The blueprint for how Democrats can win Georgia is becoming clearer and clearer.
In a year when Republicans won every other statewide race in Georgia in November, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock earned reelection in the once-red state in Tuesday’s Senate runoff, winning roughly 51.4 percent of the vote compared to 48.6 percent for GOP challenger Herschel Walker.
After edging out Walker on Election Day, Warnock narrowly improved on his margins across the state in the runoff. He was buoyed by strong enough turnout in the Atlanta area, particularly among Black voters. And he built up an advantage from early and mail voting that Republicans simply could not catch — a subject the GOP is belatedly addressing after its disappointing midterms.
Here are the numbers that explain how the incumbent Democrat pulled it off.
More than 320,000 votes: Warnock’s advantage from mail and early voting
Georgia’s runoff results highlighted once again the recent partisan polarization of methods of voting. Since 2020, Republican leaders, including former President Donald Trump, have expressed skepticism of early and absentee voting methods — although a number of Republican leaders other than Trump appear to be rethinking that opposition after losses in Georgia and elsewhere.
Democrats’ dominated both those types of voting during the runoff, with Warnock winning more than 58 percent support from those who cast their ballots either early or by mail. That reflected in part the demographic groups more likely to vote early: Black voters accounted for 31.8 percent of those who cast their ballots ahead of Election Day, several percentage points higher than in November.
Despite records set in the first few days of early voting, there was still significantly less total early voting than in the January 2021 runoffs, when the early voting period was longer and overall turnout — including Election Day voting — topped 4.4 million, compared to only 3.5 million this year.
But the early and absentee vote still allowed Warnock to build a lead of more than 320,000 votes, which Walker was unable to overcome on Election Day. The GOP nominee won the Election Day vote by around 225,000 votes, not enough to put him over the top.
Just 26 out of 159 counties: Where Walker improved his margin compared to November
After trailing Warnock slightly in the November election that prompted the runoff, Walker either needed to shift turnout in his favor or improve his margins.
He couldn’t do it. Walker’s share of the two-party vote improved in just 26 of the state’s 159 counties, according to a POLITICO analysis of unofficial results reported by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. The counties where he managed to improve were largely small and rural — accounting for just 5 percent of total votes cast in the state — so Walker could not bank enough votes to offset Warnock’s gains elsewhere.
That was always going to be tough without popular GOP Gov. Brian Kemp also on the ballot, though Kemp did jump into the runoff campaign following his reelection. Despite some split-ticket voting, Kemp’s win by a margin greater than 7 points likely helped keep Walker close in November.
“Without a candidate like Brian Kemp who was so popular and so good at campaigning and getting people to the polls, it’s easy to see how Reverend Warnock would have made that 50 percent plus one needed to avoid a runoff,” said Jermaine House, a spokesperson with the progressive research firm HIT Strategies.
The bottom didn’t fall out for Walker entirely. Despite a range of scandals and Democrats outspending the GOP 2-to-1 in the final weeks before the runoff, he still came within a few percentage points of victory. But he couldn’t make substantial improvements across the state after a disappointing Election Day, and that left him short of the majority.
Close enough to 90 percent: Turnout compared to November in Atlanta-area Democratic strongholds
Statewide turnout in the runoff was roughly 89 percent of what it was in November, with more than 3.5 million voters casting ballots this time. High turnout does not inherently benefit one candidate or the other. But Walker, who had trailed slightly in the November election, needed relatively higher turnout in GOP-friendly counties compared to Democratic-leaning ones. That did not substantially materialize.
Johnson County, Walker’s home turf in east central Georgia, was the only county that saw more ballots cast in December compared to November. But it did not work out to Walker’s benefit — Warnock actually increased his vote share there slightly.
Most importantly for Warnock, Democratic strongholds in metro Atlanta saw relatively high turnout. In DeKalb County, turnout was higher than the state average. It was slightly lower in Clayton and Fulton counties, but Warnock improved his margin slightly in both, offsetting turnout losses.