Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock will win Georgia Senate runoff

By Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya, Seán Federico-O'Murchú and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 1912 GMT (0312 HKT) December 8, 2022
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6:20 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Democrats are seeking outright control of the Senate. Here's why that 51st seat is key

From CNN's Gregory Krieg and Eric Bradner

In the 2020 cycle, Democrats had to sweep both Senate runoffs in Georgia to secure the 50-50 split in the Senate that, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ status as the tie-breaking vote, would give them control.

This time, Democrats have already retained control, with 50 seats clinched last month and Georgia representing a potential 51st.

But the stakes remain high: A win by incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock victory would give Democrats the majority outright, rather than requiring the power-sharing agreement that is now in place. That outright majority would come with significant benefits for the party. Democrats would have the majority on committees, allowing them to advance President Joe Biden’s nominees more easily.

For example, the Senate Judiciary Committee, with its 22 members, would shift from a split of 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans to 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans. That would remove a GOP procedural mechanism to slow down the confirmation of Biden’s judicial nominees.

It’s why advertising spending in the runoff has surpassed $80 million, according to a CNN analysis of data from ad tracking firm AdImpact. Democrats have outspent Republicans so far, by about $55.1 million to $25.8 million.

6:18 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Walker campaign believes Election Day turnout offers a path to victory

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

Voters cast their ballots in Norcross, Georgia, on Tuesday.
Voters cast their ballots in Norcross, Georgia, on Tuesday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

For Herschel Walker’s campaign, a robust Election Day turnout offers the only path to victory tonight in the Georgia runoff and advisers tell CNN they are heartened by what officials are seeing at polling locations across the state. 

When the Secretary of State’s office announced that 800,000 people had voted today — with the polls still open for another five hours — Team Walker breathed a collective sigh of grateful relief. 

“We’ve got a big hill to climb from early voting,” a top Republican campaign adviser said. “But we at least appear to have enough turnout to get there — or close.”

The question, of course, is whether Democrats are also turning out in force for incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, given the compressed period of early voting.  

Tonight, Republican officials are not exuding confidence or even predicting a win — and they are fuming over being massively outspent by Democrats — but they do believe strong turnout reports have kept Walker in the fight. 

6:44 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Martin Luther King Jr.'s son says he hopes for a record voter turnout in Georgia runoff

Martin Luther King III, son of Martin Luther King Jr., said voters in Georgia have been “engaged” and “excited” throughout the entire runoff election process.

“My dad used to say a voteless people is a powerless people, and one of the most important steps that we must take ... is that step toward the ballot box,” he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

King, who is a supporter of Democratic nominee Sen. Raphael Warnock, said that he hopes numbers from Georgia's secretary of state show that this has been one of the "highest turnouts ever” for an election of this type. He said he hopes Warnock will prevail with a “significant victory, because that would send a message to our state and nation.”

“The hope is that the people of Georgia want to elect a person who looks forward,” King said. “Herschel Walker demonstrated that he is not a… the kind of candidate that should represent the state of Georgia,” he added, referring to the Republican nominee in the race.

5:58 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Georgia's new early voting law means less people have cast their ballot before Election Day

From CNN's Gregory Krieg and Eric Bradner

A voter exits a polling location in Columbus, Georgia, on November 27.
A voter exits a polling location in Columbus, Georgia, on November 27. (Cheney Orr/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

For the past few weeks, Georgia Republican election officials have been crowing about early in-person voting turnout.

On Friday, the state broke its single-day record, again, when more than 350,000 people went to the polls to cast ballots before Election Day.

But these numbers, and the narrative around them, might ultimately be misleading.

Though several days last week ended with historically high single-day tallies, the overall number of early voters — as compared to the 2021 election — actually went down, from roughly 3.1 million last year to about 1.87 million during this year’s condensed early voting period. In the general election this year, about 2.5 million voted before Election Day.

The reason is simple: Under Georgia’s controversial voting law, passed in the months after last year’s runoffs, the time between the general election and the runoff was reduced from nine weeks to four. The compressed timeframe also meant fewer days of early voting and less time for voters to return mail-in ballots.

Given the obvious interest in the race, it’s a question of whether voters accustomed to voting before Election Day would show up Tuesday, and how that shift in behavior might affect wait times and counting of the votes.

5:49 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Margins matter in Georgia's populous suburbs this runoff election, CNN's John King says  

Analysis from CNN's John King

Today's runoff election in Georgia hinges on margins, CNN's John King says.

In the past, the state has been reliably red, however President Joe Biden's 2020 win has recently made the state competitive.

King says margins in Georgia's most populous suburbs matter, using the governor's 2022 race as an example of the role suburbs played. Watch his full analysis, below:

5:54 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Kemp has played a key role in Herschel Walker's bid — even after keeping his distance in November

From CNN's Gregory Krieg and Eric Bradner

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a press conference in Atlanta on November 7.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a press conference in Atlanta on November 7. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp kept his distance from Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker as he coasted to reelection in a rematch with Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in the general election.

Since his victory, though, Kemp has more fully embraced his party’s Senate nominee – despite the governor’s bad blood with former President Donald Trump, who has been supporting Walker

Kemp has appeared with Walker at rallies. He has cut television ads for the former University of Georgia football star. And he has loaned the get-out-the-vote operation that helped propel him to victory to a Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC, seeking to help Walker with the ground game his campaign lacked.

If Walker wins, it will be Kemp’s direct involvement in helping to convince the suburbanites who split their tickets in November, rather than Trump’s occasional support from a distance, that played the most important role.

5:27 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Runoff tests Democrats' theory that Georgia could be becoming a swing state

From CNN's Gregory Krieg and Eric Bradner

With states like Florida and Ohio turning a deeper shade of red, Democrats are desperate to broaden their national playing field — and Georgia appears to be their prime target following the 2020 election.

That year, President Joe Biden won the presidency and Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff flipped the state’s Senate seats. Biden even suggested moving up its presidential primary to fourth on the calendar in his recent letter to the Democratic National Committee.

That theory — or hope — of Georgia as a swing state faces a significant test on Tuesday.

With Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp emerging as Herschel Walker’s surrogate of choice during the homestretch, the results of the runoff could be viewed as a litmus test for Georgia Democrats. Specifically, whether the state has emerged as a true toss-up.

If Warnock wins despite Kemp’s willingness to lend his personal popularity and turnout apparatus to Walker, Democrats might actually be on to something. Though many in both parties would agree Walker has been a less-than-stellar nominee, he now has the firm, outspoken support of the state and national GOP behind him.

If that’s not enough to put him over the top, Republicans’ problems in Georgia are likely down to something more lasting than “candidate quality” issues.

On the flip side, a Walker victory would — for many of the same reasons — point precisely in the opposite direction. Georgia Republicans this year notched a clean sweep of statewide positions, with the exception, so far, of the US Senate seat still up for grabs. If Walker wins, despite all the concerns around his campaign, it will underscore the GOP’s abiding strength in the Peach State as long as Trump is out of sight and mind.

5:31 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Election resources to keep handy as you follow the Georgia race tonight

From CNN's Shania Shelton

A voter casts their ballot on Tuesday in Columbus, Georgia.
A voter casts their ballot on Tuesday in Columbus, Georgia. (Cheney Orr/Reuters)

The runoff between Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker has high stakes for the Senate. Polls are set to close at 7 p.m. ET tonight.

Keep these reads in your back pocket as you follow along tonight:

5:39 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Trump's endorsement power will be put to the test again in Georgia's runoff 

From CNN's Gregory Krieg and Eric Bradner

Former President Donald Trump attends a rally in Dayton, Ohio, on November 7.
Former President Donald Trump attends a rally in Dayton, Ohio, on November 7. (Gaelen Morse/Reuters)

Republican nominee Herschel Walker coasted to the Republican nomination in Georgia in large part because of the support of former President Donald Trump.

But Trump’s endorsement – while powerful enough to catapult his preferred contenders to the nominations in Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere – turned out to be an anchor in competitive statewide races this year.

Trump-backed candidates such as venture capitalist Blake Masters in Arizona, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and former state attorney general Adam Laxalt in Nevada fumbled winnable races, while venture capitalist J.D. Vance, who eked out a victory in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary thanks to Trump’s last-minute endorsement, survived a much tougher-than-expected contest with Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan.

A loss by Walker could further erode Republicans’ confidence in Trump’s ability to pick winners. It would also demonstrate what every national election since 2016 has shown: In many places, a close connection with Trump is a political liability.

As the 2024 Republican presidential primary begins to take shape, Trump – who hosted a tele-rally for Walker on Monday night – is already facing potential intra-party rivals emboldened by 2022’s results. A Walker loss would amplify calls for the party to turn elsewhere for leadership.