Raphael Warnock wins Georgia runoff, bolstering Democratic Senate majority

The Democratic incumbent, Raphael Warnock, won the Georgia Senate runoff on Tuesday, securing his first full term and delivering a 51st seat to bolster his party’s majority in the chamber.

The Associated Press called the race about three and a half hours after polls closed in Georgia, as Warnock led the Republican candidate, Herschel Walker, by approximately 40,000 votes.

Shortly after that, Warnock took the stage at his campaign’s victory party to thank his supporters. The senior pastor at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr once preached, Warnock has held one of Georgia’s two Senate seats since winning a special election in 2021. As he began his remarks in Atlanta, supporters chanted: “Six more years!”

Related: Raphael Warnock wins Georgia runoff, bolstering Democratic Senate majority

Warnock told the crowd: “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.”

One of 12 children born to a father who was also a pastor and a mother who once picked cotton, Warnock reflected on the unlikelihood of his path to the Senate. His mother was with him at his victory party, after she had the opportunity to again cast a ballot for her son.

“I am Georgia,” Warnock said. “I am an example and an iteration of its history, of its pain and its promise, of the brutality and the possibility. But because this is America, because we always have a path to make our country greater against unspeakable odds, here we stand together. Thank you, Georgia.”

Supporters cheer at a Warnock election night party in Atlanta.
Supporters cheer at a Warnock election night party in Atlanta. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Joe Biden called Warnock to congratulate him, describing his victory as a defeat of Republican extremism and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” philosophy.

Related: Warnock’s win in Georgia is a bad omen for Trump – but there’s no room for complacency

“Tonight Georgia voters stood up for our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism, and most importantly: sent a good man back to the Senate,” the president said on Twitter.

Walker conceded, acknowledging that his campaign had fallen short and expressing gratitude to his team. The Republican explicitly thanked election officials who ensured the runoff was managed effectively, quelling concerns he might refuse to accept the result.

“I don’t want any of you to stop believing in America,” Walker told supporters. “I want you to believe in America and continue to believe in the constitution and believe in our elected officials … Always, always cast your vote no matter whatever is happening.”

Walker’s loss came a month after the national midterm elections, when neither he nor Warnock secured enough support to win outright, thus requiring the runoff. The runoff was just the latest in a series of very close races in Georgia, reflecting the state’s relatively new status as a toss-up after decades of being considered safely Republican.

Nearly 2 million Georgians cast ballots before election day, and those early voters appeared to significantly favor Warnock. Republicans were counting on a strong election day turnout, but Walker’s support on Tuesday was not enough to get him across the line.

The race had been upended several times by controversy surrounding Walker, a former University of Georgia and NFL football player who won the Republican primary after receiving Trump’s endorsement.

Multiple women previously in relationships with Walker accused him of pressuring them to have abortions, despite his staunch anti-abortion views. In the final weeks of the runoff, Walker also faced questions over reports that he received a tax break intended for primary residences on his home in Texas.

Walker’s defeat will probably intensify questions over Trump’s standing in the Republican party. Overall, Trump-endorsed candidates fared poorly in this election season, prompting questions from some of the former president’s critics over whether he has pushed his party to an unpopular extreme.

Walker’s failure will be particularly worrisome for Trump given that Republicans swept other top statewide races in Georgia. Two of those candidates, the incumbent governor, Brian Kemp, and secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, attracted Trump’s ire for pushing back against his efforts to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory, the first time a Democrat took Georgia since 1992.

Before the result was called, the former Republican congressman Will Hurd said on Twitter: “If Walker loses tonight, it will be the sixth time in a row a Democrat beat Trump or a Trump-endorsed statewide candidate in Georgia. It’s time to move on, build the future with conservative principles, and get rid of the crazy bullshit.”

Some rightwing leaders suggested the runoff result raised questions about Trump’s hopes of recapturing the White House, after he announced a third consecutive presidential bid last month.

“Conservatives across the country are tired of losing,” Bob Vander Plaats, president of the group the Family Leader, said on Twitter. “#2024 is key to winning the future again. #ChooseWell.”

The runoff did not determine control of the Senate, as Democrats had already won enough seats to maintain their hold for two years.

But Warnock’s victory does give Democrats a crucial 51st seat, allowing them to abandon their current power-sharing agreement with Republicans. A 51- to 49-seat majority will also provide some wiggle room when it comes to close committee votes and nomination fights. That new dynamic could make the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, less reliant on centrists like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to pass legislation and confirm nominees.

The fortified majority could also help Democrats offer a counterweight to investigations expected to be launched by House Republicans, who took the majority in the lower chamber after the midterms last month. Now that they have a clear majority in the Senate, Democrats will be able to issue subpoenas without Republican support.

“51!” Schumer said in a joyous tweet. He later added: “Senator Warnock’s well-earned victory is a victory for Georgia, and a victory for democracy and against MAGA Republican extremist policies.”