(Bloomberg) -- The contest between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker for a US Senate seat in Georgia remained too close to call early Wednesday, making a Dec. 6 runoff increasingly likely.
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The latest results in the nation’s most expensive race showed Warnock up on the former University of Georgia and National Football League football star 49.4% to 48.5%, with 97% of the votes counted.
Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver was drawing 2.1% of the vote.
“The fight for Georgia’s Senate seat is going into OVERTIME,” a Walker fundraising appeal sent out Wednesday said. It added, “It’s going to be ALL-HANDS-ON-DECK for the next four weeks, so I need your help once again.”
Under Georgia law, a runoff between the two candidates with the most votes is required if no candidate reaches 50% support. Such a head-to-head election would be set for Dec. 6 after the state officially certifies Tuesday’s results and finds a runoff is required.
“While county officials are still doing the detailed work on counting the votes, we feel it is safe to say there will be a runoff for the US Senate here in Georgia slated for Dec. 6,” tweeted Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday.
Georgia is among a handful of states that will decide which party controls the Senate for the next two years. Democrats took a Republican-held seat in Pennsylvania and votes were still being counted in other crucial contests, in Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada.
Warnock told supporters earlier Wednesday at an Atlanta hotel that when the vote-counting ends, his total would be more than Walker’s. But he also sounded resigned to a run-off.
“But whether it’s later tonight, or tomorrow, or four weeks from now, we will hear from the people of Georgia, the people who have given me this great honor of representing you in the Senate, and we will move forward together,” Warnock said.
Walker told supporters shortly before midnight Tuesday that when they wake up, they’ll discover that a new senator elected. “We’re in a fight are we not? We’re here to win an election, are we not?” he said.
The contest in Georgia, where early midterm voting set a record this year, has been one of several considered pivotal to deciding Senate control.
Spending on television, radio and digital ads by campaigns and outside groups in the general election has totaled $245 million, according to AdImpact, making it the most expensive race in the country.
In seeking to unseat Warnock, Walker and other Republicans have focused on tying him and his policies to President Joe Biden.
Yet Walker’s celebrity was weighed down with personal baggage, including allegations of domestic violence and that he paid for two women’s abortions while publicly supporting limitations on the procedure.
Walker also was accused of having children he hasn’t publicly acknowledged and of exaggerating claims about his business success. Questions about his grasp of policy arose after he routinely made confusing and rambling statements on the campaign trail.
Warnock, who preaches from the same storied Ebenezer Baptist Church pulpit as the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., won the seat in a January 2021 runoff against then-Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican. At the same time, Democrat Jon Ossoff won Georgia’s other US Senate seat, also in a runoff, against Republican Senator David Perdue.
Changes to Georgia’s election law have since shortened the wait for the runoff, compressing the time both parties have to mobilize voters before they go to the polls again.
(Updates with new 4th graph, vote-percentages)
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