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These are the five counties to watch in Tuesday's Georgia Senate runoff

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Raphael Warnock
Raphael Warnock during an election-night watch party in Atlanta, on Nov. 9, 2022.John Bazemore / AP file

WASHINGTON —  If it’s Tuesday ... It’s Runoff Day in Georgia. ... Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., makes his closing argument, per NBC’s Sahil Kapur: “We need you to show up. Are you ready to win this election?” ... GOP challenger Herschel Walker makes his: “If you don’t vote, you’re going to get more of Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden.” ... Polling places in Georgia close at 7:00 p.m. ET. ... John Bolton says he might run for president in 2024 to stop Trump. ... And the overall price tag for ads in the 2022 cycle reaches nearly $8 billion.

But first:  The results from five counties will help tell us if Democrat Raphael Warnock is on track to win tonight’s Senate runoff in Georgia. 

Or if he’s underperforming against Republican Herschel Walker. 

Let’s start with the Atlanta-area counties of Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett. 

Warnock got 56.9% of the vote in Cobb when he won the Jan. 2021 runoff, and he got just under that last November (56.8%). 

He took 72.5% of the vote in Fulton in 2021, while he got even more than that in his November general election vs. Walker (73.5%). 

And in Gwinnett, Warnock got 60.6% of the vote in the 2021 runoff, compared with 58.9% last month against Walker. 

Now let’s turn to two counties that are GOP strongholds. 

In rural Chattooga — one of NBC News’ “County to County” counties — Warnock got just 20.5% when he won the 2021 runoff, and he got less than that in the November general election (19.8%). 

And in Forsyth County, a populous exurban outpost north of Atlanta, Warnock took 32.7% of the vote when he won in 2021, and he got close to the same share last month (32.3%).

So watch these five counties when the votes start coming in. 

Data Download: The number of the day is … $7.79 billion

That’s how much money was spent on political television, radio and digital ads this entire cycle (starting the day after the 2021 Georgia Senate runoff through today’s runoff), per AdImpact. 

The top ad spenders this cycle are no surprise — the GOP Senate and House super PACs take the top spots (spending $220.7 and $192.4 million, respectively) followed by the two Democratic Senate and House super PACS (spending $157.5 and $144.2 million, respectively). 

Warnock’s final tab is about $101 million in ad spending, good for sixth most of any committee this cycle (more than either House or Senate political committee). 

Other numbers to know:

5: The number of days in Arizona’s post-election certification window to receive challenges to the state’s election. The state certified its election result Monday, but unsuccessful gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake could file a challenge. 

$18 million: How much money the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm spent on Latino voter outreach in 2022, per a memo from the committee. 

3: The number of bribery and fraud charges a federal judge dismissed against former New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin. He still faces “records falsification” charges. 

2: How many years the deadline to require Real IDs was extended, meaning they will be required for air travelers starting in May 2025. 

14 years: The length of celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti’s prison sentence for robbing his clients, where he faced charges of extortion and fraud. 

2 million: How many “Dreamers” could access a path to citizenship in a bipartisan immigration proposal from Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., per NBC News’ Scott Wong and Frank Thorp.

Headline of the day

Bipartisan duo makes last-minute push for immigration deal

Runoff watch: The final countdown

Warnock joined MSNBC’s Joy Reid for an interview Monday night in Atlanta, where he criticized Walker as “unprepared…unqualified…unfit to represent the people of Georgia.” 

The early voting data shows that Warnock ended last week with the early-vote edge, and the New York Times reports that Walker’s allies believe he needs about 60% of the in-person vote from today to win (data from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office shows Walker won a little more than 56% of the Election Day vote in November).  

Both candidates rallied their supporters on the final day before the election — Warnock campaigned with Killer Mike, Georgia Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff and Florida Democratic Rep.-elect Maxwell Frost, while former President Trump held a tele-rally for Walker, who just hours later unveiled an endorsement from Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Eyes on 2024: GOP response to Trump controversy follows familiar path

Congressional Republicans, now back in Washington and facing reporters, are starting to respond to former President Donald Trump’s latest controversy. Trump claimed over the weekend that even the Constitution can be “terminated” as a response to the 2020 election, which Trump falsely claims was stolen. 

Republicans denounced Trump’s statement, but stopped short of saying it means he is unfit for office, NBC News’ Zoë Richards, Kate Santaliz and Garrett Haake report. Take Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who is up for re-election in 2024. Asked if Trump’s remarks were disqualifying, Scott said, “I think the voters get to decide those things.”

Trump’s latest statement also spurred his former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, to reveal he’s considering running for president. Bolton, whom Trump fired in 2019, told Meet the Press Now he would “absolutely” consider running if no other potential GOP candidate denounces Trump’s comments. 

“I think to be a presidential candidate you can’t just say, ‘I support the Constitution.’ You have to say, ‘I would oppose people who would undercut it,’” Bolton said. 

Elsewhere in 2024 news:

RNC race: Harmeet Dhillon, a committeewoman from California who leads the Republican National Lawyers Association, announced on Fox News Monday night that she is running for RNC chair. “Republicans are tired of losing and I think we really need to radically reshape our leadership in order to win,” she said. 

View from Sanders world: Former Bernie Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir penned a New York Times op-ed sharply criticizing the proposal to make South Carolina the first Democratic primary state, writing, “The change would be comical if it weren’t tragic.” 

Can you pay my bills?: Trump’s Save America PAC is paying legal fees for some witnesses in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, the Washington Post reports. 

De$antis: Donors willing to pay between $50,000 and $1 million to sponsor Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ inauguration could get access to the governor and potential presidential contender, Politico reports. 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Conservative justices on the Supreme Court “appeared sympathetic” to arguments from a Christian web designer who wants to refuse to work on same-sex weddings, NBC News’ Lawrence Hurley reports. The arguments also saw Justice Samuel Alito joke about “Black Santa, children in Klan robes and dating websites,” per NBC News’ Summer Concepcion.

Democratic leaders in Congress are weighing allowing a bill ending the military’s Covid vaccine mandate to advance NBC News’ Julie Tsirkin and Kyle Stewart report. 

Iran protesters are brushing off the uncertainty related to the regime’s morality police, and are upping the pressure with strikes.

Former Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla., who received a multi-million consulting contract from the Venezuelan government, was arrested on Monday as part of a criminal investigation.