Herschel Walker, Warnock in the runoff for the Georgia Senate seat

The southern battleground state of Georgia is once again heading for a hard-fought Senate runoff as results show Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock just ahead of Republican challenger Herschel Walker, according to state election officials. Neither candidate is on track to capture 50% of the total vote in the election, which also included Libertarian Chase Oliver.

Warnock and Walker now face each other in a runoff on Dec. 6, less than two years after Warnock became the first black Georgia senator in an intense and nationally watched runoff that was one of two races for control of the Senate certain. Back then, Warnock was part of a historic blue wave, with voters in this traditionally conservative stronghold electing President Biden and two Democratic senators.

Now, as then, political control of the Senate is at stake. Republicans led Wednesday’s fight for Senate control by 49-48, with races in Arizona and Nevada also yet to be decided.

In a brief speech to fans Tuesday night at a hotel in the northern Atlanta suburbs, Walker referred to Talladega Nights, the film starring Will Ferrell: “I’m like Ricky Bobby: I don’t come to lose.”

Senator Raphael Warnock faced a close race for re-election against former Georgia football star Herschel Walker.

(Tom Williams / Associated Press)

Just before midnight, Warnock told fans gathered in a ballroom of a downtown Atlanta hotel that the race was too close to call and asked them to hold on a little longer.

“We know how much is at stake in this election,” he said. “I’ll tell you what I tell my church every Sunday: keep the faith and keep looking up.”

Before 2am, Warnock reappeared to tell a smaller crowd that he was still unsure when the voyage would end.

“I understand that you may be tired at this late hour. I might be a little tired,” he said. “But whether it’s later tonight or tomorrow or in four weeks, we’ll be hearing from the people of Georgia.”

On Wednesday, managers from the two campaigns wasted little time taking to social media to berate their opponents’ shortcomings.

Quentin Folks, Warnock’s campaign manager, noted on Twitter that Walker is “significantly underperforming,” receiving 200,000 fewer votes than Gov. Brian Kemp and fewer than any other statewide Republican on the ballot.

For his part, his counterpart, Walker’s campaign manager Scott Paradise, suggested that Warnock had not taken full advantage: “More than 50 percent of Georgians voted against the incumbent, who spent more than $100 million.”

This year’s Georgia Senate race tested Republican loyalty to a troubled candidate — Walker, a former soccer star, has a history of lying and beautifying — amid primary code signs of voter disillusionment with Biden and the Democratic Party.

Throughout the campaign, Democrats had hoped that Walker’s political inexperience, coupled with his propensity for gaffes and false claims, would make him a liability that would prevent Republicans from retaking that crucial seat on the battlefield. The campaign of the Heisman Trophy-winning University of Georgia running back, NFL star and multi-millionaire businessman has been rocked by multiple scandals and allegations that he encouraged and paid for several women to have abortions despite his support for a national abortion ban.

Walker, who was endorsed by former President Trump, also embellished and lied about his record, falsely claiming he worked for law enforcement and boasting he was “in the top 1%” of his college graduating class, despite being didn’t graduate.

In the final days of the campaign, Warnock, who continues to serve as senior pastor at the former church of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Ebenezer Baptist, attacked Walker as a “pathological liar.”

“This is a man lying about the most basic facts of his life,” Warnock said at a rally with former President Obama. “Walker is not ready. … Not only is he not ready. He’s not fit.”

Herschel Walker speaks in a close-up photo.

Former Georgia soccer star Herschel Walker speaks at a campaign event.

(Akili-Casundria Ramsess/Associated Press)

Polls showed Walker lagging in the months leading up to Election Day, but then closing the gap on the last leg of the race. His appearance in his only debate with Warnock in mid-October was flawless. Walker repeatedly linked Warnock to Biden and raised the issues of inflation, immigration and crime.

In one of Walker’s most recent television ads, his campaign accused Biden and Warnock of “radically transforming America,” steering the country into recession, opening its borders, decongesting the police force, and teaching children to hate America. “Not under my supervision,” Walker said.

Warnock and Walker worked to increase turnout at their base and appeal to more moderate voters in the suburbs who were more Republican but were put off by Trump and elected Democratic in the last election cycle. They also worked to court black men, a traditional segment of the Democratic voting bloc that Republicans have gradually gained a foothold with in Georgia in recent years. In recent months, Walker’s campaign has played up culture war themes, broadcast radio advertisements and sent out mailings targeting black men with accusations that Warnock and the Democrats want boys to play sports for girls.

More than 2.5 million Georgia voters voted early, a record turnout for a midterm election.

The closeness of the race is less a sign of the weakness of Warnock’s campaign and more an indication that Georgia is still red, said Fredrick Hicks, an Atlanta-based Democratic political strategist.

“Historically, it’s a small miracle that a black Democrat beat a white Republican last year and that he was just ahead this year,” Hicks said. “This is still Georgia.”


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