Georgia's runoff Senate election: What to watch in Tuesday's race

Georgia’s US Senate seat is up for grabs tomorrow, despite most midterm races concluding last month. Both candidates are hoping to turn out the vote, despite a predetermined balance of power in Washington.

Each candidate faces unique challenges, Senator Warnock (D) needs to turn out a coalition of voters who traditionally are less likely to head to the polls while Herschel Walker (R) needs to turn out the Republican base – this time without popular Republican Governor Brian Kemp on the same ticket to drum up support.

How did we get here?

Former American Football player Herschel Walker (R), backed by Donald Trump, faced off against incumbent Raphael Warnock (D), who preaches at famous civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr’s former Atlanta church.

However, another candidate in the race, Chase Oliver of the Libertarian Party, took just over two percent of the vote.

Due to Georgia’s election laws, this was enough to spoil it for the other candidates, leaving them just shy of the 50 percent mark.

Raphael Warnock received 49.4 percent of the vote while challenger Herschel Walker took 48.5. As neither candidate received more than half, a head to head runoff takes place December 6.

What is at stake?

Following the midterms, Republicans will control the House of Representatives 221 to 213 (one race has not been called but leans Republican and would put the GOP in control of 222 seats) while Democrats flipped Pennsylvania keeping control of the Senate at 50 to 50 with Vice President Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker vote.

With a predetermined balance of power in Washington, it’s hard to see why the runoff race in Georgia is so important.

However, if Warnock were to win tomorrow’s race, it would mean Democrats could pass more laws without watering down legislation to appease more moderate Senators in the party.

For example, Democratic leadership has had to work closely with centrist Democrats Joe Manchin (Sen – West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Sen – Arizona) to pass legislation, giving them an outsized role in determining policy.

With one extra vote in the Senate, it would be easier for Democrats to circumvent the demands of more moderate party members.

All of this, however, needs to be taken with a grain of salt as Republicans will now control the House, meaning any party line Democrat legislation will have an extremely difficult time passing the lower chamber.

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How do voters feel?

With Brian Kemp off the ballot, Herschel Walker may have a tough time turning out the base who may have voted a straight ticket in November.

While seven in 10 Kemp voters said they enthusiastically backed the governor, only about half of Walker’s voters said they were enthusiastically supporting Walker.

Among Walker supporters, about four in 10 said they backed him with reservations and about one in 10 said they were simply opposing the other candidates.

“I’ve got some reservations, I’m not 100 percent Walker, but he is a hell of lot better than what we’ve got up there now with Warnock in there,” said Donny Richardson, a retired Marine who voted for Walker last week in Marietta. “Things need to change.”

Warnock and Walker both amassed familiar Democratic and Republican constituencies in last month’s election.

But there were signs that Walker did worse than his fellow Republican Kemp among groups that were core to the governor’s success, including white voters and voters in small towns and rural areas.

College-educated men and women without a college degree were evenly divided in the Senate race, but both groups went decisively for Kemp in the governor’s race.

The final stretch of campaign featured harsh insults from each candidate on his competitor’s character and integrity. Voters in the general were more sceptical about Walker than Warnock, though neither candidate earned glowing marks.

Fifty-six percent of Georgia voters said the incumbent senator “has the right experience to serve effectively” in the job, compared with just 39 percent saying that of Walker, a 60-year-old political novice.

“I think Herschel Walker is incompetent and Raphael Warnock has more experience, and I think he’ll get the job done,” said Lolita Baylor, an executive assistant at JCPenney who lives in Morrow. She voted for Warnock.

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Will Trump’s endorsement carry Walker to victory?

Walker, who is backed by Trump, received much of the vote of the MAGA wing of the GOP. However, 16 percent of Republican voters who don’t identify as MAGA supporters backed Warnock in the general.

Even if Trump is not the draw he once was, opposition to his rival might be enough for Walker to convince voters to get back to the ballot box.

Overall, only about half of Walker voters said their vote was meant to signify support for Trump, but far more – about three-quarters – said their vote was in opposition to President Joe Biden. Walker has stressed Warnock’s ties to the president throughout the campaign.

“Let’s just say he’s much better than the Biden guy. Warnock has been. ‘Yes sir, Mr. Biden,'” said Jim Howle, a retired voter for Walker. Warnock’s “not representing the people”.

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