A razor-thin Senate buffer and 2024 chances are at stake in Georgia's runoff next week between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker

Raphael Warnock
Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks during a campaign event in Sandy Springs, Ga., on November 26, 2022.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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  • Early voting has started for the Georgia Senate runoff between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker.

  • Both parties are looking to boost enthusiasm among base voters while also keeping an eye on 2024.

  • A Warnock victory would usher in a 51-49 Democratic majority, while the GOP hopes for a 50-50 split.

For Georgia voters, the Senate contest between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican nominee Herschel Walker has been on their minds all year.

Millions of dollars in advertisements have flooded the Peach State as the candidates have frenetically crisscrossed the state for months — from the busy streets of Atlanta and its vast suburbs to the coastal city of Brunswick — to connect with as many voters as possible in the recently-minted Southern swing state.

But because neither Warnock nor Walker hit the requisite 50% of the vote to secure an outright victory on November 8, the race will finally reach its dramatic conclusion on December 6.

While Democrats will retain control of the Senate in January 2023 independent of the outcome in Georgia, no one from either party is expected to take it easy.

The robust early voting turnout this past weekend underscores just how imperative this race remains, with Democrats hoping to finally break their 50-50 Senate logjam and reelect the first Black senator to represent the Peach State. Meanwhile, Republicans are looking to Walker — a former University of Georgia football standout with near-universal statewide name identification — to give the party more political leverage in an evenly-split upper chamber, while also giving them a clean sweep of this year's statewide victories should he win next week.

And both parties are looking intently to 2024, with Democrats hoping to replicate President Joe Biden's 2020 victory in Georgia while Republicans are angling to flip the state back into the red column.

Herschel Walker
Georgia Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker speaks with supporters during a campaign rally in Milton, Ga., on November 21, 2022.Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Both parties want an enthusiasm advantage

In hotly-contested Georgia, a slight shift of just a few thousand voters can be the difference between winning and losing.

The 2018 gubernatorial race saw Republican Brian Kemp defeat Democrat Stacey Abrams by roughly 55,000 votes out of nearly 4 million ballots cast.

In 2020, Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump in the state 49.5%-49.2%, edging out the Republican commander-in-chief by roughly 12,000 votes out of nearly 5 million ballots.

And earlier this month, Warnock came out ahead of Walker 49.4%-48.5%; the Democratic incumbent led by a little over 37,000 votes out of more than 3.9 million ballots.

For Democrats, a key driver of enthusiasm has been early voting — which commenced last week in several counties across the state and is especially popular among Black voters. The Warnock campaign, along with the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, earlier this month successfully sued to allow localities the option of conducting early voting on November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, after state and national GOP groups sought to block voters from casting ballots that day.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State's office, over 180,000 voters have already cast early ballots. The voter breakdown was 46% Black, 38% white, 11% unknown or other, 3% Asian, and 2% Hispanic.

Statewide early voting across all 159 counties started on Monday and will run through Friday, December 2.

While many Republicans will also take advantage of this week's early voting period, GOP voters are expected to turn out heavily on Election Day.

US Capitol in Washington DC.
The United States Capitol in Washington, DC.Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

50-50 versus 51-49

For nearly two years, the Senate has been operating with 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and two independents — Sens. Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — who caucus with the Democratic Party, creating an equal split in the upper chamber.

While Democrats have been able to pass major pieces of legislation like the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, getting those respective bills over the finish line involved lots of negotiations with moderate Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The party has also had to rely on the reconciliation process to move the larger party-line bills through the chamber, and they have needed Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote to get the bills to Biden's desk.

Warnock's runoff win, coupled with Sen.-elect John Fetterman's victory over Republican Mehmet Oz, would give the party 51 seats — and some breathing room from having to rely on Manchin and Sinema — as none of the other vulnerable Democratic incumbents lost their respective races this year.

A 51-49 majority would also allow Democrats to move away from a party-sharing agreement, as they would have a majority of seats on committees, which would also make it easier to approve Biden's judicial nominees.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump
President Joe Biden, left, and former President Donald Trump, right, in a composite image.Getty Images

All roads lead to 2024

With Trump already in the presidential race and Biden eyeing a reelection campaign, both parties are looking to ramp up their preparations for 2024.

While the former president remains deeply popular among base Republicans, some GOP lawmakers are frustrated by  his endorsement of numerous candidates who were rejected by moderates and independents in key swing states, costing the party critical Senate seats, governorships, and secretary of state races.

Many Republicans are still seething at what they saw as Trump's intrusion in last year's dual runoff elections, which saw the defeats of then-GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to Democrats Jon Ossoff and Warnock, respectively, after thousands of base voters stayed at home over concerns about election integrity.

Trump has so far not said whether he will come to Georgia to campaign for Walker — whom he encouraged to run for the seat — before the runoff next week.

However, some Republicans would prefer that Trump remain at Mar-a-Lago, worried that he could cost them another Senate win.

Warnock, for his part, has continued to emphasize his bipartisan credentials on the campaign trail, bringing in Democrats like former President Barack Obama and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey instead of Biden — whose job approval rating remains underwater in Georgia.

But Democrats are also seeking to fine-tune their voter engagement strategies in advance of what will be another effort to win Georgia on the presidential level in two years, as the state will surely remain on the minds of both parties for the foreseeable future.

Read the original article on Business Insider