Turnout didn’t shatter records in Georgia, what that could mean for Herschel Walker, Raphael Warnock runoff

As many Georgia voters cast a ballot in the 2022 Midterm as in 2018, but the rate of participation fell and Election Day turnout didn’t see the flood officials expected. 

The U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, run by Political Science professor Michael McDonald, predicted turnout on Election Day could reach 2 million, though he noted unknowns. Actual Election Day turnout was just 1.4 million, according to results from the Georgia Secretary of State.

Overall turnout reached 3.95 million, a rate just shy of 57% of all registered voters. In 2018, turnout also reached 3.95 million voters, but because about 900,000 voters have since been added to the rolls, the rate exceeded 61%. 

With Georgia’s most closely watched election of this cycle heading to a runoff — the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker — turnout in that Dec. 6 race is expected to drop.

That could present a challenge for Warnock, who led the General Election by more than 35,000 votes, but failed to reach the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff. Warnock led in early voting by nearly 165,000 votes and in absentee ballots cast by nearly 90,000 votes. But he trailed on Election Day by 219,443 votes. 

With early voting reduced in the runoff to just one-week, as opposed to three weeks of early voting in the General, Warnock will have less time to push early votes and will likely need to boost Election Day turnout to match his performance this month. 

But this isn’t the first time Warnock has faced this scenario. He won his runoff in late 2020 to first secure his Senate seat against Kelly Loeffler despite a net drop in turnout of about 500,000 votes, according to the Atlantic Journal Constitution. Then, Warnock benefitted from a drop-off in GOP turnout amid frustration over then-President Donald Trump’s re-election loss. 

Trump wasn’t directly on the ballot this cycle, but tangentially, he was. Walker was one of many Trump-propped candidates on the ballot this year. Many pundits attribute a GOP underperformance in U.S. Senate races nationwide to Trump’s hoisting of weak candidates.

The argument certainly can be made that Walker fits that bill, with negative headlines plaguing his campaign including credible allegations from two women that the anti-abortion Walker paid for them to have abortions, domestic violence accusations and false statements. 

Walker’s negatives could depress turnout among GOP voters similarly to what happened in 2020. But GOP efforts to re-capture a majority in the Senate, something that will only be possible with a Georgia victory, is driving operatives to launch a massive operation to see Walker to victory. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, led by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, issued a joint memo with Walker outlining its strategy, which includes a major emphasis on fundraising.

Still, Republicans in Georgia faced the same challenge two years ago when not one, but two U.S. Senate races in the Peach state were on the ballot to determine control of the Senate. Democrats won both. 

The question will be whether Warnock can capitalize on what was, considering historic trends in Midterm elections, a strong performance from Democrats and exploit his opponents weaknesses, or whether Walker can build momentum to produce at least some of the red wave the GOP had hoped for. 

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