- Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker are fighting to the finish in Georgia’s Senate runoff.
- Warnock is seeking a full 6-year term, while Walker hopes to knock off the incumbent Democrat.
- Both parties see the Senate runoff as a proving ground in advance of the 2024 presidential election.
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker on Tuesday will compete in Georgia’s US Senate runoff, capping off an explosive race in a state that in recent years has become the center of the political universe.
Polls closed in the state at 7 p.m. EST.
In the November general election, Warnock won 49.4% of the vote to Walker’s 48.5% — a Libertarian candidate won most of the rest — which forced the runoff as no candidate hit the requisite 50% of the vote needed for an outright victory.
The stakes could not be higher
The outcome of the Senate runoff will not affected control of the Senate come January, as Democrats have already secured 50 seats, but the importance of Warnock’s win for the party can’t be understated.
A victory by the incumbent would not only give Democrats 51 seats ahead of what could be a tough Senate map in 2024, but it provides them with more immediate benefits: the ability to shelve a power-sharing agreement meant for a 50-50 Senate and add more Democrats to committees, which in turn would allow the party to more quickly confirm Biden’s judicial nominees.
In the longer run, Warnock win would also give cover for Democratic senators such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to break with the party on critical votes, particularly as the vulnerable Democrat faces a potentially difficult reelection bid in 2024. A Walker win would mean that an already tight 2024 Senate map for Democrats gets even tougher.
Warnock, the senior pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, was elected to the Senate in January 2021 alongside fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff.
In the evenly-split Senate, Warnock’s vote has been essential in passing several key pieces of legislation, including the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, which both passed on party-line votes through the reconciliation process.
Walker — a former University of Georgia football standout who won the Heisman Trophy in 1982 and went on to play in the NFL from 1986 to 1997 — has been a known quantity in the state for decades.
The Wrightsville, Georgia, native was heavily touted and endorsed by Trump early on in the race, which helped him breeze to an easy victory in the Republican primary during May.
Walker has been highly critical of Warnock’s record, accusing the senator of siding too heavily with Biden and seeking to tie him to inflation and other economic problems across the country.
But the Republican has been dogged by allegations that he paid for women to have abortions in the past, which he has firmly denied. Walker’s business ties have also come into question.
Voting history in Georgia
While Democrats vastly overperformed expectations in the midterms on the national level — retaining their Senate majority while mitigating losses in the House despite President Joe Biden’s middling approval ratings — statewide candidates in Georgia not named Warnock were unsuccessful at the ballot box in November.
Stacey Abrams — the breakout star of the 2018 midterms who nearly won the Georgia gubernatorial race that year — lost in a rematch against Gov. Brian Kemp, coming up short to the Republican by nearly 300,000 votes.
And Democratic candidates up and down the statewide ballot, from the nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general to secretary of state and insurance commissioner, all lost their respective races — showing that while Biden may have won the state over then-President Donald Trump in 2020, Georgia has still largely been fertile terrain for Republicans over the past two decades.
In January 2021, Warnock won the special election runoff to fill the remaining term of GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, who in December 2019 stepped down from his seat for health reasons. (Isakson died in December 2021.)
Before Warnock and Ossoff won their races last year, a Democrat hadn’t won a US Senate seat in Georgia since Zell Miller in 2000.
Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia marked the first time that a Democratic presidential nominee had won the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.
The money race
According to OpenSecrets, Warnock has raised $150.5 million, spent nearly $126.2 million, and has roughly $29.7 million in cash on hand, as of November 16. Walker has raised $58.3 million, spent $48.5 million, and has $9.8 million left to spend, as of November 16.
As of December 5, several dozen political action committees, super PACs, party committees, and politically active nonprofit organizations have together spent over $234 million advocating for or against the candidates.
The race ranks among the most expensive Senate races in US history.