With just about 45% of the votes tallied so far, Warnock is in the lead. But Republicans have some reason to feel encouraged.
Early votes favored Democrats, as expected. On election day, at least 1.3 million people voted, according to the secretary of state’s office. Republicans needed high turnout today to stay in the game – and they seem to have gotten their wish.
Of course, it will still be a while until we have a clearer idea of how the votes ultimately fall.
Gaining one more seat in the Senate would have far-reaching implications for Democrats, both politically and procedurally. As Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer wrote in an email to supporters: “Having 50 seats is great, but having 51 is even better.”
With a 51st seat, Schumer could assume greater control over the upper chamber, making governing easier and more efficient than it is in the evenly split Senate.
In early 2021, victories by Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the state’s twin runoffs delivered Democrats control of a 50-50 Senate, with Harris as the tie-breaking vote. Schumer then spent weeks negotiating a power-sharing agreement with the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, which delayed the confirmations of newly inaugurated president Joe Biden’s nominees.
The even divide extended to the committees, where members frequently deadlocked over nominees or legislation, requiring additional maneuvering to advance them to the floor. Should Warnock win, Democrats would hold majorities on committees and could use that power to move nominations or other legislative business on a party-line vote.
“We would go back to what we usually see in the Senate,” said Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a thinktank in Washington. “If all of the Democrats on the committee wanted something to happen, they would be able to just vote for it and they wouldn’t have to jump through extra hoops.”
Reynolds said a Warnock victory would also give the party “more breathing room”. With just 50 senators, any sudden vacancy or absence risks leaving Democrats without a functioning majority, as happened in January, when Senator Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico suffered a stroke before the supreme court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Luján made a full recovery and returned to the Senate in time to confirm Jackson to the court, but it underscored the precarious nature of Democrats’ power.
An additional vote would also give the party wiggle room to override the objections of a single senator. For two years, the Democrats’ agenda seemed to hinge on the support of one man: Joe Manchin, a centrist from conservative West Virginia. In negotiations, Manchin used the narrow margin as leverage to extract concessions on major legislation and forced Democrats to significantly scale back the president’s signature health and climate package.
In 2024, Manchin faces an uphill battle to hold on to his seat in a state Donald Trump won by a wide margin in 2016, which could make the senator even more determined to showcase his political independence.
Likely to remain in place, even with a 51st seat, is the Senate filibuster. Despite mounting calls from across the party to weaken the rule to protect voting rights and codify Roe v Wade, Democrats do not have the support of 50 senators to do so. Manchin and his Democratic colleague Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona oppose changes to the filibuster, which imposes a 60-vote threshold to pass most legislation. Democrats would have needed to gain at least two additional senators to overcome their resistance, and even then such legislation would be unlikely to advance in a Republican-controlled House.
Without a majority in the House, Democrats’ streak of legislating will all but certainly grind to a halt. In the Senate, the Democrats’ priority will be to confirm federal judges and executive branch appointees nominated by the president. Here again having a one-seat cushion would help Democrats bypass a degree of obstinancy within their ranks, in contrast to earlier this year when one of Biden’s nominees to the Federal Reserve was forced to withdraw her candidacy after Manchin announced his opposition.
Carlisa N. Johnson in Atlanta and David Smith in Washington:
Ahead of election day, opinion polls suggest a narrow lead for incumbent Democratic senator Raphael Warnock over his Republican challenger, former American football star Herschel Walker.
Victory for Warnock would give Democrats 51 seats in the 100-seat Senate, a stronger hand than they currently hold in an evenly split chamber where Vice-President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote.
It is the second time in two years that a Senate race has gone to a runoff in Georgia because neither candidate secured a majority on election day. But the Peach State is showing little sign of election fatigue, with officials reporting record early voting turnout.
National and state Democrats also came out to support Warnock. Last week saw celebrity-led events including a concert by the Dave Matthews Band, canvassing with actors Tessa Thompson and America Ferrera, and a rally targeting Georgia’s Asian American community featuring Jeannie Mai Jenkins and Daniel Dae Kim.
The result of the runoff will not determine control of the Senate, as Democrats have already won enough seats to maintain their hold for the next two years.
But a Raphael Warnock victory would give Democrats a crucial 51st seat, allowing them to abandon their current power-sharing agreement with Republicans in the evenly divided chamber. A 51-seat majority would also provide Democrats with some wriggle room when it comes to close committee votes and nomination fights.
“This race is about who is going to represent the 11 million people of Georgia for the next six years,” Warnock told MSNBC on Monday.
“Given my opponent, this race is not even about Republican versus Democrat, red versus blue, right versus left. It’s right versus wrong, and I think people see that.”
Polls are now closing in Georgia.
More than a million ballots were cast today, according to the secretary of state’s office, suggesting high runoff turnouts.
The last Georgia runoff that first put Warnock in the Senate saw the highest runoff turnout in the state’s history.
From Guardian staff and agencies:
The winner of Tuesday’s midterm election runoff for one of Georgia’s two seats in the US Senate will make history.
Raphael Warnock became the first Black senator from Georgia when he won the 2020 election runoff that helped tip the upper chamber into Democratic control, boosting the party in its capture of the House, the Senate and the White House.
Now, as Georgia heads for the last day of voting in the latest runoff, Warnock hopes to add another distinction: winning a full six-year term in the Senate.
Standing in the way is another Black man, Republican challenger Herschel Walker. And whoever wins will be the first Black person elected from Georgia to a full Senate term.
Black voters there say the choice is stark: Warnock, the senior minister of Martin Luther King’s Atlanta church, echoes traditional liberal notions of the Black experience; and Walker, a University of Georgia football icon, speaks the language of white cultural conservatism and mocks Warnock’s interpretations of King, among other matters.
“Republicans seem to have thought they could put up Herschel Walker and confuse Black folks,” said Bryce Berry, president of Georgia’s Young Democrats chapter and a senior at Morehouse College, a historically Black campus from which both King and Warnock graduated.
Standing beneath a campus statue of King, Berry continued: “We are not confused.”
Other Black voters raised questions about Walker’s past – his false claims about his business and professional accomplishments, violence against his ex-wife, reports alleging that he paid for women to have abortions while now campaigning to ban the procedure – and the way he stumbles over some public policy discussions as a candidate.
Some said they believe GOP leaders are taking advantage of Walker’s fame as a football star.
“How can you let yourself be used that way as a Black person?” asked Angela Heard, a state employee from Jonesboro. “I think you should be better in touch with your people instead of being a crony for someone.”
Even some Black conservatives who back Walker lament his candidacy as a missed opportunity to expand Republicans’ reach to a key part of the electorate that remains overwhelmingly Democratic.
“I don’t think Herschel Walker has enough relatable life experience to the average Black American for them to identify with him,” said Avion Abreu, a 34-year-old realtor who lives in Marietta and has supported Walker since the GOP primary campaign.
Warnock narrowly led Walker in the November general election, but neither crossed the 50% threshold, sending the race to a runoff on 6 December.
In about an hour, the polls will close in Georgia, and counties could start reporting totals soon after. Democrats have already secured a razor-thin majority in the US Senate, but tonight’s runoff race between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Trump-endorsed Republican Hershel Walker is being closely watched across the US.
A win for Warnock means the Democrats will be better able to leverage their majority to balance against a Republican-led House of Representatives. It would also solidify Georgia’s status as a political battleground state.
Regardless of outcome, the race could prove to be a rebuke of Donald Trump. Walker’s poor performance in November was seen as a failure for Trump. If he wins this race, it could be chalked up to Trump’s absence from the campaign trail.
Follow along for live updates as the results roll in.