5 key places to watch in Georgia’s Senate runoff

5 key places to watch in Georgia’s Senate runoff

Democrats finally conquered Georgia two years ago. But Tuesday’s Senate runoff will show whether they’ve built a durable blueprint to win again and cement the state’s place among the nation’s political battlegrounds.

Georgia stands alone among swing states. It has the largest Black population of any politically competitive state — but also the greatest percentage of white voters who identify as evangelical or born-again Christians.

It’s also geographically unique: Georgia is the only Deep South state to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate this century — and, aside from Louisiana in 2000, the only one to even see a presidential contest decided by a single-digit margin.

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock stands on the precipice of a feat his party hasn’t accomplished since 1990: winning three consecutive Senate races in Georgia. In order to do it, Warnock must run up the score on Republican Herschel Walker in Atlanta and in his hometown of Savannah, keep the race close in the state’s red Atlanta exurbs and turn out voters in majority-Black counties who have historically stayed home for post-November runoff elections — until Democrats’ two victories last year.

Here are five regions to watch in Tuesday’s Senate runoff when the votes start rolling in. Polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Metro Atlanta (Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett counties)

2022 Senate result: Warnock 70-28%
2022 governor result: Abrams 66-34%
2020 presidential result: Biden 69-30%

Democrats have dominated the five counties that make up Atlanta and its immediate suburbs in recent elections, but their margins matter. GOP Gov. Brian Kemp was able to garner 34 percent of the vote in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties in his victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams last month, better than Walker’s 28 percent and then-President Donald Trump’s 30 percent two years ago.

Cobb and Gwinnett are still the two friendliest to Republicans — though Warnock still won each by more than 15 points — but Walker still lagged even Trump’s 2020 numbers in each county. And Libertarian Shane Oliver, whose votes meant that no one was able to claim an outright victory in November, outran his statewide numbers in both counties. That suggests a small but potentially decisive bloc of right-leaning voters who didn’t get behind Walker last month.

Seeking to keep Republicans in the fold, Kemp held a rally for Walker last month in Smyrna, in Cobb County, the cradle of the once-dominant Georgia GOP.

The other three counties are solidly Democratic: Fulton, where Warnock received 74 percent of the vote, is home to Atlanta. DeKalb and Clayton — where Warnock got 84 percent and 87 percent, respectively, last month — are majority Black.

Combined, these four counties will make up roughly a third of the statewide vote.

Savannah (Chatham County)

2022 Senate result: Warnock 59-39%
2022 governor result: Abrams 55-44%
2020 presidential result: Biden 59-40%

Savannah — Georgia’s fifth-largest city — is Warnock’s hometown, though he only matched Biden’s 2020 numbers in Chatham County last month.

Democrats’ best-funded candidate anywhere in the country, Warnock has highlighted his roots in Savannah as part of a hyper-local ad campaign that hit each of the state’s media markets.

Warnock’s 59.4 percent of the vote in Chatham County last month nearly matched the 59.8 percent he earned in his 2021 runoff victory over then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

Atlanta’s northern exurbs (Cherokee and Forsyth counties)

2022 Senate result: Walker 66-31%
2022 governor result: Kemp 73-26%
2020 presidential result: Trump 67-31%

The fast-growing exurbs north of Atlanta are still solidly Republican, but Walker lagged behind Trump and especially Kemp in Cherokee and Forsyth counties, the seventh- and eighth-largest in the state, respectively.

Walker will need to improve on his margins in both Cherokee (68 percent) and Forsyth (65 percent) to come out on top on Tuesday.

Golden Isles (Glynn and McIntosh counties)

2022 Senate result: Walker 62-36%
2022 governor result: Kemp 67-33%
2020 presidential result: Trump 61-38%

The tony islands of Georgia’s southeast coast — like Sea Island and St. Simons Island — aren’t heavily populated, but they lean toward the GOP’s establishment wing. Walker actually slightly outran Trump here, though he still finished well shy of Kemp’s benchmark.

If Walker can approach Kemp’s vote share here, it would be a sign that mainstream Republicans fell in line with the controversial nominee.

The bellwether (Sumter County)

2022 Senate result: Warnock 51-48%
2022 governor result: Kemp 51-48%
2020 presidential result: Biden 52-47%

Rural, majority-Black Sumter County is small, but it holds the distinction as the state’s most-competitive county in the general election last month. It went for both Warnock and Kemp by similarly small margins — and could pick the winner again.

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