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Rating change: Georgia Senate shifts to Tilt Democratic

Warnock has a slight edge in what’s likely to be another close race

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., arrives on his campaign bus campaign for a rally in Grovetown, Ga., on Nov. 5.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., arrives on his campaign bus campaign for a rally in Grovetown, Ga., on Nov. 5. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

ANALYSIS — Keeping the Georgia Senate race rated as a Toss-up would be easy. But it also wouldn’t accurately reflect the dynamic in the race. 

The Dec. 6 runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican football legend Herschel Walker is likely to be close. Warnock was elected initially in a 2021 runoff by 2 points. He finished ahead of Walker on Nov. 8 by just short of 1 point, and limited runoff polling points to another photo finish. 

Yet, it’s hard to ignore Warnock’s advantages heading into next week’s race. Not only did the senator outpace Walker narrowly a month ago (and win two years ago), but Democrats are outspending Republicans down the stretch, Warnock’s image is better than Walker’s, Democrats have been hitting their early turnout goals, and Republicans lost the potency of a core message when control of the Senate was decided by other races.

Jacob Rubashkin of Inside Elections also pointed out that Democrats’ biggest liabilities — President Joe Biden’s unpopularity, high inflation and crime — failed to push Walker or many other Republicans to victory in November. Republicans have largely abandoned those lines of attack in the Georgia runoff in favor of litigating personal character, which hasn’t been enough to topple Warnock in the past.

The Georgia race has been rated as a Toss-up for the entire cycle. And the rating was affirmed by the close November result. But with the aforementioned factors, it’s not accurate to say Warnock and Walker have the same chance of winning. Inside Elections is changing the rating of the Georgia Senate race from Toss-up to Tilt Democratic. 

What ratings mean

The rating change should not be equated to a guaranteed win for Warnock, nor does it indicate that Walker cannot win. There’s just slightly more evidence pointing to a Warnock victory, even amidst the uncertainty of turnout in an oddly timed runoff election.

Criticism of ratings is often a dispute about the definition of rating categories and not the contours of the race itself. In this case, the question is not whether Walker can win, but whether he and Warnock have the same chance of winning. To many folks, Toss-up means either nominee could win, and anything else is effectively Solid. Instead, ratings are trying to reflect the likelihood of how a race will turn out on a nine-point spectrum. 

If Inside Elections didn’t have the unique Tilt category, then Toss-up would be the best rating. But Tilt exists for races that are just outside of the Toss-up category. In fact, in the days of The Rothenberg Political Report, the rating category was actually called Toss-Up/Tilt.

There’s some risk with the rating change in Georgia, considering that the rest of Inside Elections’ Senate ratings pointed readers in the right direction. Up to this point, each party won every Senate race where they had an advantage according to the ratings. Democrats have won two of the three toss-up races (Nevada and Pennsylvania), with Georgia being the third of that trio until now.

No matter what happens in the runoff, the final overall Senate result will fall in Inside Elections’ final projected range of a Democratic gain of a seat to a Republican gain of two seats. This cycle will end with either a Warnock win (and a Democratic gain of a seat) or a Walker win and a status quo result. 

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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