GROVETOWN, Ga. — More than 2.5 million Georgians cast in-person and absentee ballots during the early voting period that ended Friday, but Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker were continuing their bus tour blitzes to get out every last vote.
“There’s no question that we are seeing record voter turnout, and I think that’s great. The turnout is high, the stakes are even higher. And you know, the thing about high voter turnout in our country is it’s still not as high as it ought to be, in my opinion,” Warnock told reporters here in Columbia County on Saturday. “I want to see eligible voters cast their vote. And so we’ll keep making the case.”
The race could well be heading toward a runoff, since Georgia law requires a candidate to secure a majority of the votes cast in order to win on Election Day. The runoff would take place on Dec. 6, about a month earlier than the runoffs for both of Georgia’s Senate seats last cycle, which didn’t happen until the calendar had turned to 2021. And just as it was in 2021, it is once again possible that as goes Georgia, so goes control of the Senate.
“Georgia is one of a handful of states that mandates a runoff election for races where no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. When I played football, we called that OVERTIME!” said one fundraising message from the Walker campaign sent Sunday. “I don’t know about you, but I’d rather win this race without a runoff. However, according to a recent FiveThirtyEight forecast, no candidate is above 50%.”
One factor at play this year is the governor’s race, with Gov. Brian Kemp running well ahead of Walker in what seems to be a mix of concerns about the Senate nominee’s personal history and a popularity gap between Warnock and fellow Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is in a rematch with Kemp. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Georgia governor’s race Lean Republican, while the Senate race is a Toss-up.
Walker has been joined on the trail by an array of surrogates seeking to help energize Republican base voters. His guests Friday were former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who served on the legal team for President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial; and former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who recently formally left the Democratic Party and is now a fixture on Fox News Channel and elsewhere in the conservative media sphere.
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who was ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, joined Walker on Sunday, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., expected on Monday.
On Saturday, Walker himself was certainly the lead attraction for an indoor rally at a convention center in Athens, held not far from Sanford Stadium, where the Bulldogs would defeat the Tennessee Volunteers 27-13 hours later in a battle of unbeaten Southeastern Conference teams. The game was among the hottest tickets in college football.
Both Warnock, who continues to serve as senior pastor at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and Walker make regular appeals through faith.
Walker starts each campaign speech by saying Jesus Christ is his Lord and savior and, in an analogy to his days as a running back at the University of Georgia and in the NFL, he refers to Jesus as his lead blocker.
“We’re in a fight right now. This is a spiritual battle, and when that spiritual battle starts, God needs warriors. You don’t need politicians, so I’m not that politician. I don’t look like one, don’t dress like one,” Walker said Friday morning at a bus tour stop in Newnan, Ga. “I don’t speak like one ’cause I’m not that politician. I’m that warrior that God has prepared.”
Walker’s candidacy has been plagued by reports about the former running back’s earlier life, including allegations that he paid for abortions for past girlfriends. Walker has called the allegations lies, though he also said in an interview with NBC News that, in one case, “that’s my check,” though he argues he didn’t know the woman used the money to pay for an abortion. As a candidate, Walker says he opposes abortion rights.
Warnock makes sure to point out that he knows not everyone will share his faith traditions.
“A vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves, and for our children,” he says in his bus tour stump campaign speech, which at times might well be a sermon. “Your vote is your voice. Your voice is your human dignity.”
In a shopping center parking lot here Sunday, Warnock told supporters — most of whom raised their hand when asked if they voted already — “Tell your friends that democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea. This notion that each of us has within a spark of the divine that in the mosaic of … our diversity, we all bear witness to the glory of God.”
Warnock was asked during a meeting with reporters about Walker campaigning with Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a firebrand in the House caucus who had her committee assignments taken away for comments made before her 2020 election, including expressing support on social media for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s assassination. Warnock said the way to consider the “authenticity of your faith [is] not by what you say but by what you do.”
He invoked the late Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and civil rights leader who spoke about getting into “good trouble.”
“And you know, it’s quite a thing for a preacher to decide to get involved in something as messy as politics. But I’ve been fighting for health care for years. I’ve been standing up for workers for years. And the only reason why I got in this work is because every now and then it gives me a chance to do the kinds of things that I’ve been fighting for for years,” Warnock said.