Warnock pulls through to retain Senate seat

Dec 07, 2022

The Gist

Georgia voters are sending Senator Raphael Warnock back to Washington, bringing to an end one of the nastiest political fights in recent memory.

“Thank you, Georgia. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and to God be the glory for the great things that God has done,” Warnock said in a victory speech Tuesday  night at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta.

What’s Happening

More than 3.3 million Georgians cast votes during the four-week Senate race runoff, one of the shortest runoff periods in recent history – a result of Georgia’s 21-month-old election reform law which cut the time between the midterm election and a runoff election from nine weeks to four. 

The runoff was a repeat of the November midterm race with Warnock eking out a thin lead over Walker.  AP declared Warnock the winner at 10:31 p.m. Tuesday, election night. 

At 11:06 p.m., with 95 percent of the counties and precincts reported, the Georgia Secretary of State’s website showed Warnock had 1,748,474 or 50.8 percent of the votes cast while Walker received 1,692,748 or 49.2 percent. 

Meanwhile, Walker acknowledged Jesus, his wife and prayers from supporters in a concession speech Tuesday night.

“I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he said. “Never stop dreaming. Believe in America, believe in the Constitution and continue to believe in our elected officials. Pray for them. God bless you. There’s no excuses in life. So I’m not going to put up any excuses.”

From the start, the Walker-Warnock faceoff was anything but the norm: Two Black men —  a preacher vs. a football legend —  both from humble southern Georgia roots vying for a top congressional seat.  

It was historic.

It also was the most expensive race in the country during the 2022 cycle. The pair – with the help of special interest groups — spent a combined $415.8 million, according to OpenSecrets.org.  An estimated $80 million was spent on campaign ads during the month-long runoff, according to AdImpact and NPR. 

Aside from record-setting spending, the Walker-Warnock match devolved into one of the country’s messiest, mud-slinging political battles that at times took on bizarre twists and turns that rival any soap opera, or “Real Housewives of Atlanta” plot.

Both men’s exes hurled embarrassing claims of abuse against them during  campaign ad appearances. But Walker’s foibles sprinted past Warnock’s. Two women accused Walker, a self-proclaimed staunch pro-lifer, of pressuring them to have abortions. His campaign speeches often veered into the nonsensical. In one campaign TV spot, he waxed on about vampires and werewolves. 

“A werewolf can kill a vampire. Did you know that? I never knew that,” Walker, a football legend and 1982 winner of the Heisman Trophy, told a crowd during one campaign stop. (Walker later defended his comments saying “The vampire thing is good, if they would have played the whole thing. The vampire thing had to do with faith.”)

Walker’s relentless missteps prompted Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan  to proclaim one of football’s greatest players “one of the worst candidates in GOP history.” A point that didn’t escape veteran political consultant James Carville.

“Herschel Walker’s run a historically buffonic campaign,” Carville, who was the lead strategist in Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential win, told State Affairs.  “Warnock’s run a superb campaign.”

Why It Matters

Despite the political hijinks and scandal that marked the Georgia Senate race, Carville said Warnock’s return to Washington “means a lot. 

“It’s bigger than people think,” he said.

Warnock’s win gives Democrats 51 seats in the U.S. Senate and an outright  majority.

“The Democrats have a challenging senate map for 2024 and going in one seat up helps,” Carville said. “There’s so many things you can do. You can do procedural things. You’ve got a plus-one going into a pretty challenging senate [session].”

Warnock can now focus on the job he’s been fighting to keep for the last 16 months.

“He’s now got four or five years where he can be a senator,” University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock III told State Affairs. “[He can] concentrate on whatever he’s going to want to concentrate on rather than be constantly looking over his shoulder and raising money and being in campaign mode.”

(Credit: BRITTNEY PHAN for State Affairs)

What’s Next?  

Now comes the hard part.

As if enduring four races in two years weren’t enough, the next six years for Warnock will be crucial for his political career and for Georgia ultimately. 

“I would think as a Democratic senator, you would concentrate on what thing [you] could put under the budget umbrella and maybe we could get it enacted,” Bullock said, adding that Warnock could look at creating a plan, for instance,  that would expand Medicaid at a federal level.

“Make Medicaid universal to a certain pay rate or level of income,” Bullock said. “You could put that under the budget umbrella. [That way] he’s showing that he’s interested in that.”

Depending on his performance going forward, Warnock  could wind up chairing a senate committee down the road.

“He’s pretty effective,” said Carville, who has deep ties to Georgia politics.  “He works a lot with the business community around the state. He’s got six years ahead of him. He’s going to be a lot more powerful Wednesday [the day after the runoff election] because he’s won re-election. He’s won a tough seat in a tough state. Democrats are going to want him out front and center.”

Contact Tammy Joyner on Twitter @LVJOYNER.

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