This combination of photos shows Herschel Walker, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate for Georgia, on May 23, 2022, in Athens, Georgia, left, and Democratic nominee U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock on Nov. 10, 2022, in Atlanta. Walker is running against Warnock in a runoff election. Credit: Brynn Anderson / AP

Georgia may be more than 1,000 miles away, but it’s on the frontline of democracy for Mainers helping to fuel the state’s U.S. Senate race.

A passion for politics has driven Mainers to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race between Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican former football star Herschel Walker that goes into a runoff on Tuesday. While Democrats will control the Senate regardless of who wins, the outcome will dictate national policy as well as the role of Maine’s two U.S. senators.

Heavy interest by Mainers in the race showcases the political engagement of a state that consistently has some of the highest voter turnout in the nation. It is also the latest example of the increasing nationalization of politics.

While Walker has raised some money from Maine residents, around $21,000, the donations for Warnock are especially significant. Residents have donated around $270,000 to him since a day after his early 2021 election, according to Federal Election Commission data. That means Maine residents have poured more money into Warnock’s campaign than residents of neighboring Alabama, which had nearly double the number of Democratic voters in the 2020 presidential election.

Ellen Dohmen, a nurse practitioner in Bar Harbor, is one of Maine’s 458 Warnock donors. She said her donation to Warnock reflected her “global” view as an American citizen. That includes having an interest in elections in which she herself can’t vote, she said.

“Who’s in our Senate, who represents us, affects all of us,” Dohmen said.

In addition, she said Warnock stands for everything she believes in: abortion rights, universal health care and affordable housing, among other issues. While she sees Walker as dangerous, especially due to his connection to former President Donald Trump, it was Warnock’s positives rather than Walker’s negatives that motivated her contribution.

Still, Warnock donors were acutely aware of the Walker scandals: two allegations that the anti-abortion rights candidate had previously paid for abortions to terminate pregnancies with women he was romantically connected with as well as accusations of domestic abuse.

Glen Rousseau of Bowdoin, one of Maine’s 39 Walker donors, said Walker was a strong conservative whose time as a football player had shown he would give it his all if elected.

“The only way for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing,” Rousseau said. “I want to help and donate and do what I can to support.”

Rousseau acknowledged Walker’s controversies unprompted, but said his redemption arc is part of his candidacy, noting Walker’s strong Christian faith. It’s a theme Walker has emphasized throughout the race in response to allegations of past transgressions, though he has denied ever paying for an abortion.

“I think he saw the errors of his ways,” Rousseau said. “He’s changed.”

While Democrats will control the Senate no matter who wins, the winner of the race will help decide national policy in a way that will affect Mainers.

A Walker win would continue the Senate’s current composition of 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote giving Democrats control. That split has caused legislative committees to be evenly split by party, rather than the majority Democratic membership that would come with a Warnock win.

That could be significant for Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who is set to be the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In addition, both Collins and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, could have more of a voice in an evenly split Senate as moderates within their respective caucuses.

Collins campaigned for Republican Mehmet Oz’s unsuccessful Senate bid in Pennsylvania but has stayed out of the Georgia race. Spokesperson Christopher Knight declined to say whom Collins was supporting but said she would follow the results after polls close Tuesday night.

“The election is in the hands of Georgia voters,” Knight said.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., left, and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, arrive as opening arguments begin in former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 10, 2021. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Warnock and King have worked closely on several pieces of legislation during their two years together in the Senate, including capping the price of insulin — an initiative in which Collins was also involved — addressing the nationwide baby formula shortage and federal voting rights legislation.

King praised Warnock in a statement, saying he was hard-working and pragmatic with a “heart for compromise” that he compared to former Republican Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, who once held Warnock’s seat.

“I’ve always found Senator Warnock to be a dedicated colleague looking to do the right thing for the right reasons for the people of Georgia,” King said. “That’s what our voters hire us to do.”

Warnock, a Baptist minister who became known in Georgia for his fight to expand Medicaid, has proven to be a difficult figure for the GOP to attack — his 93,000-vote margin in the 2021 Senate special election runoff was substantially higher than Biden’s 12,000-vote victory in Georgia during that same cycle.

But Susan Abercrombie of Portland, who made an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate as a Republican last month in the heavily progressive city, said the national media had ignored Warnock’s problems, including his support for cash-free bail. He supports ending cash bail for nonviolent offenders.

Abercrombie said she was “not fond” of Walker as a man, and she sees her donation to Walker in the context of her opposition to Warnock’s views and a desire for a 50-50 Senate. An outright Democratic Senate majority would be “really ugly,” she said.

“Since a staggering amount of money comes in from outside of Maine, I don’t feel guilty about donating to Joni Ernst or whomever,” said Abercrombie, referring to the junior senator from Iowa, a Republican.

On the opposite side, Bill Carney of Phippsburg, who is retired but formerly worked in the nursing home business, feels similarly: He donated to Warnock as part of a series of donations to Democrats in high-profile races. He simply wanted to have a voice in what happens nationally.

“I would be doing significantly more, even if I can’t afford it, if this meant control of the Senate,” Carney said.