5 takeaways from the Georgia Senate runoff between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker

One of the most expensive and bitter Senate contests ended with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock prevailing over Republican challenger Herschel Walker on Tuesday.

The Georgia race, which cost $380 million in total, did not change which party controlled the Senate in the upcoming Congress, but it did underscore how deeply and evenly the country is divided going into 2023.

For months the race was a tale of major contrasts as Warnock, a Baptist preacher, and Walker, a former NFL star, were opposites in experience, political beliefs and speaking styles.

Stay in the conversation on politics: Sign up for the OnPolitics newsletter

Here are the big takeaways from Tuesday's contest:

High turnout breaks fatigue talk

For the past two years Peach State voters have been asked to participate in a marathon of contests – the 2020 presidential election, two separate 2021 Senate runoff contests and the 2022 midterms.

Then came another runoff after Warnock and Walker failed to reach the necessary 50% threshold in November and dragged the 2022 election cycle into overtime.

Voters line up to cast their ballots on Nov. 26, 2022 in Decatur, Ga. Early voting has started in select Georgia counties for a special runoff election days after the Georgia Supreme Court rejected an emergency request from Republicans to block counties from offering early voting on Saturday.

Politics: Biden went to Arizona and skipped visiting the border

But if the months of rallies, national attention and negative ads exhausted Georgians, there were no signs of voter fatigue in terms of showing up to the polls.

The Georgia secretary of state's office said Tuesday that roughly 3.3 million people voted either through absentee ballot, early voting in-person or Election Day.

Trump missing in action

Donald Trump might have hyped longtime friend Herschel Walker to enter the Georgia Senate contest in the year leading up to the race, but the former president was largely absent in the final stretch.

Trump never joined Walker on the campaign trail for any in-person event as other high-profile Republicans did, but he did host a "tele-rally" for the former football star on Monday night and posted on his social media site Truth Social.

Herschel Walker campaigns for then-President Donald Trump in 2020 in Atlanta.

Republicans are split on the former president's campaign effectiveness as of late after a disappointing midterm.

A month ago, many Trump-backed candidates who ran on denying the 2020 election results lost in important states like Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The Warnock campaign, however, didn't mind drawing attention to Trump's online event for Walker in a Dec. 6 tweet showing a headline about the "tele-rally" and featuring a photo of the two Republicans embracing each other.

Politics: GOP leaders mostly silent over Trump's call to suspend the Constitution

Georgia makes history

Warnock's victory makes him the first Black senator elected to a full six-year term in Georgia history.

The Atlanta minister, who is pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presided, was already in the history books as the state's first Black senator after beating Republican Kelly Loeffler in the 2021 runoff.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., center, prepares to speak at a rally after being introduced by Civil Rights icon Andrew Young, left, and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Atlanta.

But that was to finish out the term of Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned in 2019.

By the way, Warnock is just the 11th Black senator in U.S. history.

Manchin-Sinema ‘insurance policy’

Georgia’s runoff means nothing in terms of which party controls the Senate.

But talking to progressive activists, giving Warnock a full six-year term mattered for two reasons. The obvious one was to keep Walker out of office, they said.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., did not indicate which side of the abortion debate he would chose leading up to the Senate vote Wednesday on the Women's Health Protection Act. In this photo, he speaks during a Senate Armed Services hearing to examine worldwide threats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 10, 2022.

The other point, however, was making sure Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – two more conservative-leaning members of the Democratic caucus – had less power.

Brandon Tucker, a senior director of policy and government affairs with Color of Change PAC, a national racial justice group, said Black voters in particular were keen on how the two Democrats have stood against many progressive policy goals.

“It is an important insurance policy right now,” he said.

Politics: Biden's agenda hinges on winning over Sinema, Manchin

More: Sinema, Manchin defend filibuster, likely crushing Biden's hopes of passing voting rights bill

Democrats ran away with the money game

Overall Georgia was flooded with about $380 million in campaign spending, which made this the most expensive race in 2022.

Politics: Family of deceased Jan. 6 police officer refuse to shake hands with GOP's McConnell, McCarthy

The edge went to Warnock and the Democrats.

As USA TODAY reported, super PACs alone poured in about $16 million more on Warnock than Walker ahead of the runoff election. The groups backing Warnock doled out roughly $40 million, while organizations backing Walker spent about $24 million.

The largest came from Georgia Honor, a Democratic-aligned group that spent more than $19 million in total supporting Warnock, according to the Federal Election Commission. That included one week's worth of TV ads for $5.83 million.

Opinion: Walker was a candidate beyond all help. Will Georgia Republicans heed another rebuke?

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Takeaways from Georgia Senate runoff between Warnock and Walker