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Georgia runoff 2022: Raphael Warnock defeats Herschel Walker to win Senate race

Here are the highlights and key moments from Democrats' successful effort to expand the party's control of the Senate to 51 seats over Republicans' 49 seats.

Georgia Senate runoff: Key updates

  • Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker, expanding Democrats' Senate majority to 51 seats, NBC News projects.
  • At least 3 million people voted in the runoff, including during early voting and on Election Day.
  • The candidates advanced to the runoff after neither of them received 50% of the vote in the Nov. 8 general midterm election.

This midterms breaks history, again

Let’s be real: Nobody but nobody saw the Democrats doing as well as they did in this year's midterm elections. But with Warnock’s win, history broke just a little bit more.

MSNBC's Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out on air tonight that this is the first time since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the White House that the sitting president’s party didn’t lose a single seat in the Senate. And as Daily Kos noted on Twitter, it’s also the first time since then that the incumbent party gained a Senate seat and governorships.

And with the Georgia runoff race in the rearview mirror, the 2022 midterm election cycle finally comes to a close. Thanks for following along with us during this historic moment for democracy.

It’s absurd that this race could have gone the other way

It’s remarkable that Walker made it anything close to a competitive race, given how objectively bad of a candidate he was. 

Sherrilyn Ifill, former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, called the Georgia race’s closeness “among the most depressing and ominous things I’ve seen in American politics in my lifetime.”

Ifill also warned against new Republican attempts to suppress the vote, as they did in 2021 after Warnock’s and Jon Ossoff’s Georgia runoff wins that saved the Senate for Democrats the last time.

My colleague Hayes Brown explained how Republicans’ suppression attempt may have backfired on Walker. Given the prospect of further suppression attempts, it remains to be seen whether Democrats will continue to win such crucial races in the future if faced with Republican candidates who are more competent.

This is what a winning coalition looks like

The growth in Metro Atlanta is worth unpacking.

I had the opportunity to speak to former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, who in 1972 was the first Black person elected to Congress from Georgia since Reconstruction and went on to be elected as mayor of Atlanta in 1981.

Young told me when he was mayor, the Atlanta metro area had about 1 million people. Today, the metro area is more than 7 million people strong and it is diverse. Black voters in Georgia are a strong and formidable force and are nearly 50% of the metro area Atlanta electorate. When looking at Latino voters, they are now the third largest racial group in the state: 1.1 million strong and nearly half live in the metro Atlanta areas of Fulton, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. There is also a growing and engaged Asian American Pacific Islander electorate.

But to be very clear: Warnock's coalition that he has built is a coalition that looks more like an Obama coalition than a Biden one. Warnock’s campaign improved his numbers in rural counties by campaigning there — that’s what you do if you want to be competitive.

Tonight, Warnock is reaping the benefits of his savvy campaign strategy, a burgeoning Democratic organizing apparatus in the state and the fact that Walker was a bad candidate who did and does not represent Black people.

Democrats can now crank up the judicial confirmations

One benefit of Warnock’s win for Democrats is that they can push through President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees more efficiently.   

While Vice President Kamala Harris could break any tie in the 50-50 Senate, that deadlocked status meant Republicans could slow down nominations along the way.

Don't let Walker's bizarre campaign overshadow Warnock's work

The vampire vs. werewolf head-scratching campaign of Herschel Walker has taken up so much oxygen that there has not been enough attention paid to the campaign run by Sen. Warnock. He campaigned across the state including in areas that were overwhelmingly Republican, ran on an affirmative and positive agenda on what he was going to do to make people’s Iives better. We are going to hear a lot more about Warnock in the years ahead. 

Herschel Walker’s parting words

In what was essentially a concession speech, Walker inconceivably refers to this failed Senate run as “the best thing I’ve ever done in my whole entire life” because it allowed him to meet people on the campaign trail. That’s an interesting reflection given his staff reportedly worked so hard to limit his interactions with the public.  

Walker said this even outranks his sporting and business accolades. 

He didn’t mention his current wife or any of his children — and I guess he’s not obligated to do so, but I guess I just assumed these things would all rank above what was arguably the worst Senate bid in modern U.S. history by the nominee of a major party. 

Nonetheless, here are some of the waning moments of Herschel Walker’s political career, everyone.

Shoutout to Mama Warnock

Warnock gave thanks to his mother, who was in attendance at his headquarters, during his victory speech. When she was growing up in Georgia in the 1950s, she picked someone else’s cotton, the senator said, but “tonight she helped pick her son to be a United States senator.”

Now that is a great line.

'Voting is faith put into action': Warnock delivers victory speech

It was an absolute scene at Warnock’s headquarters when he finally took the stage. “Settle down now,” Warnock told his supporters as they roared their welcome, their enthusiasm overpowering him from starting his remarks.

“After a hard fought campaign, or should I say campaigns, it is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever uttered in a democracy: the people have spoken,” Warnock said once he was able to begin. “I often say that a vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and for our children. Voting is faith put into action. And Georgia you have been praying with your lips and your legs, with your hands and your feet, your heads and your hearts. You have put in the hard work and here we are standing together.”

Sorry to Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema (or both)

Of all the things that Warnock’s victory means for the next few years in the Senate, one of the biggest changes in the 118th Congress comes at the expense of the duo known as “Manchinema.” Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema were the two moderate votes that stood in the way of the Build Back Better Act in 2021 and refused to vote with the rest of the caucus to change the filibuster rule. 

The idea that both of them would change their mind on the filibuster is slim to none, leaving Democrats still one vote short. But as I noted in January, beyond that alliance, the two aren’t natural allies on a lot of issues, including climate change and corporate taxes. It’s a shame that there won’t be a Democratic House to work with next year, but having 51 seats means that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., can choose just one rogue moderate to win over instead of juggling two.

Warnock overperformed where Walker needed to shine

The key to success in any runoff election is improving on your performance in the general election. It is especially important that you gain ground in areas where you were less competitive.

Tonight, Walker had a hard time doing either. In critical counties for Walker, though he may have improved over his general election performance by 1, 2 or even 3 percentage points, Warnock overperformed from his general election numbers in solid Republican counties.

A tale of two politicians: Marjorie Taylor Greene and Raphael Warnock

Alex Wagner makes a good point about what the Georgia results say about the state’s changing demographics.

Georgia “is becoming dramatically less white,” Wagner noted, with large metro population centers becoming much less homogenous. “This is the new Georgia, and there is a reason that you have both Marjorie Taylor Greene and Raphael Warnock representing that state.”

Warnock takes a virtual victory lap

Joy Reid: Warnock having to win twice exposes 'Jim Crow residue'

Team Warnock is turning up right now!

Sometimes, a scene speaks for itself. 

My favorite moment of the night: Rachel Maddow tossing to The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Greg Bluestein, who’s reporting from the Warnock campaign's watch party, to find out what the vibe is like.

And Bluestein did his news hit over the sound of Georgia rapper Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down” blasting in the background. In other words: Team Warnock is turnt right now!

Check out this clip of MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson reporting live from Warnock headquarters after the race was called for their candidate.

Trump ends election season with a dismal endorsement record

NBC News’ Allan Smith notes that out of these 16 races in which Trump endorsed the Republican candidate, only two — Joe Lombardo in Nevada’s gubernatorial race and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson in his re-election bid — prevailed.

Warnock puts an end to Walker's scandal-plagued campaign

NBC News projects Warnock has officially won the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Walker. The Warnock campaign poured significant resources into the race, writes The ReidOut Blog's Ja'han Jones, and "largely let Walker’s often incoherent words speak for themselves, a strategy that in the end benefited him greatly."

But while Walker's campaign will be remembered for its many, many stumbles, the GOP must also share the blame.

"To put it mildly, Walker’s campaign has not made the GOP look any less racist than it did prior," writes Jones. "It has, miraculously, left many observers with a worse view of Walker than they had at the start of his campaign."

Read Ja'han's full piece here.

Warnock defeats Walker, NBC News projects

Warnock has won re-election, defeating Walker and expanding Democrats’ Senate majority to 51 seats, NBC News projects.

Warnock waiting on Atlanta … again

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years it’s that things take a little bit longer in the South. Well, specifically in Atlanta, which sits on top of the biggest, most populous counties in Georgia. In the 2020 election, the 2021 Georgia runoff, and now tonight, it’s always going hours after the polls close before we get same-day tallies delivered. As of a little after 10 p.m. ET, DeKalb County is still reporting only 65.5% of the votes counted — that includes pretty much all of the early vote, and a sliver of the votes cast today.

But hey, at least things are definitely moving along faster this time around compared with, say, 2017, when The Atlanta Constitution-Journal looked at the delay in counting, including “Fulton County earning a reputation for getting its results in well after midnight.”

Libertarian voters could tip the scales

With the race too close to call at this point in the evening, it’s worth looking at what role libertarian voters could play in the final tally.

In the general election last month, libertarian candidate Chase Oliver won around 81,000 votes, which is greater than the margin of votes tallied in the race thus far. Though we’ve seen both Warnock and Walker each make gains in some counties, it’s unclear exactly where the libertarian votes from the general election ended up in the runoff — or if those voters turned out this time around to cast their ballots.

Meanwhile, Oliver, who didn’t endorse a candidate in the runoff, is apparently reaching even higher after his overwhelming defeat in the general election, announcing last week that he’s exploring a 2024 run for president.

Rural counties just aren’t showing up for Walker

One of the big things that Walker’s campaign needed to do to cinch this runoff was improve on its performance in Georgia’s rural counties compared with November. So far tonight, it looks like while he has done a bit better in some places, Warnock is also showing gains in many of the Republican strongholds that Walker needs to win. NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard reported a little while ago that even Walker’s allies are disappointed in how things are looking outside of the urban population centers.

GOP message did little to optimize voter turnout

So this election is going to turn on who showed up to vote. On the Democratic side, $32 million was spent on voter turnout. Over 4 million doors were knocked in the last week or so. And today 6,000 people were knocking on doors to pull people out to vote. Democratic voters were told, over and over, how important it was to vote.

Meanwhile on the Republican side, they are busy telling people not to vote by mail, not to vote early, that elections are rigged and fraudulent. That is not a message that optimizes voter turnout. If Sen. Warnock is re-elected tonight, the Republicans just need to look in the mirror to figure out why.

No reports of major incidents at polls, but voter suppression remains in Georgia

Perhaps it’s due to the lowered stakes of the Georgia runoff relative to the general election, but this race doesn’t seem to have the pall of potential right-wing election violence hanging over it to the extent November’s race did. 

For example, Georgia’s newly instituted text alert system to notify officials of violence at the polls doesn’t seem to have fielded any reports of major incidents. 

But that doesn’t mean this race hasn’t been afflicted by voter suppression efforts, and it doesn’t mean that remedying voter suppression efforts is no longer on voters’ minds. Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams just reminded our TV panelists about Republican attempts to close polls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a move that Dems successfully challenged in court. 

And Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown reminded our own Joy Reid on Monday’s episode of “The ReidOut” (filmed in Georgia) that Georgians “have not forgotten about SB 202, the voter suppression bill.” 

The law, which includes strict measures around absentee voting, has new voter identification requirements and even bans giving food or water to people waiting in voting lines, is the subject of a federal suit filed by the Justice Department

“It is a shame that people are standing in line two, three hours just to cast their ballot to vote,” she said.

Race is still too close to call, but Warnock now leads

Although the race is still too close to call, Sen. Raphael Warnock has taken the lead over Herschel Walker, according to NBC News.

Georgia election official: 'Looks like a long night ahead'

Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the Georgia secretary of state, warned earlier that this could be a long night of tallying votes.

What Warnock learned from 2021’s runoffs roller coaster

Warnock has been speaking to voters in Georgia for three years and his campaign knows exactly who they need to turn out to win. That’s why they banked early votes so that they could focus on Election Day turnout.

His campaign knew tonight might follow the same trend as the 2021 runoffs roller coaster, which started with gains for Republicans in rural counties and ended with the huge vote in metro Atlanta putting him over the edge. Those votes always come in later. 

A possible flip in central Georgia

NBC News’ Sahil Kapur notes that Baldwin County could flip to Warnock after going for Walker last month. Baldwin is in central Georgia, about 90 miles southeast of Atlanta.

Race is now too close to call, according to NBC News

NBC News' Decision Desk just changed the characterization of the race from "too early to call" to "too close to call," which means the final margin between Walker and Warnock is expected to be less than 5 percentage points.

Why Johnson County is one to watch

One county I’m keeping a close watch on tonight is rural Johnson County, which includes Herschel Walker’s hometown: Wrightsville, Georgia. 

Early reports suggest Warnock may be performing better there in the runoff than he did in the general election, which, if it holds, is obviously welcome news for the Democrat’s campaign. 

The incumbent senator made a campaign stop there in the final weeks of this runoff, which, as my colleague Jarvis DeBerry noted earlier, resulted in one of Walker’s former football coaches coming out to support Warnock and cut an advertisement for him. 

The Warnock campaign told me they ventured into some conservative-leaning areas hoping to pick off some Walker voters, and specifically saw Wrightsville as ripe for the picking. I happen to think Warnock’s closing message to Wrightsville — that Walker was a stellar football player but unfit to represent the town as Georgia’s senator — was delivered pretty effectively. Check it out: 

Welcome to Georgia, land of Too Many Counties

NBC News’ Alex Seitz-Wald raises an extremely valid point that I’d never considered: Georgia has too dang many counties.

For comparison’s sake, Georgia is roughly similar in size, by area, to Wisconsin and Illinois. Wisconsin has 71 counties. Illinois has 102. Georgia, for some reason, has 159 counties — or more than twice as many as Wisconsin. Sure, some of the tinier counties can finish their tallies quickly, which seems like a plus. On the other hand, I’m no expert on running elections, but that seems like way too many mini-fiefdoms determining voting standards inside the state!

A split in the GOP intelligentsia over voting strategy

Is it good if more people vote?

Top leaders in today's Republican Party don't seem to agree on an answer.

“What we do need is our voters need to vote early,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel told Fox News tonight, splitting with party standard bearer Donald Trump, who appears to still hold a grudge against the voting method that helped him lose re-election in 2020.

The former president wrote in a recent post on his Truth Social site: “YOU CAN NEVER HAVE FAIR & FREE ELECTIONS WITH MAIL-IN BALLOTS — NEVER, NEVER, NEVER.”

Reminder: Establishment GOP backed Walker, not just Trump

Trump does his ‘witch hunt’ thing while U.S. waits for Georgia

As the results roll in and we’re all glued to various screens awaiting early numbers from Georgia, the de facto head of the Republican Party’s thoughts are elsewhere.

Though the former president encouraged Walker to run and has stated his intention to retake the White House in 2024, Donald Trump’s election-night statement was a fuming diatribe against a supposed “MANHATTAN WITCH HUNT,” after the Trump Organization was convicted on all charges in New York earlier in the day.

Naturally laying the blame elsewhere, Trump threw the organization’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, under the bus while vowing to appeal.

The jokes and insults are getting to Herschel Walker

It appears that, over the past week, Walker has become more self-aware of the insults and jokes people are using to clown him. 

After former President Barack Obama joked about Walker’s infamous tangent about vampires and werewolves during a campaign event for Warnock, a perturbed Walker expressed his frustration during a Sunday interview on Fox. 

“Why [doesn’t he] tell the whole story?” Walker asked, suggesting this would have made the rant seem more sane. 

Separately, during a campaign event over the weekend, Walker leaned in to insults from Black people deriding him as a “c--n,” a racial epithet some Black people use to deride others believed to be putting on an act for oppressive white people. 

Walker seemed to try to spin the insults as a positive. 

“People think that’s a bad term,” Walker began. “I said, ‘Guys, I’m from the country. If you know anything about a c--n, [it’s] one of the smartest animals out there.’”

Naturally, I’m going to advise you not to follow Walker’s logic on this (or anything else), folks. That word is no compliment.

Polls officially closed in Warnock v. Walker 2: The Quickening

It’s 7 p.m. ET, which means that barring those who are still in the (relatively short) lines waiting to cast their ballots, the runoff election is officially over. Nearly 3 million ballots will have been cast between early voting and in-person voting today, according to the Georgia secretary of state. While the turnout didn’t quite reach the massive numbers we saw during the 2020 runoff, when there were two races on the ballot and control of the Senate at stake, that’s still a huge number of votes cast this time in a midterms runoff.

Historically, the number of voters trekking back to the polls in a runoff has been low — but not anymore. “Two years ago, the Senate runoff turnout amounted to 91 percent of the general election electorate — by far the highest mark in the state’s history,” The New York Times reported. “The Tuesday runoff is on pace to record a turnout of about 85 percent of the total from Nov. 8.”

Obama gives Warnock’s closing argument while Walker touts support from ... Ted Cruz?

As the polls close in Georgia, Warnock v. Walker can be summed up by the state of their respective Twitter accounts.

Warnock’s features former President Barack Obama giving a soaring speech urging people to vote for the minister, “to build on the work of people like John Lewis and Ann Nixon Cooper who paved the way for us.”

Walker’s, meanwhile, features a post from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas complaining about Democrats wanting to “blow up the filibuster and ram through radical judges.”

As my colleague Jarvis DeBerry noted earlier this evening, the most recent former Republican president, Donald Trump — no doubt reeling from the sweeping convictions of his Trump Organization today in Manhattan — has abandoned Walker despite pushing the football star to run in the first place.

Kornacki reveals 'most striking' aspect of Georgia's Nov. 8 election results

Steve Kornacki, MSNBC's khaki-wearing election wizard, revealed what he believes to be the most noteworthy aspect of last month's elections in Georgia.

"What is most striking in reviewing the November general election results in Georgia is just how GOP-friendly the electorate was," Kornacki wrote in this morning's MSNBC newsletter.

He continued:

"Overall, per the exit poll, Georgia voters gave Biden just a 41% approval rating, several points worse than his national figure. And Republicans swept to victory in every other statewide race. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, for instance, easily bested Democrat Stacey Abrams by eight points. In finishing a point behind Warnock, Walker was the exception to an otherwise strong night for the Georgia GOP. This bloc of voters — those who voted for Kemp and other GOP candidates but not Walker — looms large in the runoff."

Polls close in 30 minutes

Polling locations across Georgia will close at 7 p.m. ET.

Smooth sailing at the polls on Election Day 2022: Pt. II

OK, so first the good news: Lines have been moving at a steady clip today across the state of Georgia. Even in DeKalb and Fulton counties, there’s been no signs of the massive, hours-long waits that plagued earlier elections. Right now the secretary of state’s office is predicting around 1 million votes being cast before the day is out.

That suggests two things to me though. One: This isn’t an ideal situation for Walker, given the nearly 1.9 million early ballots that were cast ahead of Tuesday. His campaign was counting on a massive turnout on Election Day to eat away at any lead that Warnock likely built up among those voters.

Two: The long lines we did see at in-person locations during the weeklong early voting period show that the condensed runoff period made it harder for people to vote when they were actually able to get to the polls. If I’m Warnock, I’m hoping that anyone who was discouraged from long lines was able to make it back out today.

Trump comes under (accidental?) friendly fire from Walker

Walker, in one of his final campaign appearances today, had a rhetorical question for his audience: “If you don’t love the Constitution, why are you running for office in the United States of America? You gotta love the Constitution.”

He went on to accuse Warnock and “the left” of not loving the Constitution. But as The Recount noted, uh, Warnock isn’t the one who just called for the “termination of all rules” in the Constitution to redo the 2020 election. That would be his pal, Donald Trump.

Now do I think Walker meant to take a dig at Trump? Nah. If we’re being honest, I am unsure whether Walker knows how to use more than one entendre in a sentence. But let’s just say that it’d be a shame if this clip wasn’t used in a future campaign ad.

Is this the end for Georgia runoffs?

State election officials on Tuesday sounded eager to avoid another hectic runoff season — or at least ready to consider a better way. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, reportedly alluded to ranked-choice voting as one method to avoid putting a strain on election workers.

That method could produce fairer and more efficient outcomes. As the name suggests, instead of just choosing one candidate, it lets voters rank their first, second and third choices and so on. That method could have allowed for an “instant runoff” following the general election last month.

Likewise, Raffensperger’s chief operating officer, Gabriel Sterling, reportedly said “there should be a conversation” about future runoffs in the state, including regarding the runoff time period following a general election, which state Republicans shortened from nine weeks to four weeks, after Democrats in the state won their runoffs in 2021, handing U.S. Senate control to Democrats.

Walker’s political debut went way, way smoother than his campaign

I’d forgotten until today that Walker’s first real foray into the political arena was during the 2020 Republican National Convention. Walker was drafted to appear in a video where he gave Trump his official “not a racist” endorsement. He didn’t have the smoothest of deliveries in his three-minute clip, but it was at least a coherent speech, one that gifted us with the image of a suit-wearing Trump scowling his way through Disney World’s “It’s a Small World” ride.

Honestly, kudos to whoever wrote Walker’s speech and the RNC staffer who directed his appearance. It’s not hard to see how someone watching that speech could think to themselves “maybe we should get this guy to run for office.” If the disciplined, on-message Walker in that video was the one who appeared on the campaign trail, maybe we wouldn’t have had a runoff today. But when he’s off-script, Walker goes really far off script, leaving thousands of GOP voters with doubts in November.

Tonight should bury the GOP’s race-baiter claims for good

Republicans often accuse liberals of so-called race-baiting — essentially, their catchall term for dubiously deploying race as a political tool. I’m thinking those allegations should officially end with this runoff?

Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham have been stunningly clear in stating their hopes of using Walker’s Blackness as a way to attract Black voters and dispel justifiable allegations that GOP has a sizable racists. It seems very likely this was Trump’s conceit behind hand-picking Walker to run against Warnock, as well. 

They’re literally using race to bait voters. And these are apparently extremely poor fishermen! A recent CNN poll found Black voters were near unanimous in their support for Warnock. 

Exit polls last month showed Walker has largely only been able to attract white voters. That’s the crux of this Ms. Magazine article you should read on tonight’s race, discussing why “White Men Are the Last Best Hope for Herschel Walker in Georgia’s Senate Runoff.” 

Relatedly, check out this ReidOut Blog post I wrote on how Walker and fellow Republicans have tried to lure Black voters — particularly Black men — with appeals to misogynist bigotry.  

These cynical, political ploys (unsurprisingly) didn’t sway Black voters in Walker’s favor in the general election, and it seems doubtful they will in this runoff.

Contrary to the GOP’s assumptions, Black voters appear too smart and proud, broadly speaking, to nominate someone like Walker. Republican voters are a different story.

Walker’s apparent Texas residency is last on a long list of scandals

Mehmet Oz is not the new senator-elect from Pennsylvania in large part because his Democratic opponent, John Fetterman, wouldn’t let people forget that Oz was more at home (and had more homes) in New Jersey. 

Walker, according to multiple reports, declared a home in suburban Dallas as his primary residence in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The Daily Beast reports that the Atlanta house he cited as his official residence when he qualified for the Senate race in Georgia in August 2021 was earning rental income that year

Why, then, have we not heard as much about where Walker really lives? I’ve got two theories. One: Everybody knows that Walker really is from Georgia. He grew up in a small town in the state, speaks like rural people from the state, and was a running back for the University of Georgia football team.

My second theory is that Walker’s Texas residency is too far down the list of things that a political opponent would seek to attack. It definitely ranks behind the allegations of violence against women; reports that he was the same kind of absentee father he criticized on the campaign trail; reports that he, an anti-abortion absolutist, paid or offered to pay for lovers’ abortions; reports he lied about graduating from the top of his high school class, lied about being an FBI agent  and lied about his business accomplishments.

There’s so much material and only so much an opposing candidate or media outlets can emphasize.

Trump abandons Walker at the end. Republicans don't seem to care.

Walker wouldn’t be running for election in Georgia if not for Trump, who owned the USFL team the running back played for in the 1980s and pushed him to challenge Warnock for his U.S. Senate seat. Trump campaigned for Walker before the Georgia Republican primary and deserves credit for him winning 68% of the vote in that race, but Trump has not been visible with any recent support.

It’s unclear who, if anybody, is upset about that. After all, Trump’s highest-profile picks — including Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehment Oz; Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Alaska congressional candidate Sarah Palin — all lost their elections last month. And there’s plenty reason to believe the Republican establishment doesn’t want Trump to show up because they fear he’ll only hurt Walker’s chances with less extreme Republican voters. It also seems likely that Trump doesn’t want to show up because he doesn’t want yet another L on his record.

HuffPost reported last week that Trump isn’t even contributing to getting out the vote for Walker, which he could do invisibly and without attaching himself to the candidate. That’s no way to treat one’s pick.

Kornacki: Republicans 'need to pull a rabbit out of a hat' today

Early voting numbers indicate Democrats came into Election Day with a strong advantage in this runoff race.

Republicans need to "pull a rabbit out of a hat" today to win, MSNBC election expert Steve Kornacki said on "Morning Joe" earlier today.

"Black turnout was low in Georgia relative to previous midterm elections," Kornacki said of Black voter turnout in the Georgia elections last month.

"In the last runoff, after the 2020 presidential election when Warnock first got elected, we saw Democrats successfully increase Black turnout between the general election and the runoff," he continued. "That's something they're trying to pull off again today. And, again, the early voting data suggests it's possible that they've done that."

Food trucks and free masks: Election Day energy on display

Dems' ad spending for Warnock far surpasses GOP's Walker push

An important factor to keep in mind as Warnock strives to win even more votes over Walker than he did during the midterm elections: Democrats have been spending a lot more cash on ads than Republicans on the runoff. 

As NBC News reports, Democrats have spent more than double the amount that Republicans have on television, radio and digital ads in the state —  $36.5 million to the Republicans’ $15.3 million. That’s a significantly bigger disparity than Warnock had over Walker in ad spending in the run-up to the midterms. 

Advertising advantages matter because they can help keep races top of mind for voters and create a sense of urgency that can fuel mobilization. That’s particularly crucial when a race is taking place on an unusual date.

Huh? Walker seems to think Senate control is up for grabs

Walker has often given the impression during his campaign for U.S. Senate that he doesn’t know what he’s doing or saying, but we must have all assumed that, at a minimum, he has been a) aware of the position he’s running for; and b) aware of the stakes. But a report yesterday from Politico suggests otherwise. 

Before the general election, control of the U.S. Senate was at play. That’s no longer the case. Heading into today’s election, Democrats already control 50 seats and Vice President Kamala Harris breaks any tie.

According to Politico, an answer Walker gave during an interview on Saturday suggests that he doesn’t know that the stakes of the runoff are not as high as they could have been. Adding to the confusion is that, in his remarks regarding voter motivation, Walker talked about the House.

“They’re not [less motivated] because they know right now that the House will be even so they don’t want to understand what is happening right now,” he said of voters. “You get the House, you get the committees. You get all the committees even, they just stall things within there. So if we keep a check on Joe Biden, we just going to keep a check on him.”

The House isn’t evenly split, and even if it were, today’s vote wouldn’t change that. The Senate is evenly split at the moment, yes, but even with a Walker win, it would still be under the Democrats’ control.

GOP’s ‘deceptive’ fundraising caught Walker campaign’s attention

After it became clear that Georgia’s Senate contest was headed to a runoff, Republicans began sending out emails using Walker’s race for fundraising. But what wasn’t clear to many donors was just how little of that money was actually going to Walker: 10 cents out of every dollar. 

Walker’s campaign called out the “deceptive fundraising tactics,” and Republicans involved went on to adopt a 50:50 split. But as Ja’han Jones wrote for “The ReidOut Blog” recently: “Republicans have been using Walker’s campaign — effectively, his labor — to raise money for themselves. And then they give him a meager cut of what they’ve raised. Think of it like political sharecropping.”

Read Ja’han’s full story below.

Meanwhile in New York, Trump Org. found guilty of tax fraud

Polls close in Georgia in less than three hours, but there’s been no shortage of big news stories already today. Minutes ago, a jury in New York found the Trump Organization guilty on 17 counts, including criminal tax fraud and conspiracy.

Steve Benen is writing on the verdict for MaddowBlog. Click the breaking story below to follow along for updates.

Walker’s former coach points him to the bench

One of the most remarkable endorsements Warnock received during his campaign came from a high school social studies teacher and football coach in Wrightsville, Georgia, named Curtis Dixon.  No, Dixon isn’t famous, maybe not even politically influential. But he once coached a prodigious football talent named Herschel Walker, and, thus, his decision to vote for Warnock is significant.

According to a Nov. 21 report from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, at Warnock campaign stop in Wrightsville, Dixon said of Walker, “As a football player, he was big, he was fast, he was strong. None of that’s going to help in the Senate.”  According to the newspaper, the crowd roared in approval when Dixon said Walker is “not ready.”

The only criticism I have of Dixon’s remarks is that his argument that Walker isn’t ready suggests that he can be made ready, and there’s nothing we’ve seen that gives us confidence that a 60-year-old who has fumbled and stumbled as he has should ever be put back on the political field of play again.

Kennedy desperate to bury Walker's flaws with bizarre kale rant

Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana put on quite a show stumping for Walker over the weekend, condemning “woke” people who “walk around with Ziploc bags of kale that they can eat to give them energy” and “high-IQ stupid people” who lack “sense.”

Kennedy perhaps should have realized before dropping that line that the state he was in is a major producer of kale. But that’s beside the point. His main purpose was to use his exaggerated air of ultra-folksiness to try to land culture war points about so-called liberal elites. Of course, the reason Walker is objectionable isn’t because he lacks fancy degrees; it’s because he’s reactionary, mendacious and he constantly says things that don’t make sense.

Did Georgia Republicans get in their own way with voting law?

As my colleague Jordan Rubin mentioned earlier, the GOP's so-called Election Integrity Act passed last year in Georgia has made it more difficult for some voters to cast their ballots this runoff. But the law may be affecting voters in ways Republicans didn't anticipate.

As Hayes Brown wrote for MSNBC Daily this morning:

"There’s a supreme irony in all of these Republican-made changes, not least of them being that before last year, Democrats fared poorly in Georgia’s runoff elections because they found it hard to motivate their base to return to the polls. Now, the GOP with its rule changes, and its assumption that Black candidates could be interchangeable to the electorate, may soon learn that 2020 wasn’t a fluke for Democrats and that even though two-time gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams may not have won her own elections, the organizing machine she and others have been steadily building can get results."

Read Hayes' full story below.

Warnock has the character advantage, poll suggests

An AP VoteCast survey of more than 3,200 Georgia midterm voters shows that Warnock has a big leg up over Walker when it comes to voter perception of their moral character and competence.

  • Voters are significantly more likely to think Warnock has strong moral values compared with Walker (53% vs. 43%).
  • Voters were much more likely to say that Warnock has “the right experience to serve effectively” compared with Walker (56% vs 39%).

This tracks with Warnock’s overall greater levels of popularity in the state than Walker, who seems incapable of going a week without going viral for some kind of scandal or telling an unintelligible parable.

Normally, I’d say these disparities on the question of character weren’t necessarily damning because partisan affiliation trumps so much about specific candidates. But in this race they may matter more than during their first face-off in the midterms. That’s because two things are different. First, without other more popular Republicans like Georgia’s Republican governor on the ballot, Walker now has to fend for himself based on his own reputation. Secondly, since Democrats now already have control of the Senate due to the midterm results, Walker can’t tap into that same Republican energy that fueled their voting activism in the midterm elections. 

In other words: Low trust in Walker as a person does not bode well for him. 

Walker is fit for the wrestling ring — not the Senate

Walker isn’t Senate material. But, assuming this long-shot bid doesn’t work out, might I recommend something more his speed — like professional wrestling?

Walker already has a few things going for him, as far as I’m concerned: 

  1. He’s buff, so he’s already got the look.
  2. He runs in anti-union circles, so he’s sure to love the grueling gig work wrestlers are known for. 
  3. And he’s basically mastered the art of publicly issuing empty, bravado-fueled challenges to his opponents (for example, he’s gone silent after our own Joy Reid accepted his challenge to debate her). 
  4. And he even comes equipped with his own ring-side managers (aka handlers) who routinely sit next to him in interviews and, essentially, cut promos for him. A rotation of right-wing lawmakers has effectively acted as Walker’s mouthpiece during interviews. Similar to how Bobby “The Brain” Heenan spoke on behalf of the largely silent André the Giant, Walker has had people like GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz in his corner, raving about him. 

All of this has amounted to a comically bad political bid for Walker, who’s looked out of sorts for months on the campaign trail. Politics isn’t his strong suit. But who knows? Throw a onesie on the man and you may find his talents are better suited for the WWE.

Georgia’s ‘Election Integrity Act’ put runoff on tighter timeline

The Georgia runoff has already seen massive turnout despite a 2021 law passed by Republicans that makes voting more difficult than it was during the state’s last momentous runoff elections. Recall that, in January 2021, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock beat David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively, to give Democrats control of the Senate. Whether Warnock defeats Walker to keep his seat could hinge, in part, on the law state Republicans passed after Democrats’ runoff victories last year.

After losing U.S. Senate control last year, Georgia Republicans passed SB 202, which they misleadingly dubbed the Election Integrity Act of 2021. The voting rights litigators at the Legal Defense Fund called it a “sweeping new voter suppression law” and President Joe Biden called it “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.” Among other provisions, the state law shortened the runoff period from nine weeks to four weeks, while cutting early voting from three weeks to one week. (Another result of that tighter timeline prevents the registration of new voters who didn’t register for the general election.)

So it’s worth remembering the new law’s restrictions when hearing about lengthy lines at the polls this runoff cycle. And, when all of the votes are in, it’ll be worth examining how SB 202 impacted the election, no matter who wins or by how much.

Warnock wins most Gen Z campaign event of the season award

This tweet from Warnock campaign aide Jackie Bush is like Mad Libs: Gen Z edition, with its shoutout to the "Skaters for Warnock" event held at an Atlanta skate park last night. Maxwell Frost, who will make history in January as the first Gen Z member of Congress, even played drums at the political jam session.

If there was an award for most Gen Z campaign event, this would surely win. Although Walker's speech last month about vampires (maybe an attempt to rally "Twilight" fans?) might earn a dishonorable mention.

How much of the Black vote will Walker win?

A CNN poll of 1,886 likely Georgia voters conducted at the end of November found that just 3% of Georgia’s Black voters were planning to vote for Walker. That’s a remarkable statistic given that Walker is Black, a significant share of the Black South is socially conservative, and white Republican candidates tend to get a bigger share of the Black vote than that.

One of the things to look for today is what percentage of Black voters chooses Walker. If that poll, which has an error margin of plus or minus 3.8 points, actually predicts the share of his Black supporters, then we shouldn’t just count it as a rebuke of the candidate. We should also count it as rebuke of the party that put forth a candidate who is uniquely embarrassing and unprepared.

DOJ monitors Georgia counties for federal voting law compliance

The Department of Justice announced today that it will monitor four counties for their compliance with federal voting rights laws: Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County and Macon-Bibb County.

The monitors are to include personnel from the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s offices. These kinds of measures, which were also instituted during the general midterm elections, are meant to help identify and guard against voter suppression and intimidation in a high-stakes race.

Read more about voter intimidate efforts from MSNBC's Hayes Brown:

Meanwhile, Capitol Hill is abuzz with Jan. 6 news

As America awaits the results of the runoff, lawmakers in Washington are focused in part on Jan. 6, 2021. During a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony today honoring law enforcement officials who responded to the Capitol attack, news broke related to the House Jan. 6 committee's high-profile investigation.

Committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters prior to the ceremony that the panel had decided to move forward with potential criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, NBC News reported.

“We have made decisions on criminal referrals,” Thompson said.

When asked what that decision was, Thompson said, "We will."

It's unclear who the committee will be referring at this time.

"It seems to me as — even though it's the number one thunderbolt — I can't see they're making a referral that doesn't include Donald Trump," law professor Harry Litman told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell.

This runoff was years in the making for Democrats

I wrote in January 2021 that sweeping Georgia’s two Senate seats would be “a potential turning point for Democratic prospects in the region,” and that the effort organizers “have put into this goal of reshaping the electorate show how short-sighted writing off Southerners as a conservative bloc has been for national Democrats.” 

As we prepare for the second high-stakes Senate runoff election in as many years, it’s worth remembering that Georgia being competitive for Democrats didn’t happen out of nowhere. It’s the result of years of hard-work, often with little national support, from the people of the state who fought back against the idea that the South was forever lost to the GOP.

Why the Saturday after Thanksgiving became a flashpoint

A week after Election Day last month, Warnock and Democratic groups sued the state of Georgia to open up early voting in the runoff on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. 

Days earlier, the state’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, told counties that voting on that day wasn’t allowed under state law. A Fulton County Superior Court judge disagreed, clearing the way for nearly 70,200 Georgians to cast votes on Nov. 26.

Warnock’s edge over Walker in the general election, with 99% of ballots counted? Fewer than 40,000 votes.

A loss for Walker is a loss for Trump — and McConnell

Since Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s well-publicized complaints about “candidate quality” earlier this year, many pundits often lump in Walker with other underperforming candidates whom GOP primary voters and/or Donald Trump foisted upon McConnell and the party establishment, such as Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. 

But in fact McConnell and the rest of the establishment thought Walker an excellent nominee.

“I think there’s every indication he’s going to be a good candidate,” McConnell told Politico in September 2021, before endorsing him a month later.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at a press conference on Capitol Hill on June 22 in Washington.Oliver Contreras / The Washington Post via Getty Images, file

As Axios reported in April, Walker was one of just two non-incumbents backed by both McConnell and Trump (the other being Adam Laxalt in Nevada) during this midterm election cycle. So if Walker, like Laxalt, ends up losing, it’s not a defeat for one wing of the GOP or another — it’s a rebuke of the entire party.

Georgia voter's reason for supporting Walker is an eye-opener

A Georgia voter offered a rough assessment of the state of politics while explaining to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Greg Bluestein why he's supporting Walker in the runoff.

Where a Warnock victory would be most important for Democrats

As my colleague Shawn Cox pointed out, a Warnock victory in Georgia would make it considerably easier for Democrats to pass progressive legislation by reducing their reliance on conservative Democrats in the Senate. There are also a couple other crucial benefits that could be a game changer for the Democrats: judges and long-term control of the Senate.

With a 51-seat majority, Democrats could confirm federal judges for next two years at much greater speed. Under a 50-50 split in the Senate, both parties have a power-sharing agreement in committees, which makes moving nominees through the confirmation process much more cumbersome and time-intensive. With 51 seats, Democrats would have control of the committees, and nominations would move more quickly, allowing them to fill up the understaffed judiciary more efficiently — and giving them more time to attend to other legislative matters. Additionally, if a Supreme Court vacancy emerges in the next two years, a bigger majority will make it easier to appoint a more progressive justice.

Another issue top of mind for Democrats is the 2024 Senate map, which some analysts are already calling a “map from hell” for the Democrats. That year, Democrats will be defending about two-thirds of the seats up for re-election, and many Republicans will be defending safe red seats. In other words, every single seat this year will have long-term payoffs for helping Democrats minimize their losses or maintaining a narrow majority in the next election cycle. In a legislative chamber where just one or two lawmakers can make or break a presidency, that’s a big deal.

A 51-seat majority would limit power of Manchin, Sinema

With Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s successful re-election bid in Nevada, Democrats retained narrow control of the Senate, given Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. If Warnock were to also win re-election, the party’s edge would increase to 51 - 49.

Recently on “The ReidOut,” host Joy Reid said having such an edge truly matters because it would reduce the ability of the Senate’s two conservative Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, “to play the obstruction game.”

Reid’s guest, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., added: 

“There is an argument being made by many in the Senate that [Republicans] frankly weren’t obstructionist enough in the last two years, that they gave Democrats just a little bit of wiggle room on priority issues like infrastructure or gun violence. And so there is a real possibility that in the next two years you aren’t going to be able to find a single Republican vote for anything.” 

Watch the full clip below.

Early voting tracker breaks down interest by age, gender

Want to take a look at early voting data from Georgia? NBC News’ tracker has you covered.

You can check out how many mail-in and early in-person votes were cast in the Peach State — broken down by party registration, age and gender — along with the numbers of requested mail-in ballots.

In addition, you can see the same breakdowns for the state in last month’s general election, as well as how Georgians voted in recent presidential elections.