Georgia’s Democratic senator Raphael Warnock was re-elected Tuesday night, winning his second runoff in less than two years by besting Herschel Walker, a scandal-ridden football star whom former president Donald Trump had once called “unstoppable.”
As of 11:30 p.m., Warnock had received about 1.75 million votes, or 50.8 percent. Walker was behind with about 1.7 million votes, or 49.2 percent. The Associated Press called the race for Warnock at 10:26 p.m. The race had been seesawing all night, but Warnock eventually pulled ahead with big margins in the metro Atlanta area.
“After a hard-fought campaign, or should I say campaigns, it is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: the people have spoken,” Warnock said in a victory speech, adding later that he would represent the whole state. “I want all of Georgia to know, whether you voted for me or not, that every single day I am going to keep working for you. I’m proud of the bipartisan work I’ve done, and I intend to do more. Because I actually believe at the end of the day we are all Americans.”
Warnock thanked his family, and credited a “multi-racial, multi-religious coalition of conscience” for his victory. He also said that his win should not be considered evidence against voter suppression in the state. “Let me be clear, just because people endured long lines that wrapped around buildings, some blocks long, and just because they endured the rain and the cold and all kinds of tricks in order to vote, doesn’t mean that voter suppression does not exist,” he said. “It just simply means that you the people have decided that your voices will not be silenced.”
Walker conceded defeat just after 11 p.m., thanking his team who “put up with a lot,” and urging his supporters to continue believing in America, the Constitution, and the nation’s elected officials “most of all.”
“There’s no excuses in life,” Walker said. “And I’m not going to make any excuses now, because we put up one heck of a fight.”
Warnock also bested Walker by more than 37,500 votes in November’s general election, but the runoff was required because a libertarian on the ballot prevented either of the two major party candidates from receiving a majority of votes, a requirement to win election in Georgia.
The stakes for this runoff were lower than in 2021, when Warnock and Democrat Jon Ossoff defeated their Republican opponents and won their party control of the Senate. This go-round, Democrats had already won at least a 50-50 tie in the Senate and control of the chamber, with Vice President Kamela Harris as the tie-breaker.
With Warnock’s victory, Democrats will have 51 Senate seats. That will provide a little more cushion for dissent within the Democratic ranks, and will somewhat dilute the influence of more moderate senators Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) who caused their party frequent headaches over the last two years. His win also gives Democrats more control over Senate committees, and further burnishes Georgia’s growing reputation as a purple state.
“What’s the difference between 50 and 51 [senators]? “The answer is: a lot,” former president Barack Obama said while stumping for Warnock recently, according to CNN. “An extra senator gives Democrats more breathing room on important bills. It prevents one person from holding up everything.”
Despite Walker’s loss, Republicans, who will have a very narrow majority in the House in January, should be able to stymie most of the Democratic agenda over the next two year. But Walker’s defeat will likely raise more questions in some corners of the GOP about the outsized influence of Trump, who often seems to value personal loyalty and celebrity over electability. The former president backed a number of loyalists in winnable Senate contests who crashed and burned on Election Day – Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Blake Masters in Arizona.
Walker, a former NFL star and University of Georgia football legend, had all the markings of a Trump candidate. He was a celebrity, and an outspoken Trump supporter who had boasted about having a “deep, personal friendship” with the former president. Trump encouraged Walker to run for Senate, despite Walker’s troubled past and the fact that he hadn’t lived in Georgia in over a decade. Many in the GOP were concerned about Walker’s candidacy from the outset, but Trump declared that Walker “would be unstoppable, just like he was when he played for the Georgia Bulldogs, and in the NFL.”
Walker’s inexperience showed on the campaign trail, where made strange comments about climate change and at one point riffed on the virtues of vampires and werewolves. He was caught inflating his business and academic records, and offered vague policy prescriptions.
He was dogged throughout the campaign with his history of domestic violence – he acknowledged allegations by his ex-wife, who once said, “He held a gun to my temple and said he was gonna blow my brains out.” Walker said his violent past stemmed from his well-publicized struggles with dissociative identity disorder.
Over the summer, reports revealed that Walker – an outspoken critic of absent black fathers – has three children that he either is not in contact with or hadn’t mentioned publicly. In October, Walker, who campaigned as a pro-life champion, was accused by two as-yet unidentified women of paying for them to have abortions. His son, Christian, unloaded on Twitter, claiming that his father’s campaign has been marked by “lie after lie after lie.”
Walker may have been buoyed the by critical nature of the race – many Republicans seemingly were able to set aside their concerns about him if Senate control was on the line. Walker claimed that nothing less than the American dream was at stake. “I want every kid in America to have that American dream,” Walker said on Fox News. “Well, I can tell you right now, if I don’t win that seat, no other American will ever have that American dream again.”
During the runoff, with Senate control off the table, Walker’s camp tried tying Warnock to President Joe Biden, accused Warnock of being “bought and paid for by California liberals,” pumped up reports that his church was evicting poor residents from a low-income apartment complex it owned, and accused him of being a “Slum Lord Millionaire.” They even blamed Warnock for the inflated price of Christmas trees. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who handily won re-election in November, hit the trail to stump for Walker.
But it didn’t work. Warnock had more money to attack Walker, and over the last month Warnock was ahead in every runoff poll collected by Real Clear Politics. High early-voting turnout, which increasingly benefits Democrats, looked good for Warnock. Last week, Geoff Duncan, Georgia’s Republican lieutenant governor, said he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Walker, telling CNN that it was “the most disappointing ballot” he’s seen in his time as a voter.
Warnock has been name-checked as a possible presidential contender down the line. His win Tuesday will allow him to continue to grow his national brand and build a political resume.
It will also help Democrats in their fight to maintain Senate control in 2024, when they face a difficult political map. Democrats will have 23 seats to defend in 2024, including at least three seats red states, West Virginia, Ohio, and Montana. Republicans will have just ten Senate seats to defend in 2024, almost exclusively on favorable ground in Republican-leaning states.