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Warnock win in Georgia runoff boosts Democrats’ Senate control

Warnock got the most votes in November but finished under 50 percent

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, takes the stage to thank supporters at the Marriott Marquis on Atlanta after winning reelection against Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, takes the stage to thank supporters at the Marriott Marquis on Atlanta after winning reelection against Republican challenger Herschel Walker. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock won reelection in the Peach State’s runoff election, giving Democrats an actual Senate majority in the next Congress.

Warnock was leading Republican challenger Herschel Walker by less than 1 percent when The Associated Press called the race at 10:26 p.m.

“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 told supporters about an hour later. 

Warnock also alluded to Georgia’s recent voting law, saying voters overcame its challenges to vote.

“Just because people endured long lines that wrapped around buildings, some blocks long, 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. It simply means that you the people have decided that your voices will not be silenced,” he said.

In a concession speech, Walker, a former football running back who won the Heisman Trophy at the University of Georgia and went on to play in the NFL, said that running for the Senate was the “best thing I’ve ever done.”

“There’s no excuses in life and I’m not going to make any excuses now because we put up one heck of a fight,” Walker said. Without naming Warnock, Walker said Americans should “believe in America and continue to believe in the Constitution and believe in our elected officials.”

The incumbent’s victory will allow Democrats to claim majorities on committees and end the power-sharing agreement that has existed in the 117th Congress. That will allow them to more quickly process President Joe Biden’s nominees.

“We’re going to win. We’re going to win Georgia,” Biden told reporters upon his return to Washington Tuesday from Arizona shortly after 10 p.m. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer tweeted simply “51!” after the AP called the race for Warnock, increasing his party’s majority by one.

Raphael Warnock’s victory shows once again that Democrats are in sync with America and MAGA Republicans are not,” he said in a statement.

JB Poersch, the president of the Senate Majority PAC, noted Warnock’s win makes this year “the first midterm since 1934 where the party in power successfully defended every incumbent Senate seat.”

“Voters in Georgia and across the country have sent a message loud and clear by firmly rejecting GOP extremism and re-electing a Democratic Senate majority that will continue delivering for the American people,” he said in a statement. SMP and its affiliated groups spent over $85.7 million in Georgia this cycle.

Warnock received more votes than Walker in November’s general election, but under Georgia law candidates must receive 50-percent-plus-one to avoid sending the contest into overtime. Libertarian Chase Oliver received more than 2 percent of the vote in the first round to keep Walker and Warnock below the threshold, and there were questions about which voters would turn out again.

More than 1.7 million ballots were cast in person during the early-voting period which concluded Friday, with additional absentee ballots cast ahead of Tuesday. Walker likely would have needed an overwhelming victory in the Election Day vote to overtake Warnock.

Total turnout for the runoff election was higher than many people expected, Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer in Georgia’s secretary of state office, said Tuesday night on CNN.

Gov. Brian Kemp, who was easily reelected in November after keeping his distance from Walker in the fall campaign, sent his ground game to Walker’s aid in the runoff.  The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, put up money to essentially rent the governor’s existing apparatus.

Both Warnock and Walker received substantial outside help from national organizations, even with the stakes diminished somewhat by the fact the contest was not for control of the Senate since Democrats had already won 50 seats.

But the Democratic money, both from Warnock’s campaign and a variety of outside groups, overwhelmed the Republican efforts. In the end, Warnock and Democratic groups more than doubled the ad spending of Republicans during the runoff, according to an AdImpact analysis, having spent $57.7 million to the Republican-aligned $27.3 million. 

Walker, who won a competitive primary largely with the help of former President Donald Trump, was dogged by personal issues, including allegations, which he denied, that he paid for abortions for past partners. More recently, questions arose over the former University of Georgia running back’s residency and his claiming of a homestead exemption in Texas.

Warnock was tireless in the closing stretch, holding multiple rallies a day over the final weekend of the runoff. Early voting ended Friday, and Walker faced criticism for what appeared to be a relatively light schedule. The challenger held some events ahead of the election, including a rally Sunday with Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana the day after appearing at a tailgate event outside Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium (where Walker’s Georgia Bulldogs captured the SEC championship).

Warnock’s victory is also an early win for the efforts by Democrats to hold the Senate in 2024, with a map that features races on unfavorable terrain including Montana and West Virginia, where Democrats will be hoping that incumbents Jon Tester and Joe Manchin III seek reelection.

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