Sen. Raphael Warnock, the Democrat first elected in a runoff election one day before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker after a four-week runoff in Georgia. His victory gives Democrats a 51-49 majority in the Senate, which frees them from relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes and also empowers them to hold majorities on all Senate committees. Perhaps just as important, Walker's defeat is another blow to the prestige of former President Donald Trump, who saw many Republican candidates he endorsed lose in the 2022 midterms.
With 97 percent of the expected vote counted in Georgia at 10:30 pm Eastern time, Warnock led Walker by just over 40,000 votes, a margin very similar to his advantage in the November general election. At that time, Warnock fell just short of the 50% threshold required by Georgia election law, which forced the runoff.
Warnock, an ordained minister who is the pastor at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached in the 1960s, first ran in a 2020 special election against appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, narrowly defeating her in the Jan. 2021 runoff election. That election was to fill the two years remaining in the term of former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned for health reasons. Warnock's victory, combined with Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff's win over Republican David Perdue, gave Democrats a 50-50 split and de facto control of the Senate in 2021.
Warnock's election to a full six-year term will make it slightly easier to advance President Biden's nominees for judicial and administrative posts and also solidifies Georgia as a battleground state in the next presidential election.
Warnock made several campaign stops on the eve of Election Day and delivered a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, telling parishioners that "voting is a form of prayer," Politico reported.
He repeatedly warned his supporters that the record-breaking turnout seen in Georgia's early voting period was no guarantee of victory, and asked them to vote "like it's an emergency."
Meanwhile, Walker also spent Monday making closing pitches to voters, but his scandal-plagued campaign failed to deliver a victory that might have reasserted Republican dominance in the state.
Walker, a former college and pro football star who was recruited into the race by Trump, made headlines throughout the campaign for reasons that likely did not help him. Two different women came forward to claiming he had pressured them into having abortions, a potential embarrassment given his opposition to Roe v. Wade and support for severe abortion restrictions.
Allegations of domestic violence and stalking also surfaced, raising damaging concerns about Walker's character and his apparent treatment of a lengthy list of previous romantic partners.
In a heated debate with Warnock, the former football star flashed an honorary sheriff's badge to bolster his false claims of a past in law enforcement. Those controversies, as well as Walker's evident struggles to communicate clear ideas on policy, failed to win over swing voters, who are crucial in closely contested Georgia elections.
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Georgia's Senate race has also been the most expensive race of the midterm season, with more than $380 million spent, according to OpenSecrets. That money was mainly used to purchase TV ads, digital and online communications as well as in-person canvassing, USA Today reported. Super PACs spent nearly $16 million more on Warnock than Walker ahead of the runoff election, contributing more than $40 million on advertisements supporting Warnock or attacking Walker.
Georgia also witnessed historic turnout during early voting, with more than 1.7 million voters casting their ballots ahead of Election Day, according to data from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office.
Warnock's victory offers more evidence that Trump's clout with Republican voters may be fading, as the midterm election cycle concludes and the 2024 presidential election begins to come into view. Trump has already announced his intention to run again, and President Biden is widely expected to seek a second term. In terms of actual governance, Warnock's victory also reduces the leverage of Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz, the Democratic "moderates" who have repeatedly blocked elements of Biden's agenda.