Early voting in the Georgia runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and GOP hopeful Herschel Walker began over the weekend, marking the final stretch in a race that will determine whether Democrats expand their upper chamber majority or Republicans a 50-50 split.
The runoff, which started off bitterly and has only gotten more controversial, has the two candidates on an equal footing. Warnock led Walker by just 37,000 votes on election night.
Now that all eyes are back on Georgia, both candidates have stepped up their publicity and fundraising ahead of the Dec. 6 runoff.
Here are five things to keep in mind as early voting begins in the Peach State.
Voter turnout is already rising sharply after a Georgia Supreme Court ruling allowed early voting to begin Saturday.
On Monday morning, data from the Georgia Secretary of State’s website showed that more than 181,000 Georgians had already cast their ballots — and the majority of those voters were black, a key Democratic voting bloc.
On Sunday, Warnock’s campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Georgians voted more than any other Sunday in the 2022 general election, the 2021 runoff – in which Warnock won for the first time – and in both the 2020 and 2018 general elections.
The record turnout follows a medium-term pattern, with more than 230,000 votes cast in Georgia on the first day of early voting for general elections.
Warnock has encouraged his supporters to vote early, tweet on Sunday to “appear on or before December 6th”. His team also headed to a “Souls to the Polls” event on Sunday to mobilize black and brown voters.
Former President Trump backed Walker in September and again in October after several controversies surrounding the former soccer player came to light.
In Trump’s speech announcing his 2024 presidential candidacy, he called Walker “an amazing man who loves our country.”
“He was an incredible athlete. He’s going to be an even better senator,” Trump said. “Go out and vote for Herschel Walker.”
But Trump has also proven to be an obstacle to the GOP in the Peach State. He has openly opposed early voting since its first run in 2016, and has falsely linked early voting to fraudulent voting — a factor Republicans pointed out when both GOP candidates were running in the state Senate special election lost in 2021. In his 2024 campaign announcement, Trump called for a ban on early voting and urged the US to introduce “same-day voting” and mandatory paper ballots.
After a lackluster general election in which all Trump-backed candidates lost, some Republicans are likely concerned at the prospect of the former president entering the race.
According to CNN exit polls, only 39 percent of midterm voters have a positive opinion of Trump, while 58 percent have a negative opinion of him. 28 percent said their vote in the US House of Representatives election was in opposition to Trump.
Still, Trump’s ability to motivate the GOP base could work in Walker’s favor, although Democrats hope it will also mobilize those who oppose the former president.
Since Trump announced his 2024 candidacy, Warnock’s team has already released a new ad warning voters not to “stop Donald Trump.” Stop Herschel Walker.”
Independent and split-ticket voters
During the general election, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) won 2.1 million votes while Walker received just over 1.9 million votes, indicating not all Republican voters cast their ballots based on party alliance hand over.
Kemp, who easily won his primary in May and easily defeated his Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams on Nov. 8, is now using his political cache with moderates and independents to motivate them to back Walker, even though Kemp has bad ties with Trump for refusing to contest the results of Georgia’s 2020 presidential election.
Kemp recently cut an ad for Walker, appeared alongside him for the first time at a campaign rally, and has partnered with a super PAC working with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the Empower Republicans.
“I know Herschel Walker will fight for us,” Kemp said at the Cobb County event. “He will go and fight for the values that we believe in here in our state.”
Kemp lost to Abrams in Cobb County by 5 points while Walker lost to Warnock by 17 points.
After the Supreme Court ruled this summer to dismiss Roe v. Wade, abortion played a pivotal role in this year’s Midterms.
While inflation and the economy were the top themes in many polls, abortion was also a priority. A poll by 11Alive conducted in early November found that 57 percent of voters said a candidate’s stance on abortion would be an important factor in voting.
According to a University of Georgia poll commissioned by the Georgia News Collaborative, nearly 86 percent of black voters in Georgia oppose the state’s current law.
Abortion became a central issue in the Senate race this year as controversy surrounding Walker’s campaign made headlines.
Before November 8, several women claimed Walker, a staunch supporter of anti-abortion policies, had previously encouraged and paid for them to seek an abortion after he got them pregnant.
In August, Walker said he opposes any exceptions to an abortion ban, although he brought that statement back at a debate in October to say he supported Georgia’s current abortion ban after six weeks with exceptions in cases of rape or incest and health of the pregnant person is at risk.
Warnock’s campaign took up these comments to run ads in support of the incumbent’s support for abortion rights legislation. Warnock has mostly avoided speaking directly on the subject of the allegations that Walker paid for abortions, other than saying that Walker “has trouble with the truth.”
The Obama Effect
Former President Obama announced before Thanksgiving that he would be campaigning with Warnock on December 1st.
It will be Obama’s second campaign in the Peach State for Warnock – he rallied for the senator in front of more than 7,000 people in October.
Obama remains a popular figure among Democrats, and he has not held back when it comes to speaking out against the Republicans.
During his last visit to Georgia before the parliamentary elections, he stressed the importance of the elections to save democracy.
An Obama visit could mobilize not only black voters, but others as well — as he campaigned for president, he built a coalition that was diverse by race, location and party lines.
And as Republicans begin to turn their backs on Trump, Obama may persuade independent and moderate voters — and perhaps even Trump voters who have become Obama — to vote for Warnock.