By BILL BARREW and JEFF AMY (Associated Press)
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 rest of President Joe Biden’s term and helping close a midterm disappointing 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.
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. Walker, a football legend who first rose to fame at the University of Georgia and later in the NFL in the 1980s, has been unable to overcome a slew of damaging allegations, including claims he paid for the abortions of two ex-girlfriends .
“The numbers look like they’re not going to add up,” Walker told supporters in a concession speech 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.”
Warnock, Georgia’s first black senator, was scheduled to address a jubilant crowd at a downtown hotel shortly after Walker’s remarks.
The Democratic victory in Georgia cements the state’s place as a battleground in the Deep South two years after Warnock, 53, and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff won the 2021 runoffs that gave the party control in 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.
“I’ll work with anybody to get things done for the people of Georgia,” Warnock said during his campaign, a nod to the state’s historically conservative tilt and his need to win over GOP-leaning independents and at least some moderate Republicans in – a half-term electoral year.
Warnock combined that argument with an emphasis on 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’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.
About 1.9 million votes were cast 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 point to changes made by state lawmakers after the 2020 election, which shortened the canvassing period from nine weeks to four, as the reason for the decline in early and mail-in voting.
Election officials reported some problems processing early votes and tabulating ballots cast Tuesday.
Walker benefited during the campaign from name recognition almost unmatched from his football career, yet he was dogged by questions about his fitness for office and accusations of hypocrisy.
A multimillionaire businessman, Walker inflated his philanthropic activities and business achievements, including claiming that his company employed hundreds of people and took in tens of millions of dollars in annual sales, even though records show he had eight employees and an average of about $1.5 million per year. He implied that he worked as a law enforcement officer and graduated from college, although he did neither.
He has been accused by two ex-girlfriends of encouraging and paying for their abortions, despite championing a total national ban on the procedure during the campaign. He denied both women’s claims.
He was also forced to admit during the campaign that he had three children out of wedlock that he had never spoken about publicly. The mother of one of those children told The Daily Beast that Walker hadn’t seen her youngest son since January 2016 and had to be taken to court for child support — in direct conflict with Walker’s years spent criticizing absent fathers and his appeals to black men. in particular, to play an active role in their children’s lives.
His ex-wife said Walker 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.
“My opponent is not a serious person,” Warnock said during the tour campaign. “But the elections are very serious. Don’t confuse the two.”
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.