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Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) Acknowledges Possible Voter Fatigue In Georgia; Final Votes Being Cast In Crucial Senate Race; Sources Say, Jan. 6 Committee Weighing Criminal Referrals For Trump And His Allies; Election Night In America Continued. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 06, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures of the state capitol in Atlanta, the center of political power in Georgia, voters across the Peach State now in the final hours of casting their ballots in the last major election of the 2022 midterms. It is all up to Georgia now to decide the balance of power in the United States Senate.
This as there is a major new development here in Washington. The January 6th select committee now set to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department. That could potentially include former President Donald Trump.
Welcome to CNN's live coverage of Election Night in America Continued. I'm Jake Tapper and we're standing by for the first results in the Georgia Senate runoff. Polling places across the state will close at 7:00 P.M., just a few minutes from now.
The incumbent, Democrat Senator and Pastor Raphael Warnock, is facing off against his Republican challenger, the former football star, Herschel Walker. This heated runoff featuring strong early turnout, lots of campaign cash being spent and continuing controversies plaguing Herschel Walker.
Here's what's at stake. If Warnock is re-elected, Democrats would win an outright majority of 51 Senate U.S. seats. That would strengthen their control of the Senate. President Biden and his party would have an edge, very slim one but still an edge in the Senate as they try to push through their agenda and push back against the new Republican- controlled House of Representatives. That means the Democrats would be less reliant on Vice President Harris casting tie-breaking Senate votes during an a 50-50 face-off and they would also be less vulnerable to the demands of individual Democratic senators, such as West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema.
Now, on the other hand, if Walker wins, the Senate would remain as it is now, evenly split 50-50, as it's been during the last two years. That would give a boost to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his party after Republicans failed to win control of the Senate and their hopes of a midterm sweep were dashed.
This contest also is a new test of former President Trump's influence on the GOP, as Trump was just hit with new legal blows. His company found guilty on all 17 counts in a criminal tax fraud trial.
Also tonight, the January 6th select House committee says that its members have decided to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department though they have not yet revealed who will be targeted in those referrals.
Covering all this tonight with me Dana Bash, Abby Philip, Manu Raju, and our entire election team, John King is over at the magic wall tracking the Georgia votes county by county, David Chalian is at our battleground desk comparing the early and Election Day votes, and Pamela Brown as at our voting desk keeping tabs of any issues that come up as the ballots are processed and reported. We also have correspondents on the ground here in Washington and throughout Georgia covering the candidates. There are key locations were votes are being cast and counted.
First, let's go to Eva McKend, she's at the headquarters for Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock. And, Eva, what are you hearing from the Warnock camp tonight?
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Jake, we've learned that Senator Warnock is going to be gearing up for election night right here in Atlanta. We actually saw him walk through headquarters a little bit to assess the space not too long ago.
He spent the day really trying to combat voter fatigue, telling his supporters, look, you might be tired now but just think about how tired you will be if Herschel Walker, his Republican rival, is -- wins this evening and earns a six-year term in the United States Senate.
Senator Warnock -- Herschel Walker outpaced Governor Kemp by about 200,000 votes, and so we have seen some momentum here from Democrats, but still Warnock cautioning his supporters against getting too complacent here tonight, Jake.
TAPPER: That's right. And Jeff Zeleny is with the campaign of Republican Herschel Walker. And, Jeff, tell us how things are there.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, for the Herschel Walker campaign, they are heartened by the turnout that they are seeing across the state of Georgia throughout the day today on Election Day. Yes, we have heard a lot and talked a lot about those early votes, about 1.9 million early and absentee ballots cast, but it's the votes on Election Day today that will determine the race.
And the advisers to Herschel Walker are telling me that they believe the predictions of 1.3 or 1.4 million votes, that comes from the Secretary of State's Office in term of turnout, that offers them a path to victory. In fact, their optimism has increased as the day has gone along because that is what they believe is a sign of strong Republican turnout showing out to polls across the state today.
So, not predicting victory, of course, but they do believe they're in this race because of the turnout. And, Jake, there's still one more hour of voting left and Republicans are still working the phones and trying to get more votes out in the final hour, Jake.
TAPPER: And, John, that's really for Herschel Walker, what it's all dependent upon is how strong is the turnout today. There was early voting which probably favored Raphael Warnock, the incumbent Democratic Senator. But how strong was it today for Herschel Walker?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How strong was it today and do we see in that evidence that Herschel Walker learned from his mistakes of one month ago and if you go back to one month ago, the reason we're here tonight, Warnock led 37,000 votes, nearly 38,000 votes a month ago. Herschel Walker, though, right behind him, just right behind him, 49.4, 48.5, the libertarian candidate, the spoiler, if you will, the reason were in the runoff, nobody got over 50 percent.
Why do I say we will learn that Herschel Walker learned from his mistakes? Well, we were here a month ago when Governor Brian Kemp not only won but one convincingly. That's a landslide.
TAPPER: Almost 300,000.
KING: Almost 300,000. So, how did that happened, right? How did Herschel Walker come in second when Brian Kemp did that? Well, look, let's just come up here into Cobb County. Brian Kemp losing, right? He's losing in this county. These are the Democratic-leaning suburb around Atlanta, but he's getting 47 percent of the vote. What happened to Herschel Walker, 40 percent, right?
Move over to Fulton County, that's Atlanta and the suburb right around here, Atlanta is down here, the suburbs is up here, Walker is getting 25 percent, Governor Kemp getting 31 percent, if you round up.
Move over here, the second largest county in the state, Gwinnett, it used to be a Republican suburb, more and more Democratic now. The governor gets 44 percent, Herschel Walker getting only 39 percent. He underperformed the governor throughout the blue suburb in Atlanta, and even in these more ex-urban counties to the north, Cherokee County here, you move over to Forsyth County here.
So, can Herschel Walker -- you see he won this county. You say, why are you mentioning that county tonight? He won it. Well, he won it with 65 percent. The governor gets 72 percent. Margins matter. In places where your voters are you need to run it up, see if Herschel Walker can do that here, in places where you're likely to lose, you got to cut into the margin. Herschel Walker -- the governor did it quite well a month ago, Herschel Walker did not. So, that's what you watch.
Largely, most of the votes here, Atlanta and the suburbs surround it, but you see this swath of red, that's the big question, Jake. Do Republican voters turnout in an election were they know it will not affect the balance so far in the Senate? It makes a big difference, 51 for the Democrats makes a big difference, but this is not what the Georgia runoff was two years ago. It is not for control of the Senate. So, the Republicans stay home and say it doesn't matter, I have questions for Herschel Walker, or do they say this is defining fight, I'm going to do it for him, I'm going to do it for Trump, I'm, going to do it for Kemp, you're going to find out about an hour.
TAPPER: Really interesting stuff.
And, Dana Bash, let me go to you with that very question. Do Republicans wish that the balance of power would have been actually determined by this vote? Would that perhaps have helped them get out the vote even more today?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they definitely wish that this race would determine the balance of power because it would mean they had one more vote in the United States Senate, which they do not have. But, you know, John, was talking about margins mattering when you're looking at the votes today. Margins matter in the United States Senate. And even though this isn't for control, one more seat, people out there might go, huh, sort of shrug their shoulders, one more seat makes a big difference in a lot of ways.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In a lot of ways. I mean, not just in the new Congress, which we'll get to in a second, but also in the next election. What if there's another 50-50 Senate? That could to determine who's in control of the Senate.
But in the new Congress immediately after this, there's going to be a negotiation, a power sharing agreement between the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer. In that power sharing agreement, Republicans will have more say in a 50-50 Senate, particularly on the committee level. They could deny subpoenas that Democrats want to issue. They can bottle up nominations, they will have more power. If the Democrats take another seat, they will consensually ignore Republicans on the committee level on this issue.
But the most significant thing is on the issue of nominations, especially if there's a Supreme Court vacancy, which can occur at any time. Antonin Scalia died in 2016, they had Mitch McConnell decided to not to move forward with a nomination. That changed American life for years and years to come. What happens if there's another death? And then that gives them some margin for error. So, if a Joe Manchin, for instance, who's up for re-election decides he doesn't want to vote for a Supreme Court nominee, Chuck Schumer, the majority leader has another vote to play with.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But what a difficult argument to make to voters. I mean, for those who follow this stuff very closely, it's incredibly significant and important, but it is hard to make these kinds of process arguments to voters, especially when you are a candidate like Herschel Walker is who is not very skilled on the campaign trail at making these kinds of nuanced arguments.
You're hearing them talk about a check on President Biden. Well, that was only the argument the last time around. And, clearly, it was not enough, just really underscored how difficult it has been for them to settle on something that Herschel Walker can execute but also that motivates Republicans who literally went out to the ballots, cast a ballot for someone else and skipped Herschel Walker.
Those are the people at least probably -- at least 30,000 of them, they've got to get out tonight.
BASH: They do have to get them out, talking to Republicans all day today, as I'm sure you both have as well. They have been really unsure if that's possible given all of the challenges that we've talked about right now.
And, Jake, we're going to be watching that particularly whether or not the governor, Governor Kemp, and his endorsement and the fact he put his resources in helped Herschel Walker.
TAPPER: Yes, indeed. And we're getting closer to the first official votes in the Georgia Senate runoff as we wait for results. We're going to talk to Georgia's staff election official, the secretary of state there, Brad Raffensperger. He's joining us live as election night in America continues. Stay right there. We'll be right back.
TAPPER: All eyes on Georgia as voters there across the state decide the last outstanding Senate race of the 2022 midterms. We're back with our special coverage, counting down the first results in the Georgia Senate runoff.
Right now, let's go to Dianne Gallagher. She's at a vote counting location in Fulton County. That's the most populous county in Georgia. That includes most of Atlanta.
And, Dianne, what are you learning about the timetable for the processing and counting of these votes?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, there's -- the two kinds of separate batches of votes, Jake, there's the roughly across the state 1.9 million early votes. Here in Fulton County, they started processing their early votes around 2:00. They're going to upload all of those votes into their machines at 7:00 on the dot. We should start getting those results between 7:00 and 7:30 in Fulton County but the Election Day votes, of course, will not start being brought in until after 7:00 when the polls close.
So, how do they get here? Well look, designated people go and they pick those ballots up from each precinct, they take the secure ballots. And, look, they're not allowed to use their personal cars for security purposes, both for the worker and the ballots. They can even ask for security to accompany them if they want to. They then drive those to this location here where they then go into a card delivery system. They put it in the back where you cannot see, and eventual the results will come out of these machines right here. Now, look, the target is around midnight here depending on how many of those Election Day ballots they do have. We should be getting many of the numbers again early on, Jake, from this area.
And I just want to talk about those security measures for just a couple seconds here. Remember, there were those two Fulton County workers who had to testify before Congress about the racism, the harassment, the threats they received after people and the former president put them at the center of a conspiracy theory, as they testified, completely destroyed their lives.
The county says they are very cognizant about protecting their workers. They have plenty of security layers in here. The state has done more to protect those workers and they are all in full effect tonight, both for the ballots but also for the people who have dedicated their time to making sure this election can run smoothly.
TAPPER: All right. Dianne, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Let's go over to Pamela Brown now. She's at the voting desk and she's breaking down the pre-election vote, because there was early voting. Tell us about that.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that's right, Jake. There have been some record days of early voting but the overall number of early votes for this runoff is far less than the runoff in January 2021, due in part to a much shorter timeline this time around. It was nine weeks then compared to four weeks this time around.
So, here is what we know, big picture here, nearly 1.9 million Georgians voted early in this runoff election. That is compared with 3.1 million early votes in the 2021 runoff that elected Warnock to the Senate.
Now, keep in mind here we still don't know the total number of Election Day votes that have been casted, and that is really important. But let's look at a further break down here. More than 1.7 million were early in-person votes and there are also about 174,000 mail-in-ballots. Those can continue to be received today, but they must be in by the time polls close tonight, except, and we should really emphasize this, except in Cobb County, where a judge ordered the deadline be extended December 9th after some voters requested absentee ballots and never received them.
So, big picture, and Dianne touch on this a little bit, but bottom line is election officials were able to start processing early in- person and mail ballots prior to today. They were able to start counting this morning, which will hopefully mean we'll see results quickly when the polls closed at 7:00 P.M. I've spoken to several county officials in Georgia and they all say those three election votes will be the first round in some of the key counties, Gwinnett, Fulton, DeKalb.
Also, Georgia Election Official Gabriel Sterling said earlier today that statewide voting is going very smoothly and that only three out of the thousands precincts are experiencing lines longer than 20 minutes. Jake? TAPPER: All right, Pamela, thanks so much.
Joining us now is Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who just won re-election last month. Good to see you, Secretary Raffensperger. What kind of voter turnout did the state see today?
SECRETARY OF STATE BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R-GA): We have a very strong turnout. It started out a little bit slower but we are looking at 110,000 to 120,000 voters per hour. We think right now we're about 1.33 million voters as of 6:00, and that will push us very close to what we had for the same Election Day voting we had a month ago, about 1.5 million, not quite but been strong.
It's been steady. Lines have been short. Average wait time right now statewide is about three minutes. The longest we saw on the leader board before I came up here was about 14 minutes, but a couple of that with 30 minutes. But it's been a smooth process and just voters are going through bit by bit. It's been slow and steady all day long.
TAPPER: Were you made aware of any irregularities at any voting locations today?
RAFFENSPERGER: They were just a few minor. There's, I believe, one precinct in Fulton County that started a little bit late, so they'll be open to 7:20, but it's really isolated situations like that, so nothing of any major import.
We have 2,500 precincts, and when you think about that, less than a handful, less than a dozen will be staying open past 7:00 P.M. It really does shows you the counties have really been on their game today doing great work, and they will have these results posted very quickly.
TAPPER: The runoff campaign was only four weeks. The 2021 runoff took place in January, obviously. It was nine weeks. CNN reporters on the ground heard from many voters today who were not able to vote early because the lines and wait times were too long. Do you think shortening the length of runoffs, shortening the number of days for early votes is really the best way to make sure everyone who is a legal voter is able to cast their ballot?
RAFFENSPERGER: Well, four years ago, I was in a runoff with the PSE Commissioner also and we had a four-week runoff period. And what we did, we incorporated ranked choice voting instant runoff with our UOCAVA or overseas military ballots, which allow us to shorten our federal runoff rates down to four weeks. All runoffs in Georgia now are four weeks.
But we will work with the general assembly in the counties but they have an awful lot to do right after the November election. They have to get ready for a risk limiting audit and other situations. So, we understand there's a lot on their plate, but I think one of the things we want to do is make sure we have enough precincts that are open and available for early voting since it is a shorter period of five days of early voting.
We also want to make sure that the general assembly is more clear on how many days of early voting will that be. Will it be five, six, seven? What is the exact number so we don't have these late minute lawsuits by activist attorneys and then activist judges making decisions? We think the state general assembly should decide these things and clarify the law.
TAPPER: Earlier today, the special counsel investigating Donald Trump's attempt to subvert the 2020 election, Jack Smith, subpoenaed elections officials in Wisconsin, in Michigan and Arizona, trying to get any communications between themselves and then President Donald Trump and his 2020 campaign. As an elections official yourself, you've testified before the Fulton County grand jury, also looking at Trump's efforts to overturn the results in specifically in Georgia, what do you make of this?
RAFFENSPERGER: Well, they're doing their work. But in Georgia, I showed after the 2020 race that we had a fair and honest account. In fact, we counted those ballots three times. We did a hand recount, 100 percent of all the paper ballots and recounted, and President Trump still came up short.
And so we've done our work. I sent a letter to Congress. And so they have all the information out there. And just like today, we're having a fair and honest election. One of the candidates is going to come up short and the other is going to win. And I know that one of the campaigns will be happy doing dance, the other will be disappointed.
But we're going to make sure we have an honest vote. Everyone knows that their vote counts and we are going to audit this race so that we will do that through the hand counting process also and so that people know this is the person that won this race. You can't argue with an audit. You can't argue with machines count actually lighting up exactly with what you get with an audit.
TAPPER: All right. Thank you so much, Secretary Raffensperger.
We're closing in on the first results in the highest stake Senate runoff as the election plays out.
Donald Trump might be even more legal peril tonight than he was at the start of the day after the January 6th select House committee revealed it has decided to make criminal referrals to the U.S. Department of Justice. Stay with us.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A suspenseful night in Atlanta. The rest of Georgia voters have half an hour to cast ballots in a critical runoff election. They're deciding the final balance of power in the United States Senate for the next two years.
I'm Anderson Cooper. We're back to CNN's coverage of Election Night in America Continued.
As we await the first results from Georgia, there's significant new legal trouble in Trump world tonight. A jury found two Trump Organization companies guilty on all counts in a criminal tax fraud trial in New York. And the January 6th select committee revealed it will make criminal referrals to the Justice Department.
CNN's Jamie Gangel has more on that. So, Jamie, this is largely symbolic. The Justice Department doesn't need a criminal referral. But Talk about their decision.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, first of all, our understanding is Donald Trump is likely to be one of those referrals, one source said to me front and center. But what's key here is to expect referrals for other people. We don't know how many, we don't know the names yet, but one source told us the other referrals will be, quote, focused on the main organizers and leaders of the attacks.
And, Anderson, when you said it is symbolic, there is something important about doing this. First of all, the committee considers this a critical part of their work, for the record, for history, to complete their investigation. But let's not forget the committee has been ahead of the Justice Department. They have a lot of testimony, evidence, interviews that the Justice Department doesn't have.
So, when these referrals go to Justice Department, it is a letter. We can expect underlying evidence, testimony, information to go to Justice that they probably don't have yet. That is critical. One source said to me it would be notable if we did not make the criminal referrals, Anderson.
COOPER: So, they don't have -- so the Department of Justice does not have all the information right now that the committee has?
GANGEL: Not even close, nothing. The committee had said that they were going to give certain transcripts over. They then thought again about that. The latest from the committee is when they make the transcripts, the interviews, the notes public, and they will make them public, at that time the Department of Justice will get them, too. So, there is a lot of information about to come over, the transcript (ph).
COOPER: And do you have any sense of when this may occur, when this referral might --
GANGEL: The question I get asked a lot. So, there is a possibility that the committee will release its final report. They will have a hearing. They will come together. They will vote on the final report maybe the week of the 12th, maybe the week of December 19th, before Christmas.
COOPER: All right. Jamie Gangel, I appreciate it.
Back with our team here in New York. Alyssa, what impact do you think, if any, this has on the former president? ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's significant. To Jamie's point, it's largely symbolic. The Department of Justice doesn't necessarily have to take up the referral, but she's absolutely right that the committee has a lot of information that DOJ doesn't have.
So, for example, Tony Ornato sat down, the former deputy of chief of staff at the White House sat down with the committee, who is yet to, to my knowledge, sat down with the grand jury. So, there is any number of interviews that have taken place with the committee. That is information DOJ doesn't have. And as we all remember the Cassidy Hutchinson testimony that was shocking and really kind to put the ball in motion going forward, DOJ wasn't even really aware of her as a potential witness.
So, I think this is significant just in the treasure trove of information they may hand over.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And the kind of things they're thinking of and think about the former president in terms of these things is obstruction of an official proceeding, but conspiracy to defraud the United States government. And so if they make a criminal referral to the Justice Department on Donald Trump, saying that you conspired to defraud the United States government, it's one more thing. It's one more thing for Donald Trump to have to deal with even if the Justice Department -- it's symbolic the Justice Department can say, we're not going to deal with this right now, we have our own investigation going on, we have the special counsel, et cetera, et cetera, but, you know, it is really important given all the work they have done, all of these other people have been prosecuted for storming the Capitol. How can you leave people like the president's attorneys who were conspiring, et cetera, et cetera, out of it?
COOPER: For the -- Scott Jennings, for the former president's campaign, such as it is, I mean, not much of a campaign so far, but his announcement, does this impact it?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he's had a really bad month. I mean he announced his campaign. It was super flat. The midterms have been widely interrupted interpreted by a lot of Republicans as a repudiation of his impact on the party, and a lot of folks that I think used to really support him are rethinking whether we want to go through this again. So, this is another reminder --
COOPER: There was also the neo-Nazi, white supremacist (INAUDIBLE) and tearing up the Constitution.
JENNINGS: Yes. And he is saying we have to tear up the Constitution, which I think on January 6th is what he also said. I mean, when you're the president, you take an oath, best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. He failed on January 6th. He's now saying it again. So, all of this is just a story for Republicans to consider about whether you want to drag these heavy bags through another campaign only to have the American people tell us for a third time we don't want it. VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's important is that Congress is doing its job to the best that it can. Congress can do a lot of stuff. It can pass bills. It can debate. It can't put people in jail. It can't hold people criminal accountable. That is an executive branch function. They are doing everything they can for the alley-oop.
This is a -- what do we have to do to show that we have equal justice in this country? If you have anybody doing the kind of stuff that Trump was doing that you would be in a lot more legal trouble. And I think from my historic point of view, I think this Congress wants to do all it can to get this Department of Justice to do something in this situation.
ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Especially since you know that this Congress, the Republicans are now going to be in control and the community is going to be dismantled and so this has to be kind of the end of the chapter maybe on the January 6th investigation from a congressional viewpoint.
I will say, though, to your question, does this do anything to Trump, I don't think so. And I don't think so because there still is a significant component of the base in the Republican Party that is standing by him. And no matter -- they didn't vote for the Democrats or Liz Cheney. They're on the committee. So, them referring this to the Justice Department, I don't think actually --
COOPER: Lt. Governor Duncan, does the failures that the former president has had in the candidates he has pushed for this last election, does that do him more damage than this?
LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R-GA): Yes. This is just another data point that accelerates his decay rate, right? I think it's undeniable. And I think to that point, this is probably the first cycle that he's dealing with less than a majority of Republicans, right? It's undeniable that there's less than a majority of Republicans that support his pathway. And I think now more than ever, he's more toxic than ever. And so if you're a Republican candidate sitting there wanting to run a Senate race or congressional race or gubernatorial race, the last thing you want is Donald Trump to show up in your town, ala-Georgia.
Herschel Walker distanced himself as hard and fast as he possibly could when it probably when needed -- counted the most, but it was a toxic move if he would have brought him to Georgia.
COOPER: And given -- let's talk about Georgia. I mean, you're the lieutenant governor. What are you going to be watching for, what counties, what should our viewers be watching for in the next hour?
DUNCAN: Yes. This is a turnout race. Who can motivate the base? And certainly there's been a lot of time in the Republican circle trying to express the importance of the judicial nominees and the ballots of the committee's and that's important. I just don't know if there's enough ink in that barrel to be able to articulate that the average voter that -- for the majority of those Republicans are just trying to figure out which way is up in Georgia.
Donald Trump has just kind of done a rope-a-dope with him for the last two years, confused them and really going to rob them of another Senate pick, most likely a senator that's a conservative.
COOPER: As we get closer to the final results out of Georgia, the first results, I should say, well go live to the county that could be key in deciding the Senate runoff. We'll be back in a moment.
TAPPER: The balance of power in the United States Senate is on the line right now, and one specific state will be the decider. We're following the runoff election in Georgia right now. The first results are just minutes away.
Let's check in right now with CNN's Nick Valencia. He's at the polling place in Marietta, Georgia, which is outside Atlanta, in pivotal Cobb County. And, Nick, you have information about turnout there today. Tell us more.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good evening, Jake. Cobb County had a record number of early voters, which is why election workers I've spoken to at this precinct are surprised by what they're seeing tonight.
Walk with me a bit while I talk about what we're hearing here. They did not expect to see the number of in-person voters that they saw in November come out tonight, but that's exactly what they expect with just a few minutes to go before polls close. They say they may match the in-person turnout that they saw in November.
Cobb County, of course, a crucial county, about 15 miles outside of Atlanta City center, and it's one of the many counties across the state that Republican nominee Herschel Walker far underperformed Governor Brian Kemp, with Kemp able to secure about 40,000 more votes than Walker during the midterm election.
In recent years, it has trended Democrat even though Walker would really love to win this. Right now, you could see here there are really no lines, people coming in and out, about five minutes to vote with no lines right now. We'll see what that all means at the end of the night, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, thanks so much, Nick Valencia in Marietta, Georgia.
And, John, how are the votes going to be reported this evening?
KING: It is important to remember it does a month ago or a few with us -- two years and a month ago. We have to be patient as we watch this play out. You're looking at the clean map now, no votes yet. We'll get them at the top of the hour. You will see about 20 minutes away, we should start getting votes. And that's the challenge. We will start to get votes pretty quickly.
I want to go back to a month ago. Just so people can see the coloring on the map here. Nick is right here in Cobb County. This is the suburban collar around Atlanta right there. Jake, about 50 percent, about 50 percent of the votes is going to come from right there inside that circle and you see it's blue right there.
So, what happens? Most of these counties early on, they can tabulate their early votes and released them soon after 7:00. So we are likely to see Raphael Warnock open up an early lead. Then we have to be patient and watch as the Election Day votes get counted. Republicans are counting on the Election Day votes.
So, let's go back in time and just remind people how this played out. This is one month ago, right? Let me get rid of the circle up there. First votes came in at 7:00 o'clock, we've got a small amount of votes right here in Augusta area. Then you watch at 8:00 o'clock -- this is the governor's race. Let me come back to the Senate race here to make it -- okay, we've got go back. Let me go back to the beginning.
TAPPER: We've got gremlins.
KING: Let's go start over. No, it happens. That's not gremlins. That's called operator error.
Now, let's come back here. So, at 8:00 -- 7:00, we've got Augusta. 8:00 you see Warnock jump out to that big lead, right? So, you're saying, wow, this is going to be a blowout. No, that's the early vote and it's disproportionately Democrat.
So, you wait. And at 9:00, Herschel Walker takes the lead, right, by a narrow margin 2,700 votes there. And this is a competitive state. So, what happens? Six minutes later, some votes come in from DeKalb County and Warnock jumps out to a lead. And then you move on a little bit later, 10:15, again, an hour, with a little change, Herschel Walker goes back in the lead.
Remember, we were going through this, this was a competitive race, midnight, Walker still in the lead there, then you get to 2:00 A.M., Warnock back in the lead, and then you come to the next morning and Warnock's lead is a little bit more, but still less than one point there at 49 percent. And then when you come out, here's where we ended up, right? We ended up, you take that off, we ended up there and that's why we're in the runoff.
So, if early on you see a lot of blue on the map, if you're in the Warnock campaign that's great. That means you turnout your early votes and your building a lead. Let's be patient. Let's watch through the night. It's likely to be it was a month ago.
TAPPER: And for those who aren't familiar with this entirely, the Georgia law is that you have to reach 50 percent, and neither of them reached 50 percent in November. They don't have to do that tonight, right? But there's only two candidates on the ballot, so they will.
KING: Two candidates on the ballot, somebody will. You have to walk in your vote, walk out, leave it blank or you could scribble on it, but somebody wins tonight.
TAPPER: Somebody will get 50 percent plus tomorrow.
KING: Wins tonight or tomorrow when we're done counting. Somebody will win in this runoff, yes.
TAPPER: Yes. And the libertarian candidate was key to neither of them getting 50 percent. They won't be there.
We're just minutes away from the first results out of Georgia in this final election of 2022. It's all coming up after this break. We'll be right back.
TAPPER: We are nearing the first results, actual results from Atlanta and all across Georgia as election night in America continues. We're also following a huge new development here in Washington in the January 6th investigation.
The House Select Committee revealing it will make criminal referrals to the U.S. Department of Justice. That could potentially, potentially include Donald Trump.
We're back in the CNN election center with our special coverage. Georgia polling places close just a few minutes from now in the high stakes runoff election that will determine the final balance of power in the United States Senate. Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel are facing off again after each of them failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote in the November election.
A win for Warnock would strengthen the Democrats' control of the Senate by giving them an outright majority of 51 seats. That would help President Biden and the Democrats as they try to hold the line in the Senate against the new Republican controlled House of Representatives. A win for Herschel Walker would mean the balance of the power remains in the Senate as it is now, evenly split, 50/50, giving Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans a key victory after they failed to take back control of the Senate. And their hopes in the red term fizzle.
We'll get early clues about how this night is going to soon when voting ends in Georgia.
Right now, let's go to our correspondents on the ground in the Peach State.
First to Eva McKend. She's at the headquarters of the Democrat, Senator Raphael Warnock.
And, Eva, how's the Warnock camp feeling about its strategy in the runoff?
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: You know, they are feeling confident tonight, Jake. Something that Senator Warnock's campaign employed was reaching out to these conservative independent voters in the general election, trying to get more of those voters to cross over in this runoff.
You know, I asked Sarah Riggs Amico (ph), she was the -- she's a campaign surrogate for Senator Warnock now. But she was the lieutenant governor candidate in 2018. If this was the right strategy, did it come at a cost? Did it come at alienating the progressive base here? And she said, no, because all the while, while Senator Warnock did that, she said that he never compromised on some of these progressive Democratic values that he has.
I also spoke with Warnock supporters and they told me that they are progressive than he is and they understand their position and what it takes to win in a state like this.
So, I consider the campaign is feeling confident about this strategy to appeal to these split-ticket voters tonight.
TAPPER: All right. Eva McKend, with Raphael Warnock at his headquarters.
Let's go to Jeff Zeleny right now in Herschel Walker's headquarters. How did that campaign feel about the campaign strategy? They were obviously knocked off course several times because of Herschel Walker's scandals in his personal life.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: They were indeed. And despite that, Jake, Herschel Walker still came within 37,000 votes of besting Senator Raphael Warnock in the November election.
So going into this runoff period, there is no doubt that the Warnock campaign had a momentum and money on their side. In fact, Democrats outspending the Republican side here more than two to one, just dramatically on television. But the Walker campaign believes that heavy election day turnout, that they are seeing across the state particularly in the northern parts of Georgia via conservative areas is keeping them in this ball game. They believe the election aid turnout I'm told by one adviser is stronger than we expected.
So they believe that this turnout can perhaps help overcome some of the early voting advantages. Some 1.9 million Georgians have already voted going into Election day. But the Walker campaign knows that it has to win about 60 percent of the Election Day vote to have a strong showing here.
But, Jake, they also feel, I'm told that, they've been abandoned by some Republicans. The Democratic whole establishment comes from president Obama and others. Tonight they're feeling somewhat hopeful seeing a path because of Election Day turnout -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at Walker headquarters in Atlanta. Let's turn to David Chalian right now.
David, tell us more about what we know about Warnock and Walker voters as we're awaiting the first results in this runoff.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah, Jake, we did a deep dive into the November 8th election. So, it wasn't an exit poll about today's electorate, but we wanted to take a look at the Walker and Warnock coalitions because it sort of sets the stage for what each campaign is looking for in their turnout today.
So back in the November exit poll, what you see here among Warnock voters, look at them by race. This is the Warnock coalition: 36 percent of Warnock's voters on November 8th were white, 52 percent of the Warnock voters were African American, 8 percent Latino.
Take a look at the Warnock voters by age. So young voters 18 to 29- year-olds made up 16 percent of Warnock's vote, 25 percent of Warnock's voters were 30 to 44. 21 percent were senior citizens. Let's look at the reverse now with Herschel Walker.
So, among Walker voters, 87 percent of Walker voters were white, only 5 percent of Walker voters were black. He's obviously looking to get that white vote turnout since it's part of his -- a huge part of his coalition.
And look here among age, the best category here for Walker, 45 to 64- year-olds made up 44 percent of Walker voters. Nearly 30 percent were 65 and older. He's looking for a whiter, older electorate to show up today on election day.
And then of course we asked the importance of party control in the Senate to your vote. Among Warnock voters back in November, 74 percent of Warnock voters said it's very important. It was true for both candidates. But look at this. Walker voters, even more of them thought that party control was very important to their vote. 82 percent of Walker voters said which party controls the Senate was very important to their vote.
And that, of course, is an argument taken away in this runoff. They don't have that because we know Democrats will control the Senate -- Jake.
Oh, Dana, sorry.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESONDENT: That's okay. Thank you so much. Fascinating numbers, David.
I want to turn to some new reporting, Manu, that you have about candidate quality among Republicans.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Real concerns about that when we look at what happened here in their failure to take back the Senate. We'll see if they lose in Georgia tonight. But seeing what happened in Arizona. Pennsylvania a race they thought they could win. We'll see what happens in Georgia.
The push among top Republicans is to get more heavily involved in the primaries in the next election cycle to avoid a repeat of what happened here. Because this election cycle led by Rick Scott decided not to engage, decided to let the primary process play out. Now they want to take a heavier hand.
One person who suggested as such was Senator John Cornyn. He said elections, the candidate quality is so significant here. He would know. He was chairman of the committee when they had nominated lackluster candidates about a decade ago, what happened?
BASH: And they didn't take the Senate.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, this is so fascinating. The reason they didn't weigh in on these primaries was Trump. Trump, they knew, was going to back some candidates that they weren't comfortable with. So what they're saying in between the lines of what Cornyn told you and others is that they are maybe next time around willing to go up against Trump in the primaries.
But this is something we have to see to believe because it's easy to say it now, but when it's a question of do you poke the bear in Donald Trump or do you leave it alone. I really want to see --
BASH: And even pre-Trump, the Tea Party, anybody? It doesn't always work.
PHILLIP: Trump is being surrogate for the base of the Republican Party, too.
BASH: Yeah, we will definitely believe it when we see it.
TAPPER: Dana, thanks so much. So, I'm here with John King at the magic wall.
This is the best part of the night because forget the pollsters, forget the prognosticators, it's up to the voters. In just a few minutes they are going to speak. What are you going to be looking for?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And they have either cast their ballots or they're in line. We talked earlier, we do expect early votes to come in soon. So this will fill in pretty quickly. You're likely to see a lot of blue especially up in this area. Hang in, be patient. This count is going to take at least a couple hours.
So, let's go back to where we were -- or a month ago to explain. You just heard David going through the election. You heard -- so your reporters in the field saying Jeff Zeleny especially, the Republicans are happy with turnout today.
Their math, Jake, was I guess somewhere around 60 percent of the ballots cast today, right? So that's not what we're going to see right away. We're going to see the early vote first. As you start to see other votes come in, especially when we move up here, some of these smaller rural counties. This race is not going to be won or lost in Gilmore County. It's the 57th largest of 159 counties. There's not a lot of people here.
But did people turn out to vote? Did people turn out in these conservative counties? Or did they just turn out last month because they were excited for the governor? Where's the turnout, and is the number up like that? Is Herschel Walker getting 80 percent in these small rural counties? That will be the test of whether the Election Day vote is what he wanted.
Let me come over this way to Gwinnett this time. Again, a month ago, 39 percent in a Democratic suburb, formerly a Republican area suburb. But this has become more Democratic. Donald Trump is one of the reasons for that.
So, the Trump endorsed candidate improve his standing in the suburbs, 39 percent a month ago, compared again to 44 percent for the governor. Those margins are critical. When you get some of the early vote that comes in, in this area, is it a little closer than it was a month ago for Herschel Walker? That would be an early sign that he is more competitive in this election. And then you want to see if you're the Warnock campaign, what you're looking to do is build a big lead early on because you do know history tells you, history tells you that Republicans turn out on election day.
And one month ago, for all the talk, Joe Biden did win Georgia, despite what Donald Trump says. Raphael Warnock did win the runoff two years ago. But just a month ago, Governor Brian Kemp won a very impressive re-election campaign. So, there is no doubt that in Georgia, yes, it is available for Democrats to win, you have to argue it's very competitive perhaps leaning a little bit to the Republican way.