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Warnock wins Georgia Senate race, giving Democrats a one-vote cushion

The lead went back and forth between the two candidates all night, but Warnock pulled out the win

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Herschel Walker, left, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, and Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate Sen. Raphael Warnock.

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

Brynn Anderson, Associated Press

In the final race of this year’s midterms, Georgia incumbent U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated his Republican opponent Herschel Walker in the state’s runoff election on Tuesday. The win gives Democrats an additional seat in the Senate, a cushion that will provide the edge in Senate committees and could allow them to confirm more judges.

With 99% of the vote in, Warnock had 50.8% of the votes to Walker’s 49.2%.

In his victory speech late Tuesday, Warnock, an Atlanta pastor, praised voters for turning out for him despite “rain” and “long lines.”

“Georgia you have been praying with your lips and your legs, with your hands and your feet, your heads and your hearts,” said Warnock. “You have put in the hard work, and here we are standing together.”

“After a hard campaign, you’ve got me for six more years,” he said.

Despite record-high voter turnout in the race, Warnock said he believed there is still voter suppression in Georgia.

In his concession speech, Walker said running for office was the “best thing” he had ever done. He thanked his campaign workers, saying “they put up with a lot.”

“I want you to believe in America, and continue to believe in the Constitution,” Walker told his supporters.

Neither Warnock nor Walker won over 50% of the vote on election night in November, setting the two candidates up for a runoff election as required by Georgia state law. The polls were close going into Tuesday night, so both parties were working until the last minute to try to get their voters to the polls. 

A popular former football star, Walker struggled to overcome a series of scandals and gaffes during his campaign, including the allegation by former girlfriends that he paid for them to have abortions. One of Walker’s sons said his father abandoned him and also threatened his mother with violence.

In the November general election, Walker underperformed other Republicans in Georgia, including Gov. Brian Kemp, who easily won reelection. In the runoff, Kemp revved up his get-out-the-vote machine for Walker, but it was not enough to put him ahead of Warnock.

Just days before the election, Georgia Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan, a Republican, said publicly he would not vote for Walker, calling him one of the “worst candidates” in his party’s history.

On CNN on Tuesday, Duncan said that “candidate quality does matter.”

“I think Republicans want the air cover of a real leader,” he said. “They want somebody to step up in (2024) that is actually somebody they can attach their brand to, distance themselves from Donald Trump and once again be a conservative.”

The GOP’s loss in Georgia puts more pressure on Trump, who recruited Walker, a family friend, to run for the Senate seat. Trump’s endorsement may have ended up hurting Walker. A New York Times analysis of the 2022 midterm elections showed Trump’s preferred candidates trailed five points behind other Republican candidates in the general election. 

According to OpenSecrets, which tracks election spending, the Georgia Senate race was the most expensive race in the country this year.

But while this year’s race attracted big spending by both parties, the stakes were higher in the Georgia runoff election in 2020, when two Senate seats were up for grabs and the results determined which party controlled the upper chamber. Both seats were won by the Democratic candidates, giving the party control of the Senate and ultimately control of both Congress and the presidency. 

This year, Democrats controlled 50 seats in the Senate before Warnock’s win, and with Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to cast a tie-breaking vote, their control of the Senate was already assured.

But the Georgia seat gives Democrats a cushion, and eliminates the requirement to negotiate with Senate Republicans over committee assignments. The Senate committee assignments were divided 50-50, but that will change in January.

The extra seat could potentially blunt the power of moderate Democratic senators like Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, and could help Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as he likely prioritizes confirming judges over the next two years.

Turnout for the election was high, especially for a runoff in a non-presidential year. State officials said over 2.5 million voters had already cast their ballots as of Monday — a “record-breaking” number. 

Walker tried to tie Warnock to President Joe Biden and his economic policies, while Warnock ran on health care costs and questions about Walker’s character and fitness for office.

Democrats and Republicans spent millions of dollars in Georgia this year. But Democrats outspent Republicans during the weeks between the general election and the runoff. On ad buys, Warnock outspent Walker by a 2-to-1 margin, according to AdImpact.