Dan M. Berger
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) won reelection late Tuesday evening in Georgia’s Senate runoff—a victory that will give the Democrats a 51–49 margin in the chamber.
AP, Fox News, and CNN all called the race for Warnock around 10:30 p.m., with 94 percent of the vote counted and Warnock showing a 41,000 lead, about 1.2 percent. Then, at 12:17 a.m. Wednesday, the state reported Warnock ahead by 90,000 votes, about 2.5 percent, with over 99 percent of the vote counted.
The lead had seesawed back and forth during the evening between the two, but Warnock pulled ahead as Atlanta’s increasingly Democratic suburbs came through for him.
Walker, whose campaign gathered at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta, conceded late in the night, and Warnock, whose forces met a few blocks away at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Warnock, a minister, in a rambling speech to his supporters lasting more than 20 minutes, frequently took a religious tone. “A vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and our children.”
He thanked his parents—his mother who was present and his late father—and recalled their sacrifices to raise him and his 11 brothers and sisters in Savannah.
His father, he said, had used a rig he designed to haul junk cars and preached on Sundays.
His mother, he said, “grew up in the 1950s, picking someone else’s cotton and someone else’s tobacco in Waycross, Georgia. But today, she picked her son to be a United States senator.” He recalled those who sacrificed during the civil rights movement to win voting rights for black Americans.
He advanced the voter suppression narrative that Democrats have relentlessly repeated in Georgia, despite having just won an election that, according to state officials, broke various Georgia voting records. “It doesn’t mean that voter suppression does not exist,” he said, citing the dispute over voting the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Walker, in his concession speech a few minutes before Warnock spoke, said: “There are no excuses in life. I’m not going to make any excuses now. We put up one heck of a fight.”
“The best thing I’ve ever done in my life is run for this Senate seat here.” He thanked his supporters for their efforts and their prayers. “I felt those prayers.”
“I don’t want any of you to stop dreaming or stop believing in America … We got to believe in our elected officials.”
Voting proceeded smoothly across Georgia throughout the day, with little or no waiting time. Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling, posting on Twitter throughout the day, noted wait times averaging one to two minutes.
Around 1.9 million people, or 27 percent of the state’s 7 million active registered voters, cast ballots early, most through early voting in person, the rest through absentee ballots.
At stake is control of the Senate. The Democrats, with a 50-49 seat margin after the Nov. 8 elections, had at least a share of that.
A Warnock victory gives them a clear 51-49 margin, which means they’ll have majority membership on Senate committees. A Walker victory and 50-50 split would mean a power-sharing arrangement as in the previous two years, with Democrats chairing committees but even party membership.
Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote.
A Warnock victory means Democrats would be less beholden to a single maverick Democrat, a role Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) repeatedly played the past two years.
It would also mean Democrats would face fewer obstacles to holding investigations and could act as a check on the House of Representatives, now controlled by the Republicans.
Warnock rallied with campaign volunteers in suburban Norcross in the morning to urge them on in one last day of getting out the vote, while Walker made stops in area diners.
The election concluded an expensive campaign that got nasty as Warnock saturated Georgia’s airwaves with attack ads against Walker’s various personal scandals.
Walker, who had never run for public office before, responded with his own attack ads.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Warnock raised almost $176 million, and Walker nearly $59 million.
National figures stumped for both sides.
Former President Barack Obama campaigned for Warnock on Dec. 1, and pop star Stevie Wonder did an online event for him over the weekend.
Walker campaigned with numerous Republican figures, including Governor Brian Kemp and Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and John Kennedy (R-La.)
Notable for not joining in were President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump; their presence was not desired by the respective candidates.
Walker, in his campaign, sought to tie Biden to Warnock, who has voted 96 percent of the time with the unpopular president.
Trump, meanwhile, has become a controversial figure among Georgia Republicans.
Many blame his interference for their loss of two Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, in the 2021 runoff.
They rejected candidates he backed in the primary against Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Trump had found them inadequately supportive of his claims of massive election fraud, and party leaders say his telling party loyalists the vote wasn’t honest led 100,000 to 150,000 not to turn out for the Jan. 5, 2021 runoff won by Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
The runoff marked the fifth time Warnock has run for the same office in less than two years. He was first elected in a 2020 special election and then a 2021 runoff to fill the seat left open when three-term Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson retired in 2019 for health reasons.
Kemp, as governor, appointed Loeffler to fill the seat in December 2019.
Warnock led Loeffler in a special election primary held on Nov. 3, 2020, as part of the general election. Since neither received 50 percent of the vote, it went to the Jan. 5, 2021, runoff, which Warnock won, enabling him to finish Isakson’s original term.
The seat then returned to its usual election cycle this year.
Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church—where Martin Luther King once preached—ran in this year’s primary, general election, and now this runoff. The latter was required because Warnock, with a 38,000 vote lead on Nov. 8, failed to reach 50 percent of the vote as needed for election by Georgia law.
Walker, a Heisman Trophy winner and former football star for the Georgia Bulldogs, then played for Trump’s New Jersey Generals in the USFL and later went on to the NFL.
Trump backed him in this year’s primary. Walker won it with a landslide 68 percent of the vote despite declining to participate in the candidate’s debate.