Republicans are hoping for a surprise in the closely divided state, but their mood has turned grim about Herschel Walker’s chances.
Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker barnstormed Georgia in a final plea for votes amid signs of growing momentum for the Democratic incumbent — and fading GOP hopes — ahead of Tuesday’s runoff.
Both parties are expecting a close outcome on Tuesday in the closely divided state. After a November election that defied expectations in countless races around the country, a Walker victory is not out of the question.
But from Warnock’s first-place finish in the first round of voting to scattered polling and temperature checks of Democratic and GOP operatives, Warnock heads into Election Day as at least a slight favorite to win a full six-year term.
“I think a lot of Republicans are hoping we’ll be pleasantly surprised, but there aren’t a lot of indications out there to base that on,” said Jason Shepherd, former chair of the Cobb County GOP. “Just a lot of hope and faith in things unseen. It’s the Christmas season, after all.”
Over the weekend, Warnock had the heavier schedule of the two: On Saturday and Sunday, he sprinted to six events in various cities, while also delivering a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he serves as senior pastor and told parishoners that “voting is a form of prayer.”
Warnock warned repeatedly on the campaign trail that record-breaking turnout in the early voting period does not guarantee victory. Democrats have been encouraged that the large early vote totals mean a significant portion of their voters have already cast ballots — and that Republicans wil need to make up serious ground on Election Day turnout.
“We had an incredible early vote period. But don’t spike the football before you get to the end zone,” Warnock told voters at the New Freedom Christian Center, a predominantly Black church in East Athens on Sunday night. “I need you to bring this one home.”
Walker appeared at two events: a tailgate in Atlanta before a University of Georgia football game on Saturday, where he did not speak, and a Sunday rally in Loganville, where his stump speech touched on everything from complaints about pronouns and critical race theory to funding law enforcement.
“It’s time to have our voices heard and our vote counted. So quit making up complaints. What we need to do is get to the polls,” Walker, flanked by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), said. “And like Sen. Scott said, if you don’t have a friend go make a friend and get out and vote.”
There’s been little polling of the runoff, but a CNN survey released Friday showed Warnock with a narrow lead over Walker among likely voters, 52 to 48 percent. Independent voters broke for Warnock, 61 to 36, according to the poll conducted by SSRS from Nov. 25-29.
Walker has been dogged by scandals, gaffes and more: A stream of allegations that he pressured women to have abortion despite professing to adamantly oppose the procedure; his unapologetic embrace of Donald Trump despite the former president’s unpopularity in the state; and an endless stream of verbal miscues that have made him the butt of a mocking ad and a “Saturday Night Live” skit over the weekend.
In a brief interview with POLITICO on Saturday, Walker seemed to mistake which chamber of Congress he was running for and also appeared to think the outcome of his race would determine control of the Senate.
“They’re not [less motivated] because they know right now that the House will be even so they don’t want to understand what is happening right now,” he said of voters. “You get the House, you get the committees. You get all the committees even, they just stall things within there. So if we keep a check on Joe Biden, we just going to keep a check on him.”
Republicans have won the House, and Democrats will control the Senate no matter what happens in Georgia. A win by Warnock would pad their majority by one seat, to 51-49.
There are other subtle positive signs for Warnock in the home stretch. He has dominated in fundraising and in advertising dollars spent. His campaign and outside Democratic groups have spent more than double that of their Republican counterparts, according to the latest spending report from AdImpact. In just the final week, Warnock’s campaign has spent $7.6 million on advertising compared to the Walker campaign’s $3.65 million in ad buys.
More than $30 million is being spent in the Atlanta media market alone by both parties in the final week, including Election Day, per AdImpact.
Republicans, meanwhile, are subtly betraying a loss of confidence in their candidate.
Gov. Brian Kemp, who romped to reelection in November even after clashing openly with Trump, got behind Walker early in the runoff. The Republican loaned his get-out-the-vote apparatus to Walker and cut an ad on his behalf that is still airing. But Kemp did not campaign with Walker the final weekend of the race.
Georgia Republican operatives have grown less hopeful in recent days. With Walker being significantly outraised and the candidate keeping a light schedule even in the final days of the race, allies are privately conceding that his chances of victory are slim.
The lack of optimism is even showing through in some of the GOP’s communications. Both Walker’s campaign and the Georgia Republican Party have sent out emails in recent days describing his Tuesday evening gathering as an “Election night party,” rather than a “Victory Celebration” party. It’s a minor difference in phrasing from Walker’s Nov. 8 election night event, but one that has raised eyebrows among party activists.
The weather report also looks grim for Republicans: Rain is forecast across Georgia on Tuesday. The GOP is relying heavily on Election Day turnout — and already struggling to motivate voters to go to the polls for the second time in a month.