ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia voters decide the final Senate contest on Tuesday in the country, choosing between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican soccer legend Herschel Walker after a four-week blitz that drew a flood of outside spending toward an increasingly personal fight.
This year’s runoff has lower stakes than both in 2021, when wins for Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff gave the Democrats control of the Senate. The outcome of Tuesday’s contest will determine whether Democrats have a 51-49 absolute majority in the Senate or control a 50-50 chamber based on Vice President Kamala Harris’ deciding vote.
As polls opened Tuesday morning, cold and rainy conditions greeted Atlanta-area voters. At an elementary school in suburban Johns Creek, voters lined up before polls opened to vote, undeterred by 40-degree wind chill and steady rain. The line moved quickly.
The runoff ends a tug-of-war between Warnock, the state’s first black senator and senior minister at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, and Walker, a former Atlanta football star. University of Georgia and political novice who ran his bid in the mold of former President Donald Trump.
A victory for Warnock would bolster Georgia’s status as a battleground heading into the 2024 presidential election. A victory for Walker, however, could be an indication that Democratic gains in the state could be something. little limited, especially since Georgia Republicans swept all other statewide contests last month.
In that election, Warnock led Walker by around 37,000 votes. out of nearly 4 million voters, but failed to secure a majority, triggering the second round of voting. About 1.9 million votes have already been cast by mail and early voting, a plus for Democrats whose voters more often vote that way. Republicans generally fare better when voting on Election Day, with margins determining the winner.
Last month, Walker, 60, secured more than 200,000 votes behind Republican Gov. Brian Kemp after a campaign marked by scrutiny of his past, winding campaign speeches and a slew of damaging allegations, including assertions that he paid for the abortions of two former girlfriends. — charges that Walker has denied.
Warnock, whose victory in 2021 was in a special election to serve out the rest of GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, sounded a confident note Monday on a busy day of campaigning. He predicted that he convinced enough voters, including independents and moderate Republicans who supported Kemp, that he deserved a full term.
“They saw that I will work with anyone who helps me do a good job for the people of Georgia,” the 53-year-old senator said. “I think they’re going to do it right. They know this race is all about skill and character.
Walker campaigned Monday with his wife, Julie, waving to supporters and offering thanks rather than his usual campaign speech and full-throated attacks on Warnock.
“I love you all, and we’re going to win this election,” he said at a winery in Ellijay, comparing it to the championships he won as an athlete. “I love winning championships.
Warnock’s campaign spent about $170 million on the campaign, far exceeding Walker’s nearly $60 million, according to their latest federal disclosures. But the Democratic and Republican party committees, as well as other political action committees, have spent even more.
The senator has combined his drive for bipartisanship with an emphasis on his personal values, backed by his status as senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta. And, starting with the home stretch ahead of the November 8 general election, Warnock added murderous takedowns of Walker, using the football star’s checkered past to argue the political newcomer was ‘not ready’ and “unfit” for high office.
Walker, who used his track and field fame to earn the GOP nomination, sought to cast Warnock as a yes for President Joe Biden. Walker launched the attack in particularly personal terms at times, accusing Warnock of ‘bowing his back’ and ‘kneeling, begging’ at the White House – a searing accusation for a black challenger to level against a senator black about his relationship with a white president.
A multi-millionaire businessman, Walker has inflated his philanthropic pursuits and business accomplishments, including claiming that his company employed hundreds of people and made tens of millions of dollars in sales a year, although later records indicate that he had eight employees and averaged around $1.5 million. dollars per year. He implied that he worked as a law enforcement officer and said he was a college graduate, although he did neither.
Walker was also forced to admit during the campaign that he fathered three children out of wedlock he had never spoken about publicly before – in direct conflict with Walker’s criticisms of years of absentee fathers and his calls for black men, in particular, to take an active role in the lives of their children.
His ex-wife detailed acts of violence, saying Walker once held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. Walker never denied these details and wrote about his violent tendencies in a 2008 memoir which attributed the behavior to mental illness.
Warnock countered with his individual accomplishments in the Senate, touting a provision he sponsored to cap insulin costs for Medicare patients while reminding voters that Republicans blocked his broader idea of capping those costs for all insulin-dependent patients. He hailed agreements on infrastructure and maternal health care reached with Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, mentioning those GOP colleagues more than he did Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer or other Democrats in Washington.
After the general election, Biden, who struggled with low approval ratings, vowed to help Warnock any way he could, even if it meant staying away from Georgia. Bypassing the president, Warnock instead decided to campaign with former President Barack Obama in the days leading up to the runoff election.
For her part, Walker was endorsed by Trump but avoided campaigning with him until the last day of the campaign: the couple held a conference call Monday with supporters, according to a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.
Walker’s candidacy is the GOP’s last chance to flip a Senate seat this year. Dr. Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania, Blake Masters of Arizona, Adam Laxalt of Nevada and Don Bolduc of New Hampshire, all Trump loyalists, have already lost competitive Senate races that Republicans once saw as part of their path to the majority.
Walker differed from Trump in a notable way. Trump has spent two years falsely claiming his loss in Georgia and nationally was fraudulent, despite numerous federal and local officials, a long list of courts, former campaign staffers and even his own attorney general all said there was no evidence. of the alleged fraud.
In his only debate against Warnock in October, Walker was asked if he would accept the results even if he lost. He replied with a single word: “Yes.”