Warnock v. Walker Is Going to a Runoff — It Could Decide the Senate

herschel-walker-loses.jpg Senators Scott And Cotton Join Republican Senatorial Candidate Herschel Walker On The Campaign Trail In Georgia - Credit: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images
herschel-walker-loses.jpg Senators Scott And Cotton Join Republican Senatorial Candidate Herschel Walker On The Campaign Trail In Georgia - Credit: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

The bare-knuckle brawl for Georgia’s Senate seat is headed to round two. With nearly all of the vote in, neither Sen. Raphael Warnock nor his challenger Herschel Walker will break the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

Warnock is closer — one half of a percentage point shy of the threshold at 49.4 percent, as of Wednesday morning — Walker, meanwhile, trails him by a little less than one percentage point, with 48.5 percent of the vote. The spoiler was libertarian candidate Chase Oliver, who siphoned off a little more than 2 percentage points.

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Per Georgia law, the runoff will take place four weeks from today, on Dec. 6. Depending on how other remaining contests shake out — neither Nevada and Arizona had been called at press time — the race in Georgia could either determine control of the Senate, or the size of the winning party’s majority. Democrats have secured 48 of the 50 seats they need in order to retain control of the chamber.

All of this is familiar territory for Warnock, a senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, who won the Senate seat he currently occupies — and control of the chamber for Democrats — in a special election less than two years ago. That contest went to a runoff too, one in which Warnock defeated Kelly Loeffler, a wealthy Republican donor appointed to the seat by Gov. Brian Kemp (against the wishes of then-President Donald Trump) by two percentage points. In his first election for a full term, Warnock ran a steady, low-profile campaign, emphasizing his Christian faith and touting his accomplishments in his first two years in the Senate.

Walker’s campaign, meanwhile, was anything but low-profile.

The former University of Georgia star and NFL running back was handpicked by Trump to run for this seat. He was a prototypical Trumpian candidate: a celebrity with both questionable qualifications for national office and considerable baggage. Walker has been open about his struggle with mental illness (he was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder), history of domestic violence accusations (his ex-wife has described him choking and threatening her), as well as a history of making dubious claims (like, for example, that he was an FBI agent trained at Quantico). But with the MAGA kingmaker’s stamp of approval, and the eventual support of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Walker easily cleared the GOP primary field, earning more than 68 percent of the vote in a six-man primary.

The bruising general election contest did even further damaged to the once-beloved football legend’s reputation in the state, with multiple women coming forward to accuse the vocally anti-abortion Republican of pressuring them to terminate pregnancies and paying for the procedures. Walker, a vocal critic of absentee fathers, was also forced to admit to having additional children with whom he had little contact, and whose existence he had not acknowledged publicly. The revelations eventually led to an ugly falling out between Walker and another one of his children. All of it, ultimately, proved too much for some voters otherwise sympathetic to the GOP, and Walker ended up dramatically underperforming Gov. Brian Kemp, who was easily reelected on Tuesday.

The mixed results — Warnock’s strong performance, Kemp’s resilience — confirm Georgia’s transformation from a Republican stronghold to a bonafide swing state, likely to be key to either party’s 2024 hopes.

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