Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock will win Georgia Senate runoff

By Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya, Seán Federico-O'Murchú and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 2:12 PM ET, Thu December 8, 2022
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10:33 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Some GOP blame game begins over voter turnout operation 

From CNN's Manu Raju

A senior GOP source involved in campaign strategy says the Georgia Senate runoff race has been tight so far because of the partnership between Gov. Brian Kemp and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell’s super PAC, which dropped $2 million into Kemp’s get-out-the-vote operation.

The source blames the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) — in partnership with the RNC — for a lackluster voter-targeting effort. CNN has reached out to the NRSC for comment.

There’s been an ongoing feud over tactics and strategy between the NRSC — led by Sen. Rick Scott — and allies to Mitch McConnell, whose super PAC the Senate Leadership Fund was the biggest spender in Senate races.

While the race is tight, several GOP sources believe Walker's path to victory is complicated because of where the outstanding votes are coming from.

10:56 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Here's why the margins in Fulton County are key

Analysis from CNN's John King

All eyes are on Georgia's most populous counties tonight as votes continue to come in.

In Fulton County — the most populous county — Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker needs to close the gap with incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock — who leading with 82% of the vote so far — with 67% of the vote reporting, CNN's John King said.

At the moment Warnock is over-performing in his results compared to Nov. 8 in Atlanta and the suburbs around it, King added, a key advantage for the Democratic senator.

Walker's comeback plan hinges on Election Day votes, in hopes to close the Warnock's lead in those key counties.


10:11 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Georgia official: Several rural counties that could be key in the tight race still haven't reported results

Gabe Sterling, the chief operating officer in the office of the Georgia Secretary of State, talks to CNN on Tuesday night.
Gabe Sterling, the chief operating officer in the office of the Georgia Secretary of State, talks to CNN on Tuesday night. (CNN)

While many of the larger, urban counties are already reporting a significant amount of votes, Gabe Sterling, the chief operating officer in the office of the Georgia Secretary of State, said they are still waiting for several rural counties to report their tallies.

“The four largest most populous counties which kinda can swing the vote one way or the other by themselves are really coming in pretty quick,” he told CNN Tuesday, but added that the race is so close in the state, that the smaller counties really matter.

"But it's so close, you know, those counties that have 10,000 votes, 4,000 votes — and they're going to go 80% for Walker. They're going to keep on coming in," he added.

In order to upload votes, poll workers often have to drive through the county to deliver tallies, sometimes on memory cards, Sterling said, pointing to Fulton County as an example, which is about 90 miles long.

“We had a car accident with one car carrying one of the cards,” he told CNN. He said both workers are okay and they were able to retrieve the voting information and get it to a county headquarters.

“This is the kind of stuff that happens on Election Day because you have thousands of people out there doing their jobs,” Sterling said.

He said the state saw record turnout today — including a record number of people both voting in-person and by absentee ballots in a runoff election.

But there is still many more ballots to count, saying, “It’s going to be a long night”

9:39 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Walker looking to build off Kemp's credibility with Republican voters tonight 

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Jeff Zeleny

As the race remains tight in Georgia, Republican Herschel Walker is waiting to see if his efforts to build off Gov. Brian Kemp's credibility with GOP voters has paid off. 

After it became clear he would find himself in a runoff with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, Walker embraced Kemp in a way he declined to do during the general election race.

That's not surprising given Kemp won his reelection by nearly 8 percentage points and has built goodwill and trust with GOP voters in a state where a popular former Republican president tried to defeat him at the ballot box.

But there are no hard feelings from Kemp's orbit, which has remained focused on getting a Republican Senate candidate elected while leaving the personal aspects of the race aside.

 “It’s pretty clear cut for him,” one Kemp adviser told CNN. 

Even though Kemp and Walker's messages weren’t aligned during the general election, it was a "no brainer" that Kemp needed to support Walker in the runoff, the adviser said.  

Meanwhile, the optimism is rising at Walker’s campaign party tonight, with supporters cheering as votes come in, with the lead occasionally see-sawing back and forth with Warnock.

But behind the scenes, strategists quietly worry that Walker may have hit his high-water mark, with much of the vote-counting already finished across many rural counties. 

“We’ve kept it close, but the next hour could be tough,” one top Walker adviser said. “There are a whole lot of votes to count in metro Atlanta.” 

While Election Day turnout has benefited Walker, these votes are just being counted in Georgia’s biggest counties, where Warnock is expected to have a far stronger Election Day turnout.

9:42 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Warnock leads early in-person votes so far, while Walker leads in Election Day ballots, CNN's Chalian reports

Analysis from CNN's David Chalian

Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker leads in Election Day votes so far, CNN's David Chalian reports, while incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock leads in mail-in and early in-person votes.

Walker leads the Election Day vote by around 32.8 percentage points while nearly 64% of that voting category remains uncounted.

Chalian noted that the ultimate margin of the Election Day vote lead will be determined by the ballots still to be reported from the more populous counties of Georgia:

"If you look back in November, Walker won the Election Day vote by about 15 points. So, right now that is a much bigger margin of victory, meaning it's mostly rural deep Republican areas that is giving him that big margin. This is why, as you guys were saying, we have to wait to see what that Election Day vote looks like from those big populous Democratic counties in the Atlanta area to see if that margin of victory for Walker narrows — or if he can keep this big Election Day vote victory that may help him keep this current lead that he has in the race," he said.

9:06 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Why Democrats hope to have a 51-49 majority after Georgia's Senate runoff

From CNN's Ali Zaslav and Ted Barrett

An early morning pedestrian is silhouetted against the sunrise as he walks through the National Mall and past the US Capitol on November 7.
An early morning pedestrian is silhouetted against the sunrise as he walks through the National Mall and past the US Capitol on November 7. (J. David Ake/AP)

If Democrats win the Senate runoff in Georgia and secure a slim 51-49 majority over Republicans, they will have significant governing advantages compared to the 50-50 split in the current Congress, during which a power sharing agreement gives Republicans considerable leverage over Democrats despite being in the minority.

  • Democrats would hold majorities in each committee, allowing them to process legislation and nominations much faster. Democrats would also enjoy bigger staffs and budgets, giving them more ability to carry out committee work. Committees now are evenly split – as are the resources – allowing Republicans to slow the pace of nominees they oppose. When a choice deadlocks in committee, Democrats must take time-consuming steps to discharge that person from committee and allow a floor vote. In one instance earlier this year, Republicans used Banking Committee rules to prevent a vote from even taking place by boycotting committee sessions, ultimately forcing President Joe Biden to withdraw a nominee for the Federal Reserve. This would also free up additional floor time for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to use toward other nominees and Democratic priorities.
  • Democrats would have stronger power to issue subpoenas. They would no longer need bipartisan support to issue subpoenas so they can bypass GOP opposition to using these key tools. This could increase the power and number of Democratic-led investigations.
  • Centrist Democrats may not hold as much power over Democrats’ agenda. A two-seat majority margin gives Schumer more breathing room to pass legislation without needing support from all members of his caucus – like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, moderates who will both be up for reelection in 2024. The two held enormous power in the 50-50 Senate.
  • Filling a Supreme Court vacancy could be easier. The two-seat margin could also become critical if there were to be a Supreme Court vacancy as only a majority is needed to confirm a justice to that post, allowing Schumer to lose one vote.
  • Harris might not be needed as often on the Hill. Democrats likely won’t have to rely as heavily on Vice President Kamala Harris to break tie votes on nominations and legislation, something she’s done 26 times so far in the current 50-50 Senate, the most by any vice president in modern times.

9:07 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Walker takes narrow lead in tight Georgia runoff

The Senate runoff race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker is tightening as more counties report results.

Less than two hours after polls closed, more than 66% of the vote is in, according to CNN tallies. And Walker leads by a slim margin of just more than 25,000 votes.

He has a little more than 50.6% of ballots tallied so far and Warnock has about 49.4%, CNN counts show.

Remember: Democrats already control the Senate with 50 senators plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, but a victory in Georgia would give the party an outright majority.

That would come with significant benefits for the party. Democrats would have the majority on committees, allowing them to advance President Joe Biden’s nominees more easily.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports from Walker's campaign headquarters:

8:49 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Faith leaders kick off Warnock Election Night party 

From CNN's Eva McKend

Faith leaders kick off the election night party of US Sen. Raphael Warnock on Tuesday.
Faith leaders kick off the election night party of US Sen. Raphael Warnock on Tuesday. (WXIA)

Sen. Raphael Warnock's election headquarters is starting to fill up with supporters and members of the campaign.

Faith leaders including a rabbi, an imam and a minister kicked off the election watch party, heralding the diversity of the state and celebrating "the New South."

Warnock made his faith central to his campaign for reelection, arguing he's a pastor in the Senate, not just a senator who happens to be a pastor.

Warnock has long maintained public service was part of his life's mission and that his work in Washington is an extension of what he has done his whole career.

Fellow Morehouse College grad, actor and director Spike Lee, is among the crowd. A gospel artist is expected to take the stage later tonight.

8:10 p.m. ET, December 6, 2022

Kemp’s camp surprised by how many voted for him, but not Walker in November

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Gov. Brian Kemp’s orbit was surprised by how wide the margin was when it came to Georgians who voted for the popular Republican governor, but not the GOP Senate candidate in November.

Herschel Walker was the only Republican to lose on the statewide ticket and got fewer votes than Kemp in every county.

Kemp and Walker had very different messages — and several Republicans on the ground in Georgia wanted Walker to shift his message over the last few weeks to align more with Kemp’s, but he has made little effort to do so despite those appeals. 

One Georgia voter, Ed Cordell, who did not vote for Walker in the general election but did support him in the runoff noted this. 

Asked if he believed anything changed in Walker’s message, Cordell said:

“No. So my vote is strictly to split the parties and to try to get as equal footing in our legislature and then presidency ... so that it's literally 50/50.”