Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker, a former college football star, in a runoff election Tuesday, defending his seat in the final Senate race in the country this year, according to projections from multiple outlets.
Warnock’s win secures a 51-49 majority for Democrats in the Senate next year, meaning Democrats won’t have to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with Republican Senate leaders, and Democrats will likely hold a majority on every committee.
In an otherwise disappointing year for Georgia Democrats, Warnock’s victory marks a big win for the party.
In the November general election, Warnock got more votes than Walker, who underperformed other statewide Republican candidates. Warnock was boosted in that election by a critical block of split-ticket voters who voted for the incumbent Senate Democrat, but opted for Republicans in other races.
Walker was not able to make up that gap before Tuesday, while strong turnout among Democrats gave Warnock the advantage.
In his concession speech Tuesday, Walker said, “There’s no excuses in life. I’m not going to make any excuses now because we put up one heck of a fight.” He told his supporters that no one was to blame for his loss and urged them to “believe in your elected officials.”
Under Georgia law, the race headed to a runoff since neither candidate received over 50% of the vote. Warnock, the pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, was first elected in a runoff election in early 2021 that decided the balance of power in the Senate.
Throughout the campaign, Warnock sought to make the case that Walker was unfit to serve in the Senate. The former University of Georgia running back hardly ever discussed policy or took stances on crucial issues facing the Senate, and rarely talked to the press.
Walker also faced allegations of domestic violence and lying about his background and businesses. During the campaign, two women came forward and said that during previous relationships with Walker, he pressured them to have abortions. The Republican, who has said he opposes abortion, denied the allegations.
During the runoff period, Walker was hit with fresh accusations of carpetbagging, following reports that he is set to receive a tax break on his Texas home that is meant for primary residents of that state.
He jumped in the race to unseat Warnock with the support of former President Donald Trump, who did not travel to Georgia to campaign for Walker ahead of the runoff. In ads and at rallies, Walker argued that Warnock is simply a rubber stamp for President Joe Biden, who is mostly unpopular in Georgia.
The View From Warnock's election night party
At a hotel ballroom in downtown Atlanta, the mood remained jubilant throughout the night as supporters danced, mingled, and watched results trickle in on CNN. Cheers spread throughout the crowd every time Warnock took a lead in the race, while the DJ played a steady lineup of Atlanta rap classics.
Shrieks of “We won!” rang out as the first race calls came in, moments before CNN made its projection.
“Time and time again, folks doubt Georgia. This victory is because of Georgia organizers on the ground,” Warnock supporter Mina Turabi said. “Year after year, we show up and we did it again.”
Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter’s takeaway from the race: The candidate, not just party, matters to Georgia voters.
“This is not a state where there’s no middle,” Carter told Semafor. “This is a state where you’ve got a group of independent voters who are willing to vote for Kemp and for Warnock, and the candidates matter.”
“After a hard-fought campaign — or should I say campaigns — it is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken,” Warnock said during his victory speech.
He has been on the ballot five times in the last two years, after first being elected in a special election.