In the latest midterm battle of 2022, Georgia voters gave Senate Democrats an extra cushion when they extended the party’s majority by re-electing incumbent Raphael Warnock on Tuesday.
The win ends one of the most expensive and heated contests of the 2022 midterm cycle, as Warnock took on Republican Herschel Walker, a soccer star who was recruited by former President Donald Trump to help the GOP retake the Senate.
But after a series of campaign failures that raised serious questions about Walker’s ability to serve, even from some Republicans, the campaign began to slip out of the hands of the GOP.
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Warnock relied heavily on a two-pronged campaign strategy highlighting his two-year record as a collegiate lawmaker who could work with the GOP while raising mounting questions about his rival’s character and competence.
“After a hard-fought campaign, or should I say campaigns, I have the honor of speaking the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy – the people have spoken,” he told Tuesday evening at his supporters.
Walker ran heavily on the economy, culture war issues and the unpopularity of President Joe Biden in a year. Republicans expected a “red wave” to overtake Congress.
But that didn’t help the former NFL star reach the goal line.
Instead, Warnock’s victory solidified a cycle in which Democrats defied history by defending every incumbent Senate seat, a first for the ruling party since 1934.
“There are no excuses in life,” Walker said at a watch party on Tuesday night. “I’m not going to make excuses now.”
During his concession speech, Walker said running for the Senate was one of the best decisions of his life. He also urged those present to support their elected officials and to “stay together, don’t let anyone separate you”.
“I want you to believe in America and to continue to believe in the Constitution and our elected officials,” he said.
2022 Georgia Senate Runoff Recap ::Warnock wins the election and strengthens the Democratic majority
Warnock’s victory also ends a marathon election for the Atlanta pastor in a campaign that was so much about the New South, race and identity between two every-way different black candidates.
The pastor is now making history as Georgia’s first black senator elected to a full six-year term after going through a gauntlet of four top races in about two years.
“To my mom, who’s here tonight, she grew up in 1950s Georgia picking somebody else’s cotton and somebody else’s tobacco,” Warnock said.
“But tonight she helped choose her youngest son to be a United States senator.”
Rebuke from Trump?
Walker’s loss should be seen as a referendum on Trump given how well he recruited his longtime friend to run the year before the race.
“He told me he was going to (run), and I think he will,” Trump told a conservative radio host in 2021. “He’s a great guy. He’s a patriot. And he’s a very loyal person, he’s a very strong person. They love him in Georgia, I’ll tell you,
But the former president was largely absent for most of the campaign, and especially during the home stretch.
Trump, who last month announced a 2024 presidential bid, has never joined Walker on the campaign trail for an in-person event like other top Republicans have. He hosted a “tele rally” for the former soccer star on Monday night and posted it on his social media site Truth Social.
Georgia’s runoff is also likely to be used by Trump’s GOP rivals to question his ability as a so-called kingmaker after many candidates he backed for the Senate and the governor were defeated in the primary and general elections.
Republican consultant Matt Whitlock said after Gov. Brian Kemp “beat” Trump’s hand-picked opponent in the GOP primary earlier this year that Walker would be in trouble.
“Georgia has become desensitized to the charms of President Trump,” Whitlock said in a tweet on Tuesday. “If he’s on a future ballot, I would (again) count the state in the blue column.”
A control over Manchin, the power of Sinema
While Republicans may have lacked some enthusiasm in the runoff, the stakes still meant something to progressive groups and state activists.
In addition to keeping Walker, who has been beset by national allegations and made a series of nonsensical on-track remarks, out of office, many have cited a larger reason for Warnock’s re-election.
These leaders said Georgia was important to ensure that the senses. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – two other conservative members of the Democratic caucus – had less power.
A 51-49 majority gives Democrats more leeway because it gives them a clear majority in Senate committees. This will likely mean little in terms of policy goals given that Republicans have taken over the House, but it will be significant in terms of judicial nominations and other key confirmations for the next two years.
Brandon Tucker, senior director of policy and government affairs at Color of Change PAC, a national racial justice group, said the 51st seat will be critical in the coming months.
“We know that to protect the right to vote, transform our criminal justice system and expand public safety, we need people who align themselves with a progressive vision,” he said.
“Senator Warnock’s re-election is extremely important for these national implications.”