With just days until a runoff in Georgia between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Republican Herschel Walker that will determine the balance of power in the Senate, polls indicate the race is just as tight as ever.
Recent polling showed Warnock with a slight edge over Walker, leading his Republican challenger by only 2 percentage points, according to a survey by Emerson College conducted during the last week of November. Although Democrats have already clinched 50 seats in the Senate, giving them a narrow majority with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote, a win in Georgia would give the party more breathing room and allow them to scrap a power-sharing agreement with Republicans.
Warnock and Walker advanced to the Dec. 6 runoff after neither candidate garnered more than 50% of the vote during the general election, per state law. Now, the fight is on to claim the Senate seat and finalize the makeup of the upper chamber for the next Congress.
Here are four factors that could determine which candidate wins the key swing state.
Early voting in runoff elections shatters records
Early voting for the runoff election has shattered previous records, with more than 1.4 million people already casting their ballots as of Friday. That number could be a good sign for Warnock because Democrats are typically more likely to vote early — giving him a head start before the polls open on Election Day.
Early voting data show much of the turnout is coming from highly Democratic areas, also encouraging news for Warnock. Democrats have urged voters to submit their ballots early, organizing an all-out blitz because the early voting period this time around is much shorter than it was before the November election.
Both campaigns have largely acknowledged early votes may skew toward Warnock, while part of Walker’s advantage will come from in-person voting on the day of the election.
Walker grapples with fallout from scandals
As was the case with the November election, Walker must still grapple with widespread scrutiny resulting from a number of scandals that emerged during the midterm election cycle.
Walker faces allegations that he paid for a woman to have an abortion after the pair reportedly conceived a child while dating in 2009. Walker has denied the reports, arguing he doesn’t know the accuser despite the woman later claiming she is the mother of one of his three sons he previously acknowledged having out of wedlock.
The Republican candidate was later accused by a second woman of pressuring her to get an abortion while the two were dating. Walker has denied this allegation as well.
Those accusations may be playing into Walker’s favorability ratings, with only 39% of Georgia voters viewing him favorably, compared to 52% who said the opposite, according to a recent survey by CNN. Additionally, a majority of state voters (59%) said they consider Walker to be dishonest and untrustworthy, including a handful of voters (18%) who said they plan to vote for him, the poll showed.
Star power may affect candidates’ chances
Prominent members of both parties have ramped up efforts to stump for their party’s candidates, hoping to elevate their status and push them across the finish line.
Former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, who are both viewed favorably within the Democratic Party, have both stumped for Warnock ahead of the runoff election, encouraging voters to cast their ballots in the key Senate race. Obama appeared at a campaign rally alongside Warnock on Thursday, emphasizing that a 51-seat majority in the Senate is crucial to ensure “breathing room on important bills.”
“It prevents one person from holding up everything,” Obama said. “The biggest reason 51 is better than 50 is because it means Rev. Warnock will keep representing you in Washington.”
Meanwhile, Warnock’s campaign has sought to weaponize former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Walker. It released an ad in mid-November tying Walker to Trump, mirroring a larger strategy used by some Democrats during the midterm cycle that sought to paint their Republican opponents as far-right extremists.
However, Trump has largely been MIA from the campaign trail despite appearing at a number of rallies to support Walker ahead of the GOP primaries earlier this year. It’s not clear why Trump has been distant from his hand-picked candidate in the Peach state, but it comes as the former president has been the subject of a number of criminal investigations and controversies that have caused a divide among the Republican Party.
Instead, Walker has sought out the help of Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA), who cut an ad for the former football star late last month.
President Joe Biden has also kept his distance from the runoff election after several Democrats distanced themselves from his administration during the midterm cycle due to his low approval ratings and the struggling economy.
Key voter issues once again take center stage
Although the runoff is taking place nearly one month after the general election, voters’ top concerns have remained largely unchanged.
More than half of Georgia voters (57%) said addressing key issues is their top priority when choosing a candidate, while 42% said character is their determining factor, according to the CNN poll. That may prove beneficial for Walker, as 64% of those who say issues are their main focus plan to vote for the Republican.
The economy has remained a top concern, with 46% ranking it as their No. 1 priority, the poll showed. Walker holds an advantage over that voting bloc, with 68% of voters choosing the economy as their top concern throwing their support behind the Republican candidate.
Warnock holds a commanding lead over voters who consider abortion to be their top concern, although only 16% of state voters ranked that as their top priority, according to the poll.