Democrat Raphael Warnock pulled off a narrow victory over Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia’s Senate runoff election, dashing hopes the GOP’s last-minute push to galvanize voters would translate into a victory for the party in what was once a reliably red state.
Multiple news networks, including NBC and CNN, called the razor-thin race late Tuesday night for the 53-year-old pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church. With 91% of the votes counted, Mr. Warnock had an edge of 50.1% to 49.9% — about 8,000 votes.
Mr. Warnock first won the seat in a 2021 runoff and his victory on Tuesday earns him a full six-year term. His win also gives Senate Democrats a critical 51st vote and full control over committee gavels and investigatory subpoenas.
Mr. Warnock’s victory over Mr. Walker, 60, a former college football star and NFL player, appeared narrower than some anticipated.
Polls had shown Mr. Walker trailing by around 4 points but as of 10:30 p.m., although 9% of the vote still had to be counted, most of those votes were from the deep-blue Atlanta area.
The two men have been campaigning against each other for months in what has become the most expensive Senate race of 2022
Mr. Walker’s defeat capped an election cycle in which voters rejected candidates blessed by former President Trump in marquee races, and Democrats defied historical trends of defeats for the party holding the White House, especially if (as now) the country is widely seen as on the wrong track and the sitting president has low popularity ratings.
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Many of Mr. Trump’s top endorsements in key swing states lost on Nov. 8, defying predictions of a red wave. The losses left Republicans in the House with a bare majority and kept the Senate in the hands of Democrats.
The lackluster results for the GOP also diminished Mr. Trump’s image as a powerful party leader with significant leverage over the GOP base and raised questions about his viability in 2024.
The former president last month announced his intention to run for the White House again, ignoring pleas from the GOP to wait until after the Georgia runoff.
Some Republicans saw Mr. Trump as a distraction in their bid for a victory in the Georgia Senate race. He did not campaign in person for Mr. Walker, either in the general election or the runoff, but he held a “tele-rally” for the candidate Monday.
Mr. Biden also did not campaign with Mr. Warnock, who instead called on former President Barack Obama to help push him across the finish line.
Mr. Walker’s loss is likely to further tarnish Mr. Trump’s much-touted endorsement record.
In 2021, Mr. Trump started clamoring for Mr. Walker, who once played for his New Jersey Generals in the USFL, to relocate from Texas back to his home state of Georgia to run for the Senate, betting big on the former Heisman Trophy winner and Georgia icon.
But Mr. Warnock proved once again he is a political force in the Deep South and he capitalized on an influx of new Democratic voters who have moved from other states to Atlanta and its suburbs.
Mr. Warnock raised over $175 million for his re-election race while presenting himself as a pragmatist in a polarized era, and far more competent than Mr. Walker.
The two men fired accusations of past misconduct against one another.
Mr. Walker raised complaints about Mr. Warnock’s church evicting impoverished tenants, while two women came forward and accused Mr. Walker of coercing them to get abortions following their out-of-wedlock trysts.
Mr. Walker and his allies hoped a strong same-day turnout among white voters — combined with the football star making inroads with black men — could power him to a runoff win.
Instead, the fears of Republicans outside Mr. Trump’s orbit came to fruition Tuesday as Mr. Walker’s personal baggage proved to be too much to overcome.