Polls close in critical Georgia Senate runoff

ATLANTA — Polls have closed in the Senate runoff election in Georgia, where Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is hoping to fend off a challenge from Republican Herschel Walker.

Voters faced rain and some long lines as both parties worked to drive people to the polls for the second time in as many months for the runoff, which was triggered by state law because neither candidate won an outright majority in the November election.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. ET. but the race is too early to call.

Democrats are feeling confident about their chances thanks to a massive spending advantage and because more Democrats opted to vote early. A record-breaking 1.85 million ballots have already been cast.

Republicans are hoping to turn the tide with a big turnout on Election Day, when most of their voters typically cast a ballot.

While the races decided in November assured that Democrats will retain control of the Senate next year, a Warnock victory would allow the party to exert more control over the chamber than the current 50-50 divide, which only gives Democrats power thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris casing tie-breaking votes.

The extra seat could also be critical to Democrats’ chances of retaining the majority in 2024, when the electoral map heavily favors Republicans.

Walker, who is backed by former President Donald Trump and was a star running back for the University of Georgia and in the NFL, had been dragged down by mounting scandals and a sense of pessimism about his campaign.

Warnock, who for years was the pastor at Martin Luther King Jr.’s former church, has tried to reach swing voters by portraying the race as not as a contest between Republicans and Democrats, but about “right versus wrong,” as he said in an interview with MSNBC’s Joy Reid Monday.

Still, Georgia has been a reliably red state until just two years ago, when it voted for President Joe Biden and then elected Warnock and fellow Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff in twin runoff elections.

Walker has warned Republicans that they need to turn out to stop national Democrats from gaining more power. “If you don’t vote, you’re going to get more of Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden,” he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Monday night.

A drizzly and chilly Tuesday did little to dampen the motivated voters of Atlanta.

Duane Cochenour, a 61-year-old attorney, cast a vote in his midtown Atlanta precinct for Walker. But he said he’s “not crazy about” the Republican and was reluctant to support him.

“I’m not a Donald Trump fan at all. I really wish he would go away. That’s my biggest negative in voting for Walker — I didn’t want to be perceived as a vote in favor of a Trump candidate,” Cochenour said, reflecting the mood that helped turn Georgia blue two years ago. “But I felt like the importance of taking the Senate back outweighed that.”

Rebecca Perdomo, 29, a consultant in Atlanta, said she voted for Warnock because of his progressive views, particularly on abortion. Perdomo said he didn’t vote in the midterm election last month because she was out of the country so she made sure she voted this time.

“I was really upset about that. So I was like, I have to make sure I come here today. It’s really important,” she said.

Matthew Pinder, 24, said he voted for Warnock because he's "reasonable" and "the other candidate isn’t."

Bob Boyd, the director of operations and finance for Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, a polling place in midtown Atlanta, said he’s seen “heavier turnout” on Tuesday compared to Nov. 8 Election Day.

He said that may be because the window for early voting was shorter in the runoff than last month's election, prompting more Election Day votes.

Sahil Kapur reported from Atlanta and Alex Seitz-Wald reported from Washington.

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