ATLANTA (CN) — Statewide early voting kicked off Monday for Georgia's contentious Dec. 6 U.S. Senate runoff contest between Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, with voters setting a single-day record for early voting.
Over 300,000 Georgians cast their ballots on Monday, according to Gabriel Sterling of the Georgia Secretary of State's Office, surpassing the previous early-voting record of 233,000 votes on a single day in 2018.
Georgia is one of only two states, along with Louisiana, that hold a runoff after a general election when neither candidate receives over 50% of the votes cast.
As the only runoff in the nation this election cycle, the Peach State's Senate race has become extremely competitive, with both candidates being Black men who grew up in Georgia and present themselves as devout Christians. The contest has drawn national attention to Georgia and its growing political polarization in a once deep-red southern state.
"The reasons the race is so close are complex, but boil down to the fact that Georgia is a closely divided state from a partisan perspective. Voters are very attached to their political parties and it’s difficult for any campaign or candidate to convince them to vote for the other side," said Jeffrey Lazarus, a political science professor at Georgia State University, in an interview.
Though Democrats have already secured control of the U.S. Senate, they only hold the chamber by a fragile majority.
The outcome of the Georgia runoff will also further illustrate the changing ambitions of Republican voters, after many candidates across the country who were endorsed by former President Donald Trump lost their midterm races.
"The competitive Senate races tipped largely toward Democrats in a manner that allowed them to retain their majority in that chamber, which is somewhat surprising given the fundamentals such as economic concerns and a comparatively unpopular president," said Joshua Kennedy, a political science and international studies professor at Georgia Southern University.
He added, "I think this speaks to issues of candidate quality. Republicans nominated several less-than-stellar candidates and that probably at least partially explains why they did not have more success in Senate races."
Roughly 200,000 voters who supported Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp chose not to back Walker in the general election. After Kemp dismissed Trump's attempts to overturn Georgia's 2020 presidential election results, the governor beat GOP election denier David Perdue by a landslide in this year's primary.
Walker, a University of Georgia football star who has described Trump as a "mentor," has faced scrutiny on both sides of the aisle for various controversies. It wasn't until after being reelected that Kemp chose to campaign alongside Walker.
Before the launch of Walker's campaign, at least three women had accused him of violently threatening them, including his ex-wife Cindy Grossman. She told ABC News that at one point during their marriage, Walker pointed a pistol at her head and said, “I’m going to blow your fucking brains out.”
Her interview came in response to a book Walker released in 2008 called “Breaking Free," in which he describes his struggles with mental illness and alternating between multiple personalities - a disorder that can leave gaps in a person's memory and causes some men to exhibit violent behavior, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Last month, Grossman and Walker's son Christian attacked the Senate hopeful on Twitter, calling him a liar. “You’re not a ‘family man’ when you left us to bang a bunch of women, threatened to kill us, and had us move over 6 times in 6 months running from your violence,” wrote the 23 year-old Tik-Tok influencer.