By BILL Barrow and JEFF AMY
ATLANTA (AP) — Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a runoff in Georgia on Tuesday, giving Democrats an outright majority in the Senate for the remainder of President Joe Biden’s current term and capping a runoff in the midterms mandate for the GOP. the last major vote of the year.
With Warnock’s second win in two years, Democrats will have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, gaining one seat from the current 50-50 split with John Fetterman’s victory in Pennsylvania. However, there will be a divided government, with Republicans narrowly reversing control of the House.
“After a tough campaign – or should I say campaigns – it is my honor to say the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: the people have spoken,” Warnock, 53, told jubilant supporters who they packed a center. Ballroom of the Atlanta Hotel.
“I often say that a vote is a kind of prayer for the world we want for ourselves and our children,” said Warnock, a Baptist minister and his state’s first black senator. “Georgia, you prayed with your lips and feet, with your hands and feet, with your head and with your hearts. You worked hard and here we are together.”
In last month’s election, Warnock led Walker by 37,000 of nearly 4 million votes cast, but fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff. The senator appeared headed for a larger final margin in Tuesday’s runoff with Walker, a University of Georgia and NFL football legend, unable to overcome a slew of damaging allegations, including claims he paid for two ex-girlfriends. abortions despite supporting a national ban on the procedure.
“The numbers just don’t seem to add up,” Walker, an ally and friend of former President Donald Trump, told supporters Tuesday night at the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. “There are no excuses in life and I won’t make any excuses now because we’re fighting like hell.”
The Democratic victory in Georgia solidifies the state’s place as a battleground in the Deep South two years after Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff won the 2021 runoffs that gave the party control of the Senate just months after Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate in 30 years to win Georgia. Voters returned Warnock to the Senate in the same cycle in which they re-elected Republican Gov. Brian Kemp by a comfortable margin and elected a full slate of statewide constitutional officers.
Walker’s defeat sets up the GOP’s struggles this year to win with flawed candidates drawn from Trump’s mold, a blow to the former president as he builds his third run for the White House before 2024.
The Democrats’ new outright majority in the Senate means the party will no longer have to negotiate a power-sharing deal with Republicans and won’t have to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris to break as many tie votes as possible.
National Democrats celebrated Tuesday, with Biden tweeting a photo of his congratulatory phone call to the senator. “Georgia voters stood up for our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism and … sent a good man back to the Senate,” Biden tweeted, referencing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
About 1.9 million runoff votes were cast in Georgia by mail and during early voting. Strong Election Day voter turnout added about 1.4 million more, slightly more than the November and 2020 Election Day totals.
Total turnout was still behind the turnout in the 2021 round of around 4.5 million. Voting rights groups pointed to changes made by state lawmakers after the 2020 election, which shortened the window for canvassing from nine weeks to four, as the reason for the decline in early and mail-in voting.
Warnock emphasized his willingness to work across the aisle and his personal values, bolstered by his status as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.
Walker benefited during the campaign from name recognition almost unmatched from his football career, but was dogged by questions about his fitness for office.
A multimillionaire businessman, Walker has faced questions about his past, including his exaggerations about his business achievements, academic credentials and philanthropic activities.
In his personal life, Walker has faced renewed scrutiny over his ex-wife’s past accounts of domestic violence, including details that he once held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. He never denied these details and wrote about his violent tendencies in a 2008 memoir that attributed the behavior to mental illness.
As a candidate, he sometimes derailed political discussions, attributing the climate crisis to China’s “bad air” outweighing the United States’ “good air” and arguing that diabetics can manage their health by “eating right,” a practice that is not enough. for insulin-dependent diabetic patients.
On Tuesday, Atlanta voter Tom Callaway touted the strength of the Republican Party in Georgia and said he supported Kemp in the opening round of voting. But he said he cast his vote for Warnock because he did not believe “Herschel Walker has the credentials to be a senator”.
“I didn’t think he had a statement about what he really believed in or had a meaningful campaign,” Callaway said.
Walker, meanwhile, sought to portray Warnock as a yes for Biden. At times, he made the attack in mostly personal terms, accusing Warnock of “sitting on his knees begging” at the White House — a fierce charge for a black opponent to rise up against a black senator about his relationship with a president white.
Warnock touted his Senate accomplishments by promoting a provision he sponsored to cap insulin costs for Medicare patients. He hailed deals on infrastructure and maternal health care with Republican senators, mentioning those GOP colleagues more than he did Biden or other Washington Democrats.
Warnock has distanced himself from Biden, whose approval ratings have lagged as inflation remains high. After the general election, Biden vowed to help Warnock in any way he could, even if it meant staying away from Georgia. Bypassing the president, Warnock instead decided to campaign with former president Barack Obama in the days leading up to the election.
Walker, meanwhile, avoided campaigning with Trump until the final day of the campaign, when the two held a conference call with supporters on Monday.
Walker joins failed Senate nominees Dr. Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania, Blake Masters of Arizona, Adam Laxalt of Nevada and Don Bolduc of New Hampshire as Trump loyalists who ultimately lost races that Republicans once believed that they will win them or at least could win them.
Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy and Ron Harris contributed to this report.