U.S. Senate Runoff: 3 takeaways from Herschel Walker's loss, Raphael Warnock's win

After Tuesday’s runoff election, it’s official: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has fended off two separate Republican candidates. His reward? He won’t have to run again for another six years.

In the grand scheme of Georgia politics, Warnock’s win this year over Republican challenger Herschel Walker doesn’t necessarily signal that Georgia is a reliably Democratic state.

But there are a few notable indications to be gleaned from both Warnock’s win and Walker’s loss, and they could have a profound effect on the future of campaigning in Georgia.

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If it wasn’t Walker, it might have been different

Walker was not a typical GOP candidate, and his blunders and outright bizarre statements on the campaign trail didn’t help his efforts, despite significant support from Republicans who were able to look past the abortion and abuse allegations and Walker’s comments on vampires and werewolves to see a reliable Republican vote in the Senate.

U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks during a campaign stop on Thursday November 18, 2022 in the parking lot of Savannah Mall in Savannah Georgia.
U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks during a campaign stop on Thursday November 18, 2022 in the parking lot of Savannah Mall in Savannah Georgia.

“Again, I think Democrats could be enthusiastic, no qualms about going out and voting for Reverend Warnock," Bullock said. “But for some Republicans, obviously not most Republicans, but for some Republicans, getting behind Herschel Walker was a real challenge.”

Additionally, by the time the runoff arrived, the narrow Democratic majority in the Senate was already decided. Democrats had already secured control of the Senate, and Tuesday’s runoff was essentially extra credit: having a true majority will extend to Senate committees, allowing the left to send through Biden’s appointments with more ease.

Georgia isn’t solidly blue, but it’s definitely purple

In 2020, Georgia surprised the nation when the state chose President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump. A couple months later, the state saw another upset, sending Democratic Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the upper chamber.

The 2022 midterms were the first true litmus test of Georgia’s swing state status, and for Democrats, it could’ve been better, but it could’ve been worse too.

US Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are joiined by US House candidate Wade Herring as they speak with the media following a campaign event for Warnock and Herring on Tuesday October 25, 2022 in Savannah.
US Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are joiined by US House candidate Wade Herring as they speak with the media following a campaign event for Warnock and Herring on Tuesday October 25, 2022 in Savannah.

“Democrats, I think, went into this year with high hopes that they would maybe win the governorship but it's not that they would win one or two of the constitutional offices, and we saw some fairly high profile Democratic legislators give up their safe seats to run for things like Attorney General, Secretary of State, but of course they all came up short,” Bullock said. “So had Warnock also lost, it would have been a pretty grim year for Democrats. The purple would have begun fading much more into red.”

Stacey Abrams, who was Georgia’s Democratic figurehead prior to the 2022 midterms, failed to overcome the strong incumbency of sitting Gov. Brian Kemp. Kemp himself has become a figurehead for the GOP in Georgia, despite facing a Trump-endorsed challenger in the primary, David Perdue.

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But for all Kemp’s strength within the Georgia GOP, his support of Walker in the runoff wasn’t enough to get the former UGA runningback across the goal line.

Trump’s opinion is not gospel for Georgia Republicans 

Trump’s hand on the midterm elections was not subtle. The former president tapped a number of Republican candidates ahead of the primary around the country, and Georgia was no exception.

Walker was among them. But after Perdue’s heavily Trump-aligned campaign, and the subsequent trouncing Kemp gave Perdue in the primary, it’s clear that Georgia’s GOP would rather make their own decisions.

Georgia gubernatorial candiate David Perdue speaks as President Donald Trump looks on at a campaign rally.
Georgia gubernatorial candiate David Perdue speaks as President Donald Trump looks on at a campaign rally.

Walker called Trump his “friend” many times on the campaign trail, and often spoke highly of Trump’s stead in the White House, but the man himself was rarely part of Walker’s campaign material.

“Again, maybe what tarnished Trump's brand was coming out against Brian Kemp, because as we saw, most Georgians approved of the job Kemp was doing,” Bullock said. “So when Trump says, ‘Ooh, no, no, this guy doesn't deserve another term,’ most [Republican] Georgians would say, ‘Well, if I kind of like Donald Trump, but I can't follow him there, because I know Brian Kemp. I know what's been happening in Georgia, and I want to reward Brian Kemp for the job that I've seen him do.’”

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: U.S. Senate Runoff: Is Georgia a blue state after Warnock victory?