ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia voters will decide the final Senate race on Tuesday in the country, choosing between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican football legend Herschel Walker after a four-week runoff blitz that has drawn a flood of outside spending to an increasingly personal battle.
This year’s runoff has lower stakes than the two in 2021, with Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff victorious gave Democrats control of the Senate. The outcome of Tuesday’s contest will determine whether Democrats have an outright 51-49 majority in the Senate or control a 50-50 chamber based on Vice President Kamala Harris’ voting record.
The runoff ends a bitter battle between Warnock, the state’s first black senator, and the senior minister of the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, and Walker, a former University of Georgia football star and political novice who has led his work. bid into the mold of former President Donald Trump.
A victory for Warnock would solidify Georgia’s status as a battleground heading into the 2024 presidential election. However, a victory for Walker could be an indication that Democratic gains in the state may be somewhat limited, especially given that Georgia Republicans swept every other statewide contest last month.
In that election, Warnock led Walker by about 37,000 votes out of nearly 4 million cast, but was shy of a majority, triggering the second round of voting. About 1.9 million votes have already been cast by mail and during early voting, a boon for Democrats whose voters more commonly cast ballots this way. Republicans typically do better by voting on Election Day, when the margins decide the winner.
Last month, Walker, 60, ran more than 200,000 votes behind Republican Gov. Brian Kemp after a campaign that was subject to intense scrutiny over his past, meandering campaign speeches and a series of damaging allegations, including allegations that he paid for two former girlfriends abortions. – allegations that Walker has denied.
Warnock, whose 2021 victory was in a special election to serve out the remainder of GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, struck a confident tone Monday during a packed day of campaigning. He predicted he had convinced enough voters, including independents and moderate Republicans who supported Kemp, that he deserves a full term.
“They have seen that I will work with anyone who will help me do good work for the people of Georgia,” the 53-year-old senator said. “I think they get this right. They know this race is about competence and character.”
Walker campaigned on Monday with his wife, Julie, greeting and thanking supporters instead of his usual campaign speech and full-throated attack on Warnock.
“I love you guys and we will win this election,” he said at a winery in Ellijay, comparing it to championships he won as an athlete. “I love winning championships.
Warnock’s campaign has spent about $170 million on the campaign trail, far surpassing Walker’s nearly $60 million, according to their most recent federal disclosures. But Democratic and Republican party committees, along with other political action committees, have spent even more.
The senator has paired his push for bipartisanship with an emphasis on his personal values, bolstered by his status as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. And starting with the closing stretch before the November 8 general election, Warnock added to withering putdowns of Walker, using the football star’s rocky past to argue the political newcomer was “not ready” and “not fit” for high office.
Walker, who used his track and field fame to clinch the GOP nomination, has tried to portray Warnock as a yes man for President Joe Biden. Walker has sometimes made the attack in particularly personal terms, complete with accusing Warnock of “bent his back” and “begging on his knees” in the White House – a searing charge for a black challenger to square off against a black senator ca . his relationship with a white president.
A multi-millionaire businessman, Walker has inflated his philanthropic activities and business results, including claiming that his company employed hundreds of people and generated tens of millions of dollars in sales annually, although later records show he had eight employees and averaged about $1.5 million a year. He has hinted at working as a law enforcement officer and said he graduated, although he has neither.
Walker was also forced to admit during the campaign that he had fathered three children out of wedlock, which he had never spoken about publicly before—in direct contrast to Walker’s years of criticism of absentee fathers and his calls for black men in particular to play an active role in their children’s lives.
His ex-wife has detailed violent acts and says Walker once held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. Walker has never denied these details and wrote about his violent tendencies in a 2008 memoir that attributed the behavior to mental illness.
Warnock has countered his individual Senate achievements, touting a provision he sponsored to cap insulin costs for Medicare patients while reminding voters that Republicans blocked his larger idea to cap those costs for all insulin-dependent patients. He touted deals on infrastructure and maternal health care struck 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 Washington Democrats.
After the general election, Biden, who has struggled with low approval ratings, vowed to help Warnock in any way he could, even if it meant staying out of Georgia. Warnock bypassed the president and instead decided to campaign with former president Barack Obama in the days leading up to the run-off election.
Walker, for his part, was endorsed by Trump but avoided campaigning with him until the final day of the campaign: The pair held a conference call Monday with supporters, according to a spokesman 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, already lost competitive Senate races that Republicans once viewed as part of their path to a majority.
Walker has diverged from Trump in a remarkable way. Trump has spent two years falsely claiming that his losses in Georgia and nationally were fraudulent, despite the fact that numerous federal and local officials, a slew of courts, former campaign staffers and even his own attorney general have all said there was no evidence of the fraud he alleges.
At his lone debate against Warnock in October, Walker was asked if he would accept the results even if he lost. He answered with one word, “Yes.”