By Gregory Krieg and Eva McKend, CNN
The compressed timeframe of Georgia’s Senate runoff has juiced single-day turnout across the state as the race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker enters the homestretch.
The Secretary of State’s Office announced that 300,588 voters had early voted on Tuesday. While Gabriel Sterling, the secretary of state’s chief operating officer, had said late Tuesday that early voting that day had broken Monday’s record, official numbers from the office put the day’s total at slightly below Monday’s single-day record of 303,166.
Younger voters are making a particularly impressive showing, with those aged 50 or under accounting for about a quarter of the vote so far, according to official figures Wednesday morning. Overall, more than 830,000 votes have been cast.
“We’re the belle of the ball,” Sterling told “CNN This Morning” on Wednesday when asked about the enthusiasm surrounding the race. “Every political dollar in America is coming here right now both on the left and the right.”
The surge to the polls underscores the importance of the last major undecided contest of the 2022 midterm elections. A victory for Warnock, who won more votes earlier this month but fell short of a clinching majority, would give Democrats a clean Senate majority — one that doesn’t rely on Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote and allows Majority Leader Chuck Schumer more control of key committees and some slack in potentially divisive judicial and administrative confirmation fights.
And the GOP knows it. Republicans appearing with Walker on Tuesday in Greensboro stressed the importance of winning a 50th Senate seat — as they tried to juice enthusiasm despite their hopes of reclaiming the majority being dashed earlier this month.
“What a lot of people forgot about is the committees,” said Oklahoma Sen.-elect Markwayne Mullin. “This vote December 6 for Herschel Walker, it still allows us to hold up all those appointments.”
Mullin echoed Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, who also spoke at the same rally and urged supporters to get to the polls and vote early.
“Herschel is our MVP. He will be our 50th vote in the Senate. He gets us the tie. He makes it so we can stop this disastrous Biden agenda,” McDaniel said.
Warnock and Democrats have been less forward about the potential implications of his reelection after he won a special election last year. But the party is going all-in to secure him a first full term. Former President Barack Obama is returning to Georgia on Thursday for a rally and former first lady Michelle Obama has now lent her voice to a pair of robocalls urging Georgians to vote.
“This election is going to be very close and there are going to be a lot of folks on the other side hoping you stay home,” Michelle Obama says in a recorded message being used during the early voting period. “Early voting has already begun and there is no reason to wait until Election Day.”
A similar but separate call will go out on Tuesday to Georgians who have not yet cast ballots.
Outreach to swing voters
While the Obamas are expected to pump up the Democratic base, the broader aims of both campaigns — but Warnock’s more overtly — has been to win over the state’s decisive swing voters. When musician Dave Matthews rallied for Warnock earlier this week, he made clear that his goal was to encourage middle-of-the-road voters to break for the senator.
“Please tell your friends that were, like, on the fence to get off the fence and get onto the correct side,” Matthews said during a conversation onstage with Warnock.
The senator delivered a similar message.
“I am a preacher. And because I’m a preacher, I know when I’m preaching to the choir,” said Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. “I didn’t come out here to convince all of you to vote, I know you’re going to vote. I came to convince you to convince somebody else to vote.”
Walker, meanwhile, at his event with McDaniel and Mullin on Tuesday, took some time to address a new television ad launched by Warnock featuring several people reacting to clips of Walker on the campaign trail, delivering off-topic, meandering remarks on, among other things, the relative merits of vampires versus werewolves.
“It is embarrassing,” one viewer says in the ad. “Let’s call it what it is. It is embarrassing.”
In a bizarre sidebar during a speech two weeks ago in McDonough, Walker recounted having recently seen a movie that he said was called “Fright Night, Freak Night, or some type of night.”
“I don’t know if you know, but vampires are some cool people, are they not? But let me tell you something that I found out: a werewolf can kill a vampire. Did you know that? I never knew that,” Walker said, before adding: “So I don’t want to be a vampire any more. I want to be a werewolf.”
The remarks passed with limited fanfare outside social media, but Warnock revived them in his new spot as a way of trying to portray Walker as unserious and unprepared to represent the state in the Senate.
Walker, though, on Tuesday said the comment was being taken out of context.
“The vampire thing is good if they would have played the whole thing,” the Republican said. “The vampire thing had to do with faith.”
But he was less forthcoming when asked by CNN about a KFile report revealing that he is receiving a tax break intended only for a primary residence this year on his home in the Dallas, Texas, area. Georgia Democrats have called for an investigation by state officials into Walker’s residency and, on Tuesday, KFile unearthed a Walker campaign speech from January in which the Republican said, “I live in Texas.”
Walker did not answer CNN’s question and — like he has for several weeks — avoided taking questions from most media outlets covering his campaign.
This story has been updated with additional details and reaction.
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CNN’s Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.