Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock defeated Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia’s runoff election Tuesday night, giving the Democratic Party an outright majority that eases their ability to pass legislation and confirm judges to the nation’s bench.
Warnock defeated Walker 51.3% to 48.7%, a margin of 90,000 votes, according to results reported by the Georgia Secretary of State as of this writing. Warnock came out ahead of Walker during the November 8 election by 0.9% but failed to win half of all ballots cast, triggering the two-person runoff.
“To God be the glory for the great things that God has done,” said Warnock, paraphrasing a hymn in a lengthy victory speech peppered with scriptural quotations. “Each of us has within us a spark of the divine … We all have value,” said Warnock, who declared himself a “pro-choice pastor” and co-sponsored a bill to strike down pro-life laws in all 50 states.
“I am Georgia,” declared an ebullient Warnock at one point.
Herschel Walker told his crestfallen supporters not to lose hope, citing the power of prayer and intercession in the political arena. “Believe in America, and continue to believe in the Constitution, and believe in our elected officials,” he exhorted the crowd. “Most of all, continue to pray for them, because all the prayers you’ve given me — I felt those prayers.”
Warnock, a theologically liberal ordained Baptist, likened his vote turnout to prayer. “I often say that a vote is a certain kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and our children. Voting is faith put into action,” Warnock said. “Democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea.” Even in victory, Warnock asserted without evidence that his supporters endured “all kinds of tricks in order to vote” an example of “voter suppression in Georgia.”
The senator also repeatedly referred to his status as a minister Tuesday night, yet in his prepared remarks, Warnock labeled himself a “former pastor.”
Exit polls show that the 26% of voters who picked abortion as their top issue supported Warnock by a wide margin, 77% to 21%. But the one out of three Georgians who said they voted for a candidate who “shares my values” backed Walker over Warnock 76% to 23%.
A plurality of Georgia voters said Warnock’s views were “too extreme,” according to NBC News.
The outcome shifts control of the Senate to the Democrats with a 51-49 majority, ending two years of power-sharing with Republicans based on an evenly divided body. Democrats will now appoint chairs and hold a majority on Senate committees, speeding the passage of bills and judicial nominations. It also gives Senate Democrats firm control of the subpoena process, allowing them to launch investigations mirroring the House’s January 6 Committee.
Democratic leaders already say Warnock’s re-election will embolden them to pursue a more left-wing agenda. “Warnock’s victory shows once again that Democrats are in sync with America and MAGA Republicans are not,” stated Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “With 51 seats, Democrats are now primed to make incredible progress in confirming judges and getting so many other vital things done,” agreed former DNC co-chair Tom Perez, who once boasted of prosecuting pro-life advocates. For example, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) credited Warnock’s victory to the fact that “he helped lead the charge to cancel student debt for hardworking Americans, and the people of Georgia like what they’ve seen.”
Warnock’s election also moves the party leftward by diminishing the bargaining power of the party’s lone pro-life senator, Joe Manchin (W.Va.).
Tuesday’s election caps off the most expensive race of the 2022 midterms, in which Democrats vastly outspent Republicans. The two candidates and their supporters had spent $380.7 million as of November 29. Warnock’s campaign spent $150 million, compared to $58 million for Walker, not including the expenditures of outside PACs, which broke heavily for Warnock.
Many of those ads presented Warnock as a pragmatic centrist and, in the words of his campaign, “the 18th most bipartisan [s]enator” in the U.S. — a claim his supporters continue to amplify. “I think he does speak to a fundamental moderation the Democratic Party has become very good at modeling,” said MSNBC host Joy Reid Tuesday night. “You get a fundamental moderation with Democrats.”
Warnock dodged questions about whether he attended a speech by Fidel Castro hosted by his church in 1995, supports no limit on abortion until birth, opposes conscience rights for Christian business owners who do not want to participate in wedding rituals for same-sex couples, and declared “the early church was a socialist church.”
The gambit proved effective for some Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who said, “I was forced to leave my ballot blank” in the runoff.
The future is unclear for Walker, a former Heisman Trophy winner whom former President Donald Trump elevated over a crowded field of experienced rivals, including Rep. Doug Collins. After Walker won the primary, Trump did not hold a single in-person rally for Walker, before or during the runoff. “He’s been doing other things for me,” Walker explained last week.
“The tragedy is that Georgia is a purple state only when we choose fame or wealth over values, record, and ability,” said Republican adviser Dan McLagan.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.