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Georgia will hold a runoff between U.S. Senate candidates Warnock and Walker

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

For a second straight time, control of the U.S. Senate may come down to a second round of voting in Georgia.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

After Tuesday's election, neither candidate received 50% of the vote in Georgia. So Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker will be on the ballot again December 6. Here's the way the math works. Three Senate races are undecided. Whoever wins two of them takes control. Arizona and Nevada are still counting and may need a few days. And if they do not give either party a Senate majority, Georgia takes its turn.

FADEL: Joining us now for more is Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler. Good morning, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So why not just start by explaining Georgia's election rules and how we got to this point.

FOWLER: Sure. So Georgia is actually one of two states that requires a runoff for both a primary and a general election if nobody gets more than 50% of the vote. And with a libertarian in the Senate race, plus Georgia being a close battleground state, that's not always a given for candidates to get above 50%. So here, with very few ballots remaining, Senator Raphael Warnock is about half a percent under that cutoff and narrowly ahead of Herschel Walker. And since elections officials say there aren't going to be enough ballots left to be counted to change that outcome, Georgia is now headed to a runoff election again for the U.S. Senate.

Now, what's interesting is that Georgia runoff laws were initially enacted by segregationist Democrats trying to keep Black voters from picking a candidate of their choice, essentially ensuring all the white voters who supported different white candidates would coalesce around a white candidate in a runoff. But now, in 2022, we've got two Black candidates for one of the highest offices in the land that voters will choose from because of these runoff laws.

FADEL: Wow. So a law originally aimed at disenfranchising Black voters is the reason this runoff rule even exists. Now, Stephen, this Senate race is an outlier for Republicans, right? They otherwise dominated the election in Georgia. So what does this close race tell us about these candidates, especially Herschel Walker, really, as a Republican candidate?

FOWLER: Well, Walker is a weaker candidate, like some of the other Trump-backed candidates we've seen in states that have had issues here. He's been dogged by controversies over alleged payments of abortions to ex-girlfriends, a past history of domestic violence allegations, nonsensical statements about policy and so many other things. Voting data shows, so far, Walker's underperforming Governor Brian Kemp by a large margin in very Republican counties in the state at about 5% overall, meaning 1-in-10 Republican voters in Georgia opted for somebody else in a Senate race. Now, Warnock is a well-known figure. He's an incumbent who's pitched himself as a problem-solver who works in a bipartisan manner and managed to distance himself from President Joe Biden's unpopularity. They've both raised boatloads of cash. And this is the most expensive Senate race. That spending is set to continue.

FADEL: Now, the runoff is December 6, four weeks away. That's a quick turnaround. What should voters expect in the runoff? And is either candidate favored at this point?

FOWLER: Well, they should expect a lot of ads with their Thanksgiving turkey. But it's hard to say who's at the advantage. Typically, whoever finished first in the general election usually wins the runoff. A notable exception is 2021, when fellow Democratic Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff beat David Perdue in 2021. There's also some timing things to consider. The previous runoff used to be nine weeks. Campaigns had time to gear things up. Now they're just hitting the ground running. And early voting doesn't even start until after Thanksgiving.

FADEL: Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thank you.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.

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