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Too Early To Call Crucial Georgia Senate Race; Walker Pulls Ahead Of Warnock In Tight Georgia Race. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 06, 2022 - 20:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I have a key race alert for you now, with 42 percent of the estimated vote in, incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock currently leads with 55.3 percent of the vote over Republican, Herschel Walker with 44.7 percent of the vote. Warnock ahead roughly 155,000 votes as of now, but still more than half of the vote has yet to come in.

Let's remember what this is all about: The balance of power in the US Senate, Democrats currently have 50 seats, including one pickup that was in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Republicans have 49 seats, one seat remains outstanding. That is this seat in Georgia, which will determine the balance of power.

Let's go to Jeff Zeleny, who is at Herschel Walker's campaign headquarters right now in Atlanta.

Jeff, what are you hearing from Republicans about the vote, particularly about these pre-election ballots? Early vote?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I can tell you there is strong optimism about the Election Day vote, but even Herschel Walker advisers and supporters know that that will not be enough alone to defeat Democratic senator Raphael Warnock.

I just spoke to a top Republican official here in Georgia who had these really stark words about the Republican Party's view of early voting. This official tells me this: "If Republicans want to start winning here, we've got to get over this suspicion of early voting."

Of course, no place more than Georgia has been really awash in these suspicions of early voting and Election Day shenanigans, et cetera, really, since the November 2020 election because of former President Donald Trump, but again and again after election after election, elections that have been run very smoothly, these suspicions remain.

So even though the Walker campaign worked very aggressively and get out this early vote, Herschel Walker did ads on this. Other Republican officials did as well, there is a sense that the early vote still has a dramatic benefit for the Democratic Party.

So Republicans here believe that they must do much better in the early voting going forward. Of course, they can't change that in this race. As for this race, inside the strategy rooms here, I'm told that aides are looking over results coming in from these rural Georgia counties. That's where they know that they have to make up some of the difference here from the urban counties.

And Jake, there is not the bold optimism that there was a month ago on Election Night in November. We are at the College Football Hall of Fame. You can see behind me here, of course, this has been the basis of the Walker campaign, his football career, of course at the University of Georgia, which has coincided with the Georgia Bulldogs' very successful season so far this year.

But this official tells me there is a path to make it a race, but that's as far as the optimism here goes -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Let's go to Kaitlan Collins now, who has strong feelings about the University of Georgia football team herself. She is on the ground in Atlanta. And Kaitlan, you've been talking to the Republican Governor, Brian Kemp, who has been trying to help Herschel Walker in this runoff. What are you hearing from Kemp's camp?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I think Jeff Zeleny said that on purpose. He knew I was standing here.

But it's fascinating what Jeff said about the early voting and what he is hearing from Republican officials on that. Because Jake, actually, when I was in Georgia in recent weeks interviewing Governor Kemp, I asked him about those Republican efforts from the Attorney General here, Republican officials in the State who pushed back on that attempt by Warnock to get that extra day of early voting that Saturday, remember, after Thanksgiving.

He actually disagreed with that. He said he thought that that was a distraction to push back against that. He said that there should have been early voting allowed on that day. We'll see if that is actually going to be something that affects the numbers that we see tonight when we're measuring what the early vote looks like compared to those votes today.

And that is a message that came from Kemp. Obviously, he pushed a very different message than Walker did on the campaign trail and the General Election. They were hoping some Republicans that in these last four weeks that Walker's message will look a lot more like Kemp's did, given the fact that Kemp got more votes than Walker did in every single county in the State of Georgia in that election, Jake.

And remember, he was someone that we had been speaking to. He was running on issues like inflation. He was talking about what he believed the Biden agenda was happening, what it was doing in Washington and how he wanted to push back against that. It was a very different message than what you were hearing from Walker who was focusing instead on culture wars and whatnot.

And so that is something that they tried to get Walker to shift his message to look more like Kemp's in these last few weeks. That is not necessarily an effort that was successful by Republicans in this State.


And when you talk to voters who were going to the to the ballot box today casting their vote between Herschel Walker and Warnock, they noted that, that Walker didn't really adjust that message, but they are looking at what Kemp was looking at, which is, is it a Republican that you're voting for? Or is it a Democrat? And that is really so much of the effort here.

And so the big question is, is whether or not Walker made a mistake in not looking more like Kemp's campaign in those final days, or if Kemp's efforts to help him could actually boost him given his popularity in the State.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlin Collins with the Kemp campaign in Atlanta. Thanks so much -- or the Kemp headquarters.

Let's say it right now, we're going to be joined by a key election official right now, the Chief Operating Officer at the Georgia Secretary of State's office, Gabriel Sterling, who many of you probably got familiar with during the 2020 election and the 2021 runoff.

Gabe, good to see you again. Let's first talk about the pace of the vote counting. When do you think we'll know the winner? Will it be tonight?

GABRIEL STERLING, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE'S OFFICE: Again, the voters vote for a reason, and we have no idea what they do in those booths and until the ballots all come in, we don't really know.

What I do know right now is we have a lot of the big county early votes in and absentee votes in, places like from Gwinnett and Fulton, the Republican county like Cherokee, so we're getting the votes in at a pretty quick pace.

We expect once we get to about the 2.5 million mark, it is going to probably slow down some, and it really is dependent on what is out and how the turnout was today.

The one thing I do know is we have record turnout today, record turnout in the early voting, record usage of absentee ballots. So the people of Georgia were very excited to vote.

And one of things I was very proud of and happy with all of our voters, nobody was discouraged from voting. Nobody said I feel like my side is already going to win or I feel like my side is already going to lose. Everybody in Georgia wanted to get out and vote.

TAPPER: So you had record early voting in total or just day-to-day early record total -- record early voting? STERLING: No, we had record early voting. We had record early voting for a Midterm runoff like we blew doors on that. We nearly had the number -- actually we had more people vote early in the Midterm runoff than voted in the entire Midterm runoff four years ago.

TAPPER: Oh, wow.

Now, you said that it also looks like Georgia in-person voting today -- in-person voting, probably beat the Election Day vote from November. Where was that? Was it all across the State in any specific counties?

STERLING: Here is the frustrating thing for all the political consultants and pundits out there as, it is everywhere. There is no like dichotomy between the red counties and the blue counties. So there's no good way to say who is winning and wo is losing on the State, which I have to actually go through this torturous thing of actually counting the votes.

TAPPER: Do you know approximately how many total ballots were cast in this runoff election, both the early vote and in-person Election Day vote?

STERLING: With the numbers we have, we're looking at close to 3.3 million, which is really much more than any of the pundits or consultants expected. And even us as elections professionals, this is really exceeding that turnout, because we're at nearly probably 75 to 80 percent of the entire turnout for the November election, which is really huge.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Gabe Sterling, John King. Appreciate your time. I know it's a really busy night.

So you mentioned you have the early votes. We have the Election Day vote and you say you see no significant difference between blue counties or red counties or different areas of the States at the drop off.

So what about in this short turnaround? Because you only have one month, of the people who requested an absentee ballot in the mail. If it's really close, and those last ballots matter, when will we know?

STERLING: Well, the reality of it is, there are a few specific things we have in the law. We have ballots that came in today. They had to be in by seven o'clock today, except in one county where a Judge ordered and that was Cobb County, that can be in by Friday.

And then we have the two other buckets of votes that are provisional that can be verified by Friday; and then the overseas military ballots. There's about 3,000 of those, I think, and those can be -- if they are postmarked by today, it can get here by Friday.

So those would give us those numbers. I'm not saying it's going to be that close, but we always try to keep an eye on these things so we can be prepared for whatever comes at us. TAPPER: So theoretically, if it is close, we might be waiting until Friday or Saturday, but we don't know it's going to be that close, but as a theoretical idea, that's possible.

STERLING: Scarily, I don't want to put that into the universe, but sure it's possible.

KING: We have had Election Week in America before, Jake.

TAPPER: Oh, many times.

KING: We have had it.

TAPPER: Many times.

KING: Gabe, you were talking about, you know, it's the magic of counting the votes and it's the gift of democracy that we get to count the votes. I know you view it that way, especially as someone who has come under unfair attacks over the last several years.


As someone who knows this State so well, when you have something like this, surprisingly high turnout. Was there a county or two that you just use as your own? I look at every State and I know there is a swing county here, a swing county there, there are quirky counties in some States. Do you have a couple in Georgia that you watch just as your own bellwethers?

STERLING: I'd probably look at Fayette right now as something that could change direction. The thing about most of our counties is they are pretty red or pretty blue. There's very few that are kind of a mixed bag. But you have what I call the sort of the diode counties which is Augusta, which is Richmond, which is pretty Democratic, but has a suburban Columbia, that's pretty Republican. Bibb is pretty Democratic. Houston South is pretty Republican. You look at how those kind of turnouts together, and that can give you some pretty good bellwethers to look at.

One other thing when you were talking to Kaitlan earlier, she said she had strong feelings about the University of Georgia Bulldogs. I do, too. I feel really good about our chances coming up in December versus Ohio State, but I don't want to jinx it. I just feel really good about our chances.

TAPPER: I kept it neutral. I didn't say how she felt about the University of Georgia. But you know, I think viewers are familiar with her Alabama ties.

Gabe Sterling, good luck tonight. Thank you so much for taking the time. We really appreciate everything you do there in Georgia and the fight for voter integrity and to defeat the lies and conspiracy theories.

Thank you so much. STERLING: If I can say one more thing on that front then, whoever loses needs to concede and whoever wins needs to realize that they represent everybody, not just the people who voted for them. That's how you restore faith in the American system.

TAPPER: All right, amen to that.

The Warnock-Walker Senate race could potentially tighten at any moment as more votes come in.

Will this be a nail biter? Stay with us to find out. Stay with us.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We're going to check in with CNN's Phil Mattingly who is at the White House.

Phil, President Biden has a considerable stake in the outcome tonight. What is he hearing about the state of play in Georgia?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, this is a very different night than the Midterm Election night on November 8th. The President is not at the White House. He is not sitting with aides up in the residence watching the votes come in. Instead, he is actually on Air Force One on the way back from Arizona where he spent the day talking about his administration's agenda items, clear wins that they felt they had in the first two years.

However, when the President wrapped up his final meeting, sources say he was immediately briefed on the state of play on the ground in Georgia. Obviously, White House officials keeping a very close eye on that early vote heading into today and on the day keeping a very close eye on what has been a very significant Election Day vote as well as they try and figure out how this is all going to land.

But where the President actually was today is instructive about where White House officials see things at this moment in time. They feel like they overperformed in the Midterm Elections, in large part because they feel the President's message, even a message that some Democrats criticized at times actually ended up resonating.

And the post Midterm Election travel, kind of gives a window into that. The President going to Michigan. He was only there once before the Midterm Elections where Democrats did very well, holding on to a Governor's seat, doing well in House races as well.

Anderson, we talked about how the President was not necessarily invited to Georgia to help campaign for Raphael Warnock either before the Midterm Elections or in the runoff. He certainly wasn't invited to Arizona either. However, Democrats won the Governor's race. Democrats held on to the Senate seat as well there.

Where the President has gone in the wake of the Midterm Elections has underscored the feeling inside the White House that there is a palpable sense of success coming off those Midterm Elections, success that may transfer over into a decision the President is still weighing, still weighing with his family members, expected to make in the coming weeks about whether or not to seek reelection in 2024.

One thing I would note, critical States for Biden's win in 2020 -- Michigan, Arizona, and most certainly Georgia -- those States will all be critical in 2024 as well.

So you noted, the stakes the President has here, keeping a very close eye on Air Force One about what's happening in this race in Georgia.

COOPER: Phil, thanks very much, from the White House.

Now, the stakes for the former President Donald Trump, Kristen Holmes is digging on that. What's the thinking inside Trump World as this runoff unfolds?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, former President Trump needs a win and his entire team knows that. He is coming off of Midterm results, in which most of the candidates that he endorsed either fizzled or flopped.

He had a lackluster campaign announcement where several of his aides, allies, and advisers are all concerned whether or not his heart is actually in a 2024 run, and they really believe that they need this win. This will actually stop the momentum against Trump, as we have seen a number of Republicans continue to come out, they are speaking out against Trump, they are saying that they will be willing to take him on in 2024.

We have heard some of the biggest donors say that they will not vote for Donald Trump. They will not support Donald Trump, it is time to move on from the former President, so they need this win.

But they are keenly aware that if Walker loses, Donald Trump will be blamed. He didn't just endorse Walker, he handpicked him, he recruited him. This was the candidate that he wanted, and they know that Trump will be blamed for this.

So all to keep in mind here, they are looking and hoping for a win tonight in Georgia.

COOPER: Kristen, appreciate it. We'll check back in with you here with the team in New York.

Would a win for Walker have any energizing effect on the Trump campaign?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I mean, it would be probably one high note and a very, very no good terrible few weeks for the former President. Like just to put a finer point on Kristen's reporting there, he made his announcement. It felt very flat. It was written with conspiracy theories, just did not have the momentum that 2016 or even 2020 did when he announced then, he has now had this New York jury, you know, voting for convicting the Trump Organization. He's had his former counsel testify in the grand jury. He's had the Special Master ruled against him. He is having legal failings after legal failings. On top of that, the Midterm flop that he cost Republicans. It is a bad time to be Donald Trump. It's probably the most weakened he has been since he came down the escalator.

COOPER: Lieutenant Governor, I mean, you've been very outspoken on, you know saying that that the Republican Party needs to break its addiction to the former President.


LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR GEOFF DUNCAN (R-GA): Yes. It's a vicious cycle of addiction, right? We were trying to figure out, you know all the stresses and strains he has created, all the headwinds he's created, as we've talked about earlier.

If you're a candidate, the last person you want is Donald Trump if you're a Republican, to be traveling around with you, and I think we're getting there.

The unfortunate part is, Donald Trump has given a hall pass to the Democrats. He has been the shiny object that has captivated the middles attention away from Joe Biden, and really the direction -- the policy directions that really are unexplainable, even by most of the folks on the left,

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the question really is going to come down to, is a connection with Donald Trump now a political liability for some Republicans? Because when it's about your own self-interest, and your own reelection, and your party and your future and your life, and if you have a strong connection with Donald Trump, and you think that's going to hurt you, then you just might maybe come out and say that anybody who dines with deranged Nazi lovers should be disqualified from being President of the United States.

COOPER: Van, you look skeptical.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, you know, I hope so. I mean, that could happen. What I do know is this.

Tonight is about Georgia and tonight is about Trump picking somebody who frankly used to be a hero. Herschel Walker used to be an inspiration. Now, it means insult. He is an insult to the Black community, and what you may see tonight is people coming out not just to vote in favor of a Senator that they love, but just to vote against Donald Trump picking somebody like this and throwing this person at the voters in Georgia like, well, we will just pick anybody who is Black.

His judgment, Trump's judgment tonight is going to be I think, called into question by a lot of people and I think that when you have a situation where it is obvious that Trump, when -- he was a little bit too clever by half. I know, I'm going to put a Black guy against a Black guy, but the guy that he picked was the wrong Black guy. BORGER: And you think it is insulting?

JONES: I think it is insulting.

GRIFFIN; Absolutely.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's the it's the judgment around the kinds of people you want to run for office, this addiction to celebrity culture.


JENNINGS: Honestly. I mean, look, I mean, this is one of the things about Republicans over the years. You know, we don't have any celebrities much, you know, just a handful of folks. We have Duncan and -- but when somebody pops up, and if they're famous, and all of a sudden, it's like, is this person a Republican? And people start to elevate them beyond potentially what they're capable of. Look what's happened with Kanye West?

And Herschel Walker, I think, you know, obviously, got the nomination, because -- not just because Trump picked him, but legitimately a legend, but that doesn't necessarily make you the kind of person people want to put in the Senate.

Now, we're still counting votes tonight, we'll see what happens. But one of the things coming out of the Midterm for me as a Republican is, I was talking to a Republican about this the other night, and he said, I think people just want normal folks who have good character, and that doesn't mean you have to pick every celebrity out there and elevate them beyond what they're capable of.

JONES: But that's a part of the Trump brand.

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think -- I don't want to cut out celebrities from being able to run for office, but think that if you are Herschel Walker, you are an insult to the Black voters of Georgia.

And honestly, I mean, I'm not a Republican, but it would be an insult to me as a Republican to think that this is the type of person that I actually want to send to the United States Senate.

I also think, though, for Trump, when you look at his liability, I think, it is a difference between primary and general. If you can get through your primary without let's talk about 2024, without Trump for some of the Senate races endorsing you, but you're in a close race. You know, I'm in the business of building coalitions. Maybe you try and pull some of those Trump voters and those Independents, but not have Trump be your leading force.

I think that's what Walker is trying to do tonight. I think it's too little too late because he was selected by Trump.

BORGER: That's Glenn Youngkin maybe.

ALLISON: Exactly.

GRIFFIN: And you guys will remember in 2014, when the Senate race was going on in Georgia, Herschel Walker emerged as a great surrogate for a credible Republican candidate. It's not like there isn't a place for celebrities who want to get into politics. You have no business being in the world's greatest deliberative body if you can't name basic policy positions, if you are clearly unclear on where you stand on something like the abortion issue, which is one of the most important issues facing our country.

COOPER: What do you make of Walker as a candidate?

DUNCAN: Well, look, I've been very vocal about this, and not because I don't want Republicans to have majorities I just have -- the candidate quality does matter. And I think long term, this actually is a benefit for Republicans if we take this as medicine.

We pivot at this point, and we go find folks that can really lead and Gloria, I want to go back to something that you said, you know, at this point, I think Republicans want the air cover of a real leader. They want somebody to step up in '24 that is actually somebody they can attach their brand to, distance themselves from Donald Trump and once again, be a conservative.

You know, Donald Trump has confused everybody, maybe even brainwashed the conservative base to think that conservatism is somehow angryism. It's not angry. It is a very articulate way to make smaller government safer borders, foreign policy that matters. Those are things that conservatives want again.


JONES: The good thing that is going on here and a danger for Democrats is, you guys are now having a look under your own hood and you're asking tough questions. Right now, Democrats are not. If we win tonight, you've got a lot of triumphalism on our side, but there is this counter scenario where if you didn't have that abortion decision come down, if Trump hadn't gotten in there and picked a bunch of people that couldn't win, we'd be the ones crying and we'd be trying to make our party better.

So right now, you guys are in a better position because you're being forced to rethink. We've got to rethink as well.

COOPER: I just want to point out, we're about 53 percent of the vote counted in Georgia, four points ahead, Raphael Warnock is holding a slim lead as the race has been tightening. Stay with us. We will see what happens when the next batch of votes is reported.

We will be right back.



TAPPER: We have a key race alert for you now and with 54% of the estimated vote in look how tight it is getting incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock with 51.2% of the vote over Herschel Walker, the Republican with 48.8% of the vote, it is about a three-point race. Raphael Warnock, the senator for -- incumbent Democratic senator is only ahead by 43,000 plus votes right now.

And John King, we were saying this at the early part of the night when Warnock was up so significantly, that it was going to tighten even more now with 55% in, he's up 43,000 votes, and it's shrinking.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A little more than two points. So, it was three points when you started as you were coming over, more votes came in. So, it's a little more than a two-point race right now, which is one, Georgia is a very competitive state. It's a very competitive race. This is what we expected. The early vote, Senator Warnock took a big lead. We're beginning now this is still mostly what you're seeing early vote, but we're beginning now we're somewhere around 12, 13, 14% of what you see the total vote count is election day vote and that number is changing as I'm speaking because these counties, especially the small rural counties start counting their votes.

And so is Herschel Walker, running it up in places like Coffee County, not a ton of votes there, right, you know, 6,000 votes there, but 69, 70%, that's what he needs to do in this swath of red that you see the small rural counties run it up on election day to offset what you're seeing up here. And let's just wander through some of these, when we're talking to Gabe Sterling. He mentioned Fayette County as one of his favorite sort of swing counties or Bellwether counties to watch. At the moment about half of the vote counted here, Senator Warnock is that 59%. This county Herschel Walker carried a month ago.

Now again, what we're seeing here now this is a month ago. This is now this is predominantly early vote. So, we'll see if it holds up. But just one of the places on the map you look at because they said they can swing sometime in close elections. Here's another one for me. Over here at Jefferson County, this is a tiny County. This is a really small county population wise, why do I like to look at this because you have Augusta in the suburbs, then you come out here. Warnock carried this a month ago, but in the governor's race, Brian Kemp narrowly carried this county. So just one of the small places that swings back and forth, that you look to in a map in a close race --


KING: -- to look for clues. Sorry, let me come back. Had Warnock do a month ago.

TAPPER: A month ago had Warnock.

KING: Warnock carried that one just barely.


KING: He gets just over 50, in the governor's race. The governor Republican gets just over 50. So, this was the ultimate of the swing counties if you will. TAPPER: It is (INAUDIBLE) --


KING: Yes, it's a tiny population center. But it's just a place you look at because it swings back and forth. So where are we now? Make sure I'm in the right place. Yes, 30 said was 40. So, it just went down even more, you have a two-point race now, as you watch the votes come in. And that's just the count. We're just getting more and more of the counts as you come around.

So, let's see where we are in the more populated areas. Fulton County is the best. We think that's an estimate 55% of the vote there at Warnock above 80%, that's where you need to be. That's where you need to be. If you're in Fulton County, the biggest Democratic area, you move over to Cobb County 67%. But look at that, that's a still that's a low number. This is the early vote that came in early. And it has been pretty stuck there as we wait for more votes for Cobb County, Douglas County up to about 84%. This needs to be a big for the Democrats and you just do the loop around, this will get you back to Fulton. And then you come up to Gwinnett here and Dekalb here and you're just looking at the margins. The margins, as we speak, are in the ballpark of where Senator Warnock would need them to be at the end of the night. The challenge is, we're not at the end of the night.

And if you're in the Walker campaign, knowing that you're beginning to get more of the election day vote, but you're still -- this is still disproportionately early vote. You're happy with that, because you're counting on today. Now, that's what they were counting on. What we don't know, and what we'll take another couple hours to sort out is that Warnock campaign also was well aware, a smaller period of early voting, a shorter period to get mail ballots and turn them around. A lot of people say they requested mail ballots, and they either came late or didn't get them.

Was the Warnock campaign successful of turning its vote out today. And we'll see that when we start to get the day of vote up in the Atlanta suburbs in Augusta, in Columbus down here in Savannah, where you have traditionally Democratic areas. That will be the test of the next couple hours as we get more of the election day vote. Was the Warnock campaign more competitive than the Walker campaign, you know, wanted it to be today. And that's the fascinating part that is a race, we have a ways to go.

TAPPER: What can you tell me in terms of where are we waiting for the most outstanding voters (INAUDIBLE)?

KING: Sure. Well, let's take a look now, again, as you watch. So, the bigger the circle, the bigger the circle is, you're waiting for more the color is who's leading in that area right now? No guarantee those leads stay. But you see most of the vote is up here in Atlanta and the suburbs around it. And at the moment, Senator Warnock is leading in those areas. So, if you're just looking at that you're a Democrat. You think OK, most of the outstanding vote is here, and we're leading. That's a source of optimism. I will say I understand that but you're leading because they've counted most of the early votes so far, right. We have to see what happens in the election day vote. Republicans believe they will win and overwhelmingly so in the election day vote we will see if they are right that's what they need, they know they need to win that because of the early vote.


But you see these pockets up here? Again, we talked earlier about Atlanta in the suburbs, then you get up more to the X urban areas. That's where we are up here, these red circles right north of Atlanta. That's where we are here. More Democratic votes out here. And still, you know, there's small circles in the small red counties. But as we've learned, as we've learned, they can add up. So, if you come in and you turn that off, and you look at where we are, again, again, most of this state is going to be red --

TAPPER: Oh, it's narrowed again, 31,000 votes. Warnock, only up 31,000 votes, it's 57% of the estimated vote reporting.

KING: This is where we go, and we're going to have a couple hours of this, you're going to get, you know, 100, a couple 100 votes here, a couple 1,000 votes there. And you watch it all play out in a short period of time. I know, this is what he's working on with his team all night. You know, David Chalian, will be able to tell us like as the percentage of it. The key thing is, what happens to the lead as the percentage of the election day vote starts to catch up.

TAPPER: Right.

KING: Right to catch up to --

TAPPER: That's happening right now.

KING: Right. So, we have the early vote. Most of what we're seeing here is the early vote. But as we've been having a conversation, we started I said was around 12 or 13% of what we were seeing is election day vote. But I am certain in the couple of minutes we've been talking even that percentage has gone up, which is why a, Walker is getting closer. The question is, you know, is it enough?

TAPPER: And as we -- as you recounted for us a month ago, it started with a Warnock lead, and then Walker took lead and then they went back and forth a seesaw back and forth until ultimately, Warnock ended the night with a slight, slight lead over Walker. We don't know what's going to happen. I would not be surprised if we had the seesaw again, tonight, back and forth, back and forth, only 29,519 votes ahead. Right now, with 58% estimated in right now. It's all up to the vote counters.

Now, we're standing by for updates from the key counties that will decide the Senate runoff as it gets tighter and tighter and tighter. More results after this quick break. Stay with us.


[20:40:47] TAPPER: Look at this key race alert with 59% of the estimated vote in it is a 0.2% race, 0.2%. Raphael Warnock with now it's only a 4,600- vote lead over Republican Herschel Walker, Warnock with 50.1% of the vote, Walker with 49.9% of the vote. As more votes come in, the race is narrowing and narrowing and narrowing.

Let's go to Jeff Zeleny who is at Herschel Walker's headquarters. Jeff, the is the Walker campaign rejoicing. Look what we just -- Walker just took the lead I'm told on the vote count as it's coming in. Is the Walker campaign rejoicing there?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely Jake, you can hear some of the crowd behind me cheering. They're actually singing along to Garth Brooks on Friends In Low Places. But they also are feeling very optimistic about where they are in this moment, particularly as it depends on early or election day voting, I should say. But that skepticism remains about the early vote. That is what one of the questions here is, is there enough Election Day turnout to overcome what they believe is a big Warnock advantage in early voting. But this is exactly why Herschel Walker has been traveling around the state campaigning and in football themes were here in the College Football Hall of Fame, he's been trying to urge people to get off the sidelines and come out and vote because they were anticipating a close race.

But Jake, the campaign strategists are perhaps less optimistic to some degree than some of these supporters because they are also looking at some of these other numbers. And they're wondering if they haven't hit some of their targets in some of the rural areas. So as John was just saying earlier, we're going to watch this go back and forth. You know, just in shop by vote by vote by vote. There's a lot more votes to be counted out there. So yes, this is a party here tonight, much more so than many supporters thought. But again, it's far too early to call it a victory party. Jake.

TAPPER: But before I go to Eva McKend in Warnock headquarters, let's just get you up to speed at home on the vote right now because with 61% of the vote in Herschel Walker has taken the lead he's up by bite 0.8 percentage points, 18,721 votes, Republican Herschel Walker in the lead right now 50.4% of the vote with Democratic incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock with 49.6% of the vote. And now Walker is up 20,000 votes and it is a one-point race.

Let's go to Eva McKend at Warnock headquarters. And Eva, the -- I'm giving on the screen behind you that all your all the voters there are watching I'm giving them bad news that their candidate has now is now trailing.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, despite that Jake, I would describe the mood here as stuff pretty upbeat. I think that the campaign has always said that they know knew that this race is going to be incredibly close. And listen, a trio a faith leader just left the stage of all different faiths and they talked about how this room tonight was a celebration of the new South a celebration of diversity. Senator Warnock made his faith really central to his argument for reelection, arguing that he is a pastor in the Senate not just a Senator who happens to be a pastor and arguing that his work in Washington is an extension of his lifelong work and public service.

So, I think the campaign feels as though it is arguments that like this one that made him appealing enough to a wide enough swath of the electorate for him to be successful tonight. So that is the mood on the ground here, Jake. Yes, Walker has pulled ahead, but still very much lively in here this evening.

TAPPER: All right, Eva McKend at Raphael Warnock, Senator Warnock's campaign headquarters. Currently with the vote in 61% of it in estimated Warnock trails Republican Herschel Walker by one percentage point, Walker 21,439 votes ahead.

And John, you and I talked about this how it was quite possible that we would see a repeat of what happened a month ago, Warnock with the early lead then the vote gets closer, closer and Walker takes lead it could go back and forth.


KING: Right. And so, we're seeing again essentially what we saw one month ago, once we have a decent proportion of the election day vote, which we now have a much higher percentage, and you get the seesaw. Because, you know, red county reports, Walker jumps ahead, then one of these big blue county reports more votes. And so, we have this, we're in the seesaw phase now, 61% of the estimated vote, so keep an eye on that as it goes up, and then watch this as it switches. So, one of the things you're looking at, number one, you asked us before, it's just worth showing every time is where do we think the votes are still outstanding? Right, the bigger the circle is the larger pool of votes still out. So, you see these biggest circles in Atlanta and the suburbs right around it. And you see the blue, that means there's a lot of votes outstanding there that we're still waiting to be counted. And at the moment, the Democrats leading in these places, no guarantee it holds up that way.

But if you're in the Warnock campaign, you say, OK, we've fallen behind. We're 33,000 votes down. There are hundreds of 1,000s of votes, hundreds, hundreds of 1,000s of votes in here. And you're looking at Columbus, and you're looking at Savannah, and you're saying OK. If you're in the Walker campaign, you see these extra urban areas. And you say we still have some votes out there too, the question, Jeff Zeleny was just raising a great point. And we can't answer it completely yet, because a lot of these places are still counting votes, but something to watch as we go through the night.

So, the smaller rural counties, right. You pick a county here, they're at 67%. You see that percentage at 65%. But Walker needs raw math, right? You need raw numbers. These are not big counties, but you need every vote, you can get here to offset Atlanta and the suburb.

TAPPER: Right, and it's such a small county, it's only 1,300 votes.

KING: So, 2,900 votes, almost 3000 votes right now. Let's just go back a month ago, it was more than 5,000 votes. Right. So, when we get the remainder, we're not done yet here. We're only at 67% isn't enough to get close. Right. You're not going to match a month ago, the turnouts probably down a little bit everywhere. The question is, can you get close right in the small rural counties? Let's just move over here to Hart County, were at 95% here in the runoff, right, 77%, that's impressive. That's what you need to do. But the raw number 7,500, let's just see, that's where we are today, a month ago, the 79. So, 400 vote difference there, not as bad but a little bit of a drop.

The question is, if you get a little bit of a drop in dozens of these, because there are dozens of them, the small rural counties, that is the question, what -- you know, is it drop you enough? Because now as you look right there, let's come back to where we are today. Walker ahead by just shy of 36,000 votes, but we still have a ton. I just want to walk around the percentages around here.


KING: OK, Cobb County, again --

TAPPER: Only 24% in.

KING: Yes. It's the third largest county in the state. So, there are a ton of votes here. 55% by far the largest county in the state kind of votes here. This is the second largest county in the state 54% here, you move down here. You're at the fourth largest county in the state DeKalb, we're only at 5%. So, we need to see --

TAPPER: There are ton of Democrat votes here.

KING: We need to see much higher percentages here before we can start, you know, into the nitty gritty, but if you're the Walker campaign, you know, you'd rather be ahead the behind.

TAPPER: Right.

KING: But you know, you know that most of the outstanding votes are right there. And you know that in this election a month ago in the governor's race and in the presidential race, that area is blue. And that --

TAPPER: And if you do the outstanding vote?

KING: Let me come back to the right race first. So, we look at on the right race, come back to the runoff here. We come down to the outstanding vote. These are the -- this is where we're still waiting for votes.

TAPPER: So, what I wanted -- the one of the points I wanted to make is this because it's geographically so compressed, it's almost kind of misleading there are so many big blue dots here.

KING: Right.

TAPPER: That it almost looks as though it's like just one when there it's actually just set there are there five or six.

KING: All the way out. Excuse me for turning my back, but you can stretch it out some to show you. Yes, that's those different count. TAPPER: One, two, three, four.

KING: That's Fulton County --


KING: -- Cobb County, DeKalb County, Gwinnett County, Clayton County below it --

TAPPER: If they were spread out, it would be more.

KING: Right.

TAPPER: I'm just saying like it's not over for Warnock.


TAPPER: There's still a lot of votes to were count.

KING: Yes, there's still probably it was -- that Gabe said he thought it would be -- Gabe Sterling said it'd be over 3 million. So, we got a million maybe a --

TAPPER: We got a million votes left.

KING: Maybe a million and a half votes left to count.

TAPPER: All right, but it's a nail biter, Dana Bash.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure, is Jake. And we're back here with our friends and reporters. Jamie, nice to see you. Welcome.


BASH: We've been talking to our sources as we've been watching John, Jake, hit the wall. What are you hearing from yours?

GANGEL: So, I was actually laughing when John said the seesaw, because just minutes before Herschel Walker pulled ahead, a source on the Walker campaign texted me that he was pessimistic about how they were doing. So, and said, quote, we aren't hitting the rural numbers and Warnock is overperforming in metro areas. So, we don't know. It's, you know, this goes back to what we've been saying, well they, let's wait and counted.

But I will say I spoke to sources on Herschel Walker's campaign last night. They were not optimistic about what was happening today. But then you see him pull ahead maybe that.


BASH: And remember, they're very much focused on some of what John was showing at the wall which is the northern parts of Atlanta about getting votes out in a very big way there that that's what they're focused on to balance out other parts where Raphael Warnock, is doing quite well, the way he did in November.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, if they're looking at where the results are, right now, a lot of these red counties are almost tapped out. They've mostly come in. And, you know, Walker is leading, but perhaps not by as much as he needs to in order to win. And remember, we came into this runoff, and he was already behind Raphael Warnock, so he needs to really overperform in order to get there. And I think that we really do have to say, like, let's just hit pause on this for a second, because as John and Jake, just walk through the votes, the huge buckets of votes are still very much outstanding. And that's why this early lead that Herschel Walker has taken in the moment is not necessarily going to be something that is a relief to a lot of Republicans, because they're looking at all those other red dots -- sea of red, a lot of those counties are already 95%.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, Republicans that I'm messaging with, similarly are suggesting that, you know, this is too early. It's way we can't get excited. Yes, it's good that Walker's up in their view, but there's still some counties that he has not, Herschel Walker has not performed, as well, as he did last month, there's a ton of vote left around the Atlanta area as well.

So, this result can certainly change. But if he does, Walker does pull off and win here, it would be a very significant upset because the view among the Republican establishment, and everybody down in Georgia who's following this race, as they thought of Walker had very little chance of pulling this off, this would be a huge shot in the arm for Republicans. If this were if you were to pull off a subset, even though it doesn't change the balance of power in the Senate. But nevertheless, as the Republicans acknowledge here, there's a lot more vote to count.

BASH: Yes, a lot more vote to count. And but the fact that it is that that Republicans are saying, again, this is early, we're not even close to done covering and, and counting the vote, but the fact that they have that image on the screen right now is giving them a glimmer of hope. And despite the reality and the realistic numbers that they're seeing in the war rooms, that they're texting us.

PHILLIP: Yes. And look, it's a tough thing for Republicans to be counting on overperforming in the suburbs, in this kind of environment. Let's be honest. I mean, the issue for a Herschel Walker right now is that these suburban voters, these suburban collar counties around Atlanta, are more diverse, they are younger, they are highly educated, and those are not his voters. So it's just a, it's a, it's a little bit of a hope, a lot of hope, perhaps, that in those places he might overperform. And that's why I think we're seeing (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: I think it's so significant the voter turnout here in a runoff typically, you see a significant gap. But what we heard from Gabe Sterling, it's high 3.3 million voters.

(CROSSTALK) BASH: And isn't amazing, these voters in Georgia, have voted on this race. Let's just look at Republicans. This is the fourth time because they voted in the primary. And then they voted for four times -- they voted in the general election. And then third time, and now they're voting in the runoff. And by the way, this happened last year. This happened, you know, two years before that, voters in Georgia have it's almost as if they have accepted and embraced the idea that they are the epicenter of the political universe that's kind of balancing with the parties, and even balancing democracy right now.

GANGEL: I think it's actually nothing struggling, short of extraordinary from the Herschel Walker campaigns point of view, because last night, they did not expect to have the kind of turnout that happened today. And part of it was really because that Senate seat, it wasn't a that was a rallying cry for them. And once this was no longer part of the Senate, put aside the fact that there have been a lot of negatives for Herschel Walker that, you know, they had issues with Trump not wanting him to come in. I mean, it has not been a good close, but they really thought that without the rallying cry of taking the Senate, they were simply not going to see the kind of turnout (INAUDIBLE) --

RAJU: And this is such a highly engaged electorate --

BASH: Exactly that's --

RAJU: -- I mean, just given -- you can't avoid this race in this state. They are just bombarded with as they have been for months and months and months and it doesn't even though it was a runoff election is the only election on the ballot. They most voters know what's going on and they're very in tune what's happening.

BASH: All right, everybody standby. Herschel Walker, as you see there on the screen taking a very slim lead in the Georgia Senate runoff. We're going to see if the race swings back to Raphael Warnock's favor as the vote counter scrambled a process and report more results.


A lot of suspense right now. Stay with us.


TAPPER: And the key race alert. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent senator has pulled ahead with 72% of the vote in, Senator Warnock has 50.4% of the vote Herschel Walker, the Republican with 49.6% of the vote. That is a lead for Warnock of 0.8% of the vote. Roughly 19,000 votes.

A reminder here that this is all about the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, Democrats currently have 50 U.S. Senate seats, including a pickup from the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Republicans have 49 seats they are hoping to win this one last remaining seat in Georgia needed to control 51.