Polls are closing in the Georgia runoff to decide the final Senate seat

By BILL Barrow and JEFF AMY

ATLANTA (AP) — Polls began to close Tuesday night in the nation’s final Senate race as Georgia voters await a winner in a runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican football legend Herschel Walker.

The contest will determine whether Democrats gain an overall 51-49 majority in the Senate or retain absolute control of a 50-50 chamber based on Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. Last year, victories by Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff gave the party that edge.

In the November election, Warnock led Walker by about 37,000 votes out of nearly 4 million, but fell short of the majority, triggering a runoff. About 1.9 million runoff votes have already been cast by mail and during early voting, a boon for Democrats whose voters vote that way more often. Republicans usually do better on Election Day itself.

The sprawling campaign became a bitter battle between two black men from a major Southern state: Warnock, the state’s first black senator and senior minister at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, and Walker, a former star of University of Georgia football. and political novice endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

A Warnock victory would solidify Georgia’s status as a battleground ahead of the 2024 presidential election. A Walker victory, however, could be an indication of Democratic weakness, especially given that Georgia Republicans have swept all other level contests state last month.

Last month, Walker, 60, trailed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp by more than 200,000 votes after a campaign marred by his meandering campaign speeches and damaging allegations, including claims he paid for the abortions of two former girlfriend – allegations she denied.

Voting went off smoothly on Tuesday despite cold and rainy conditions in some parts earlier in the day. Stephanie Jackson Ali, policy director for the New Georgia Progressive Project Action Fund, said the group has seen few problems in the state, with lines moving forward and equipment issues being addressed promptly.

Voting in Atlanta on Tuesday, Tom Callaway touted the strength of the Republican Party in Georgia and said he supported Kemp in the opening round of voting. But he cast his vote for Warnock because he didn’t think “Herschel Walker has the credentials to be a senator.”

“I didn’t think he had a statement about what he really believed in or had a meaningful campaign,” Callaway said.

Warnock, whose 2021 victory was in a special election to serve out the remainder of Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, said he believes he has convinced enough voters, including independents and moderate Republicans, that he deserves a full term.

“They know this race is about competence and character,” Warnock said. Walker also predicted victory and compared the contest with his leading Georgia to the 1980 national championship: “I like to win championships.”

Total spending on the seat this cycle approached $400 million through Tuesday, a staggering figure even for a state as populous with an expensive media market as Atlanta.

For months, the senator focused on his work in the Senate and his position as the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. However, starting in the closing period before the Nov. 8 general election, he added to the destruction of Walker, using the football star’s rocky past to argue the political newcomer was “unfit” for high office.

Walker countered by trying to portray Warnock as too beholden to President Joe Biden. He even accused Warnock of “sitting on his knees begging” the White House, a fierce charge for a black opponent to stand up to a black senator about his relationship with a white president.

A multimillionaire businessman, Walker inflated his philanthropic activities and business achievements, including claiming that his company employed hundreds of people and took in tens of millions of dollars in annual sales, even though records show he had eight employees and an average of about $1.5 million per year. He implied that he worked as a law enforcement officer and graduated from college, although he did neither.

Walker was also forced to admit during the campaign that he had three children out of wedlock that he had not previously spoken about publicly – in conflict with his years-long criticism of absentee fathers and his appeals as black men , in particular, to play an active role. role in their children’s lives.

His ex-wife said Walker once held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. He never denied these details and wrote about his violent tendencies in a 2008 memoir that attributed the behavior to mental illness.

Warnock touted his Senate accomplishments by promoting a provision he sponsored to cap insulin costs for Medicare patients. He hailed deals on infrastructure and maternal health care with Republican senators, mentioning those GOP colleagues more than he did Biden or other Washington Democrats.

After the general election, Biden, who struggled with low approval ratings, vowed to help Warnock in any way he could, even if it meant staying away from Georgia. Warnock instead campaigned with former President Barack Obama.

Worried about the possible backlash, Walker avoided campaigning with Trump until the final day of the campaign, when the two held a conference call with supporters on Monday.

Walker’s candidacy was the GOP’s last chance to flip a Senate seat this year. Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania, Blake Masters of Arizona, Adam Laxalt of Nevada and Don Bolduc of New Hampshire, all Trump loyalists, lost competitive Senate races that Republicans saw as part of their path to the majority.

Walker parted ways with Trump in a notable way. Trump spent two years falsely claiming his loss in Georgia and nationally was fraudulent, despite being rebuked by numerous federal and local officials and a long list of courts.

In his only debate against Warnock in October, Walker was asked if he would accept the results even if he lost. He answered with one word, “Yes.”


Associated Press writer Ron Harris contributed to this report.

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