s advantage in early runoff voting.
It won’t be easy.
Among the more than 1,868,000 ballots that were cast in seven days of record early voting, turnout was high in counties where Warnock performed well in the first round of voting last month, according to the data posted by Georgia’s secretary of state.
To surpass that bank of votes, Republicans who have become embittered with Donald Trump will have to go to the polls and cast votes for Walker, whom the former president recruited to run in the race.
That group includes at least some of the more than 203,000 Republicans who voted for Gov. Brian Kemp in last month’s voting but didn’t do so for the former gridiron star.
In Chatham County, where Warnock won 59.3% of votes cast in the general election to Walker’s 38.86%, the campaigns of both candidates went door-to-door to get their supporters to the polls.
‘I need you to show up’
The candidates themselves offered contrasting degrees of urgency.
Warnock campaigned in his hometown of Savannah late Friday afternoon, telling several hundred people gathered at the Deliverance Prayer Tower on the city’s south side that they should spare no effort in getting their families and friends to the polls.
The 53-year-old pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church castigated Republicans for seeking to block Saturday voting, describing them as “clueless” to the constraints facing working people. He then issued a plea:
“I need you to show up like an ambulance going down the street. I need you to show up like the fire department going down the street,” he said. “We are engaged in a ‘911’ emergency. I need you to vote like your life depends on it because it does.”
On Saturday and Sunday, he held six events across the state, and also delivered a sermon at Ebenezer, telling his congregation that “voting is a form of prayer.”
While Warnock seemed to leave it all on the field in the last weekend of the four-week runoff campaign, Walker, 60, curiously did not. He held just one public event, on Sunday with Republican US Sens. John Kennedy (La.) and Tim Scott (S.C.)
Walker also held an unscheduled, tailgate-style meet-and-greet before his alma mater, the University of Georgia, took the field at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to play for the SEC championship.
‘We’re gonna show up this time’
Walker’s surrogates sought to muster Republicans to the polls.
“I think the momentum is in Herschel Walker’s favor,” Coastal Georgia congressman Republican Buddy Carter, told Newsmax on Saturday.
Carter also invoked the conventional wisdom about runoff elections in Georgia, which holds that Republicans turn out for runoff elections, while Democrats, especially Black Democrats, don’t.
“Republicans like to vote on election day, and that’s why if Raphael Warnock does have a lead, he better have a big lead because come Election Day, I’m telling you, we learned an important lesson here in the state of Georgia two years ago — when we had the senatorial runoffs, and the Republicans didn’t show up. Well, we’re going to show up this time.”
At a conservative forum at The Landings on Skidaway Island in April, Carter laid into Warnock as unfit to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. “He is awful, terrible. I know he’s from Savannah but still, he’s awful,” he said.
In his interview with Newsmax on Saturday, Carter returned to the theme.
“There is no reason whatsoever a Democrat should be in the United States Senate representing the state of Georgia. They do not represent our conservative values. Herschel Walker does.”
Trump held two rallies in Georgia in the state’s two Senate runoffs two years ago, but this time around, he stayed away, after both sides reportedly agreed that it might do more harm to Walker’s candidacy than help it.
Nevertheless, Trump held a “tele-rally” last evening, saying in remarks that lasted less than 10 minutes that Walker’s election would “make [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer’s life a little more difficult” and “slam the breaks on every left-wing judge,” CNN reported.
In his comments, Trump claimed that one difference between this year’s runoff and the one in 2021 that Warnock won is that he didn’t endorse then-Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. In fact, he not only endorsed Loeffler but campaigned for her.
Some Republicans remain unenthused. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Trump critic, said last week he couldn’t bring himself to vote for either candidate in the race.
‘Most disappointing ballot’
But all Republicans weren’t on board.
Prominent among them was Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who said last week that he couldn’t bring himself to vote for either candidate in the race.
“I showed up to vote this morning,” Duncan, a longtime Trump critic, told CNN in an interview. “I was one of those folks who got in line and spent about an hour waiting, and it was the most disappointing ballot I’ve ever stared at in my entire life since I started voting.”
“I had two candidates that I just couldn’t find anything that made sense for me to put my vote behind, and so I walked out of that ballot box showing up to vote but not voting for either one of them.”