With votes outstanding in both Nevada and Arizona, it’s not yet clear whether control of the Senate will come down to Georgia’s runoff, as it did in 2020. Even if the runoff doesn’t decide the Senate majority, it’s still likely to receive significant national attention, as each party will want to limit the other’s advantage. It will probably garner massive investments from both parties as well. In 2020, Democrats and Republicans collectively spent more than $500 million on the Georgia Senate runoffs that took place in January.
The runoff, which will be on December 6, means that Warnock and Walker will spend almost another month going head-to-head, and that both parties will have to work to turn out voters for the second time in less than four weeks. When the Associated Press called the race Wednesday afternoon, Warnock had secured 49.4 percent of the vote, Walker had 48.5 percent. Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver had won 2.1 percent of the vote.
The support both candidates got during the election suggests that the runoff is poised to be a close contest as well. Given historical trends in the state as analyzed by FiveThirtyEight, the Republican candidate has typically seen gains during runoffs, though that dynamic was reversed in 2020 when Democrats — including Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff (D) — expanded their margins to capture two Senate seats and flip Senate control to Democrats.
What do Walker and Warnock have going for them in the runoff?
Both candidates have some factors in their favor.
Warnock, who has held the seat for the last two years, has a slight incumbency advantage and better favorability ratings compared to Walker. He’s emphasized his policy positions — including support for capping insulin costs and expanding Medicaid in the state — and stressed his willingness to work with Republicans. And he’s distanced himself from President Joe Biden, who has lower approval ratings in the state, while maintaining higher approval ratings of his own.
Warnock has also benefited from Walker’s extensive baggage. Walker is among the Republican candidates this cycle who has faced serious candidate quality issues in the wake of allegations that he paid for two women’s abortions, despite favoring severe abortion restrictions himself. Walker has denied both of these allegations, though he’s also faced allegations of domestic violence and claims that he misrepresented his business experience and law enforcement experience.
Walker still has a clear path, however. Historically, Republicans have been able to turn out more of their voters for runoffs in the state, which has a slight GOP lean. Though the GOP didn’t have as strong a midterms result as its leaders expected, the party is still on track to flip the House, and that momentum could help Republicans, especially as voters express ongoing concerns about inflation. Given his successful football career in Georgia, Walker’s celebrity status is still lauded by many voters, and that will continue to insulate him from some of the negative critiques he’s fielded. It’s also possible that some of Oliver’s supporters could cast ballots for Walker, given the libertarian’s absence from the runoff.
Democrats and Republicans will now duke it out to get more of their voters to the polls. In 2020, successful Democratic turnout efforts contributed heavily to both Warnock and Ossoff’s wins in the state. That same year, doubts that President Donald Trump sowed about the election process also deterred some Republicans from showing up to the polls, with tens of thousands of voters declining to participate in the Senate runoffs after voting in the presidential election.
In recent years, Georgia has seen significant demographic shifts including an increase in Black, Latino, and Asian American voters, constituents who could contribute to another Democratic win this cycle if they’re mobilized in the same way they were in 2020.