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5 key factors in runoff for Georgia Senate seat

Herschel Walker, left, and Senator Raphael Warnock.Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Georgians on Tuesday will decide whether Sen. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, or Herschel Walker, the retired football star nominated by Republicans, will represent them in the Senate next year.

The coda to the midterm elections comes after an intense, monthlong runoff contest in which Democrats spent nearly twice as much as the GOP.

But money will only get you so far in politics. Here are five key factors that will help decide the winner:

Republicans’ Election Day turnout

The early vote has clearly favored Warnock. Georgia does not track the party affiliation of early voters, but Black voters, who exit polls showed overwhelmingly favored Warnock on Nov. 8, are about one-third of the early-vote total in the runoff, according to the secretary of state’s office, a greater share than in past Georgia runoff elections. Women, who also sided with Warnock last month, have cast about 56% of the ballots. And Gen Z voters — 18- to 24-year-olds, who break liberal — have come on strong.

Democratic modelers believe that Warnock goes into Election Day with about an 8-percentage-point lead. If so, they say, Republicans would have to turn out in force and capture about 60% of the votes cast Tuesday for Walker to pull out a victory.

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The weather

More bad news for Walker: The forecast is for rain Tuesday, especially in heavily Republican North Georgia.

A highly motivated electorate would not let a cold, muddy day keep them from the polls, but Georgians are showing signs of fatigue. There was the brutal primary season in the spring that pitted Donald Trump’s wing of the Republican Party against Georgia Republicans who stood by their governor, Brian Kemp, in the face of Trump’s aspersions. Autumn brought a hard-fought general election for governor and for the Senate, and now a runoff has saturated the airwaves with attack ads.

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A heavy December rain could make voting Tuesday feel even more like a slog.

Black men

When Trump tapped Walker as his anointed candidate, he figured the former Heisman Trophy winner, who guided the University of Georgia to a national championship in 1980, would have obvious appeal to Black voters, who turned out in force two years ago for Warnock, a minister at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.

That proved a miscalculation. But many Black men were also less than enamored with a Black woman, Stacey Abrams, in her rematch with Kemp in the race for governor. Kemp won handily in November with 53% of the vote, even as Warnock nearly cleared 50%, in part because some Black men voted for Kemp and Warnock.

On Tuesday, another Black male voter will be in the spotlight, the one who was so turned off by Abrams that he did not turn out Nov. 8. More than 76,000 voters who have cast runoff ballots already did not vote in the general election, according to GeorgiaVotes.com, a site that uses public data to analyze voting trends. That could be a sign of energized Black men.

November’s ticket splitters

Kemp’s 2.1 million votes in November outpaced Walker’s total by more than 200,000. And Warnock’s 1.9 million votes exceeded Abrams’ total by more than 130,000.

Clearly, a large number of Georgians voted for both Kemp, a Republican, and Warnock, a Democrat.

One question Tuesday will be whether voters who came out to reelect Kemp, and perhaps grudgingly voted to reelect Warnock, will come out again only for Warnock.

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Kemp voters

An even bigger question might be the corollary: Will Republican voters who turned out in November to vote for Kemp, and voted the straight Republican ticket, including for Walker, turn out again at all?

Walker has proved to be a deeply flawed candidate. Even before primary voters chose him in May, he had been accused of domestic violence and stalking by an ex-wife, an ex-girlfriend and a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. Since then, he has had to own up to children out of wedlock. His son Christian Walker has publicly accused him of neglect and violence. And two women have said that Herschel Walker, who calls himself a devoutly anti-abortion Christian, pressed them to have abortions.

Kemp’s popularity helped Walker win 48.5% of the vote last month. On Tuesday, Walker will have to do even better than that, and without the governor’s coattails.