Early voting breaks Georgia records as bitter Senate race tests red-to-blue drift

SMYRNA, Ga. — A record-breaking early voting streak ended in Georgiaand the two candidates in a hard-fought senatorial race are make their final presentations in the final sprint until election day.

The contest will test the pro-Democrat drift in this former Republican stronghold, which voted to elect President Joe Biden and two Democratic senators two years ago. Now one of those senators, Raphael Warnock, is fighting for his political life in a tougher environment for his party against GOP rival Herschel Walker, a former soccer star who has been mired in controversy.

More than 2.5 million Georgians have already voted by mail or voted early in person, set a new record. According to NBC News Early Voting Tracker, 49% are registered Democrats and 42% are Republicans; 70% of them are 50 or older and 56% are women.

On the line, recent polls Walker closes the gap with a stat dead heat as Biden’s low approval rating and economic struggles create headwinds for Warnock and the Democratic candidates to navigate battleground states across the country.

Walker’s Closing TV Commercial, “Strongin heavy rotation on the airwaves of Georgia, puts Biden in the foreground, calling him a “failed president” before a direct shot of Walker saying that “families were stronger” two years ago before his arrival.

“You went to Washington to say you’re going to represent Georgia and you decide to represent Joe Biden,” Walker said of Warnock at a Thursday rally at a mall in that city just outside of Washington. Atlanta. “You went to Washington and said you would represent the people and yet you voted with them 96% of the time.”

Warnock closes this round by emphasizing his desire to cut costs and his bipartisan vows to “work with anyone if it helps Georgia.” He also has intensified his attack on Walker as unqualified to be a senator, citing allegations from women he dated that he made violent threats and pressured them into having abortions (which he denies).

“I think the Georgian people are excited. And they can see the differences between me and my opponent. I can tell you there is no comparison,” Warnock told reporters during a recent campaign stop. “Character matters. And he’s someone who has demonstrated that not only is he not ready for the job, he’s out of shape.

The election is testing a series of cross-currents within the Peach State. Will Republican-leaning rural areas experience high turnout? Will the Democrats continue the show of force at the ballot box they delivered in the recent election? Will Atlanta-area commuters and white college graduates who rejected the GOP under former President Donald Trump stick with the Democrats or backtrack?

“The story is going to be, on the fringes of the suburbs — can Democrats get to the same level they got in 2020 to make up for lost ground in rural areas?” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt, who is helping lead the NBC News investigation. “That’s the challenge. Because not all of Biden’s vote in 2020 was for Biden — there was a component of that vote that was against Trump.

Warnock appeals to those cross votersmany of whom tell pollsters they will vote for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, but are not sold on Walker and open to supporting the Democrat. Warnock and his allies are running a series of ads featuring testimonials from a wide variety of voters who say they cannot support Walker, whose early endorsement by Trump propelled his candidacy.

Walker, meanwhile, is looking to shore up Republicans like his internal surveys show Warnock leading among Democratic voters over Walker among Republican voters. At the rally here in Smyrna, Walker took aim at transgender athletes in women’s sports, mocked Biden’s son, Hunter, and denigrated the use of gender identity pronouns.

“We are a weak country because we are talking about putting pronouns in our army. Pronoun? What is a pronoun? he scoffed. “My pronoun is sick and tired of this pronoun thing.”

Walker’s rally fans seemed to struggle with his tumultuous past, but several said they were willing to ignore it.

“He’s been forgiven for his past,” said Stan Coates, a pastor from nearby Marietta who came to observe Walker.

“Everyone has baggage,” said Joni Lahue of Marietta. “He admitted he had issues.” She said she was more worried about drugs and terrorists entering the United States through the border with Mexico.

“A lot of people have checkered pasts,” Cobb County’s Carolyn McDonald said, citing Warnock’s public feuds with his ex-wife. “For me, they both had issues. You have to look beyond that.

Both campaigns remain hopeful of winning outright and avoiding overtime, but if neither candidate tops 50% on election night, the race will continue into a runoff on December 6.

“We will deal with things as they come. I think we could very well get a verdict on Tuesday. We’ll see,” Warnock said. “But the fact that people are showing up in record numbers is a good thing. I think that’s great for democracy.

Walker’s spokesman Will Kiley said the “momentum” in favor of the candidate had made them optimistic about their first-round victory. “On November 9, Herschel Walker will be the next elected senator from the great state of Georgia.”

Rep. Nikema Williams, who represents an Atlanta-based district and chairs the Georgia Democratic Party, told NBC News it’s “extremely important” that the state stays blue this year.

“We elected our first Jewish senator from the state of Georgia, our first black senator from the state of Georgia. People tried to tell us it wasn’t possible,” Williams said in an interview. “We have an opportunity to show that 2020 wasn’t just a fluke. 2020 has been years and years of organizing on the ground and voters here in Georgia have shown power by showing their power. at the polls, and that is what we seek to reproduce.

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