The Senate majority has already been decided, but whether the Democrats grab some breathing room in their razor-thin control of the chamber is on the line Tuesday in the last ballot box showdown of the 2022 midterm elections.
For a second straight cycle, the final fight is taking place in the crucial southeastern battleground state of Georgia, where Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is facing off with Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a Senate runoff election.
In the final hours before Election Day, both campaigns were trying to energize their base voters in a race where turnout will be the deciding factor in what public opinion polling indicates is a close contest.
“Everyone who hasn’t voted, get out on Dec. 6 and vote,” Walker urged in an interview on the Fox News Channel on Sunday. “If you want a change, go out and vote and vote your opinion because this race is very, very, important.”
Warnock, speaking to supporters Monday in Atlanta, emphasized that, “we cannot let our foot off the gas. We got to press all the way through the finish line. We got to run through the tape. So, if you haven’t already voted, tomorrow is the last opportunity to vote.”
On the final day of campaigning, it was all about location, with Walker making several stops in the mostly conservative northern part of Georgia, while Warnock stayed in the heavily Democratic Atlanta area.
Nearly two million Georgians cast ballots in early voting that concluded Friday, according to state officials. Democrats aggressively pushed for their supporters to get to the polls to give Warnock a head start ahead of Election Day. Democrats point to early voting data that indicates high turnout in blue counties and congressional districts.
“I’m heartened by the turnout we’ve seen. But we remain focused. We need people to show up tomorrow,” Warnock said on Monday.
Part of Warnock’s full court press included a large rally late last week in Atlanta with former President Obama, who returned to Georgia for the second time in five weeks to give the senator a boost.
With the Democrats secured in their control of the Senate and the chamber’s majority no longer on the line in the runoff election – unlike two years ago when the Democrats sweep of the twin Georgia Senate runoffs gave them the majority – there is a concern that Democratic voters will not feel the urgency to head to the polls. However, the former president pointed out that a Warnock victory would allow the party to control committees and advance legislation and nominations more easily to the Senate floor.
“What’s the difference between 50 and 51? The answer is a lot,” Obama highlighted. “Let me break it down for you. An extra senator gives Democrats more breathing room on important bills. It prevents one person from holding out everything.”
“It also puts us in a better position a couple of years from now when you’ve got another election. But then the Senate map is going to be tilted in favor of Republicans and it’ll help prevent them from getting a filibuster-proof majority,” Obama added.
There are also concerns among Republicans that with the Senate majority out of their grasp, their base voters will be deflated.
“By putting me in the Senate, all the committees would be even,” Walker emphasized in an interview with Fox News.
In a fundraising email to supporters, the former college and professional football star spotlighted that “the outcome of the Senate runoff in Georgia will – just like last election cycle – have critical national implications.”
Two years ago, Warnock, the minister at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached, and now-Sen. Jon Ossoff swept Georgia’s twin Senate runoff elections, handing the Senate majority to the Democrats.
This year’s runoff was necessitated after Warnock led Walker by roughly 37,000 votes out of nearly 4 million cast in November’s general election. However, since neither candidate topped 50% of the vote required by Georgia law to secure victory, the race headed to a runoff.
Ralph Reed, the founder of the evangelical Christian Faith and Freedom Coalition and a past chair of the Georgia GOP who has been campaigning with Walker the past week, noted that “we’ve been able to explain to voters and the activists the difference between a 50-50 Senate and a 51-49 Senate.”
Additionally, Reed stressed that Republican voters are fired up. “These people are mad and they want to hit somebody,” he said.
Walker – a former college football legend who won a Heisman trophy and steered the University of Georgia to a national championship four decades ago – launched his Senate campaign in the summer of last year, after months of encouragement to run by former President Trump, his longtime friend.
Thanks to his legendary status and immense and favorable name recognition in the Peach State, Walker instantly became the overwhelming front-runner for the GOP Senate nomination and basically ignored a field of lesser-known primary rivals as he easily captured the GOP nomination in May.
However, Walker quickly came under fire as the general election got underway.
Walker was heavily criticized both on the campaign trail and in ads over what Democrats call his numerous “bizarre or false statements,” and also took fire over numerous reports that he overinflated the success of his businesses and academic record.
Even before he faced bombshell allegations in September and October that he had persuaded and paid for past girlfriends to have abortions — which Walker, who is a vocal opponent of legalized abortion, repeatedly denied — the candidate was forced to play defense regarding a number of other personal controversies, from the accusations of past abuse and threats against his first wife to acknowledging children he fathered out of wedlock whom he had not previously publicly mentioned, despite having criticized absent fathers for decades.
Democrats once dominated elections in Georgia, but the Peach State was reliably red the past two decades, until President Biden narrowly captured the state in the 2020 election, followed by Ossoff and Warnock’s razor-thin victories two months later in the Senate runoffs.
However, Republicans swept this year’s statewide elections in Georgia, led by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s comfortable victory over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in a rematch of their 2018 showdown.