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Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock wins reelection in Georgia's runoff election

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock will return victorious to his U.S. Senate seat. He won yesterday's runoff against his Trump-backed challenger, Herschel Walker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: It is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy - the people have spoken.

(CHEERING)

KELLY: Joining us now to talk takeaways from this runoff is Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler. Hey there.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So I'm going to start with one of my takeaways. This is my home state. And it seems like this was a chance for Georgia to solidify its battleground status. Georgia, we know, flipped the Senate with a pair of runoffs two years ago but different circumstances. Lay out what you think this runoff result will mean for Democrats.

FOWLER: Well, the stakes are different than what you just mentioned when the Democrats flipped control of the Senate. For starters, the control was already decided. This is a 51st seat for a Democrat, so there's a little bit less pressure. But it's important still, Mary Louise, because there's no more power-sharing on committees, no need for Vice President Harris to be a tiebreaker. And it's one more seat ahead of a less promising map in 2024. And in Georgia, it's a big deal as well, because Republicans won at the statewide level. Democrats have won at the federal level. So it just keeps Georgia in the mix. I mean, it's really interesting to see. One of the reasons Warnock and Democrats won the last time is because the Republican base stayed home because of Donald Trump's false election fraud claims. This time, moderate Republicans stayed home or voted for Warnock because of the way Warnock made the election about comparing himself and his character against his opponent.

KELLY: I want to stay with Republicans in Georgia and some of the changes that they signed into effect last year, the sweeping voting overhaul which shortened this runoff period from nine weeks to just four. How did changes like that impact voting in this race in the end?

FOWLER: So Georgia did pass a 98-page voting law that shifted more people to voting early in person and less by mail or on Election Day. This shortened runoff window kicked that into overdrive. Nearly nine - 1.9 million people voted before Election Day. That led to longer lines at fewer early voting sites and also to a huge Election Day turnout as people waited until Tuesday and hoped they could have a shorter wait. Early voting also made a big difference in counties that were able to offer more days. Notably, more people voted on those optional days, mainly in urban Democratic strongholds, than the final margin of victory between Walker and Warnock.

KELLY: And let's talk about what this might mean for Georgia politics moving forward, because these midterms have been a mixed bag, as you note. Republicans, including the governor, Brian Kemp, won in the general election. But then, of course, you have Warnock and Democrats notching this victory in the runoff.

FOWLER: Well, Georgia will definitely remain a key player on the national stage for the next several years. The Democrats are pushing to have it be an earlier state in the 2024 presidential primary calendar, and they might hold their convention here. But the party's still struggling with state-level elections. Republicans see both positives and negatives of Donald Trump's continued influence. It's safe to say the battles in Georgia reflect the future of American politics.

KELLY: Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler, thank you, Stephen.

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.

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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