Georgia voters on Tuesday are set to decide the final Senate contest 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 fight.
The runoff brings to a close a bitter fight between Warnock, 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 waged his bid in the mold of former President Donald Trump.
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A victory for Warnock would solidify Georgia’s status as a battleground heading into the 2024 presidential election. A win for Walker, however, could be an indication that the Democratic gains in the state might 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 almost 4 million cast but fell shy of a majority, triggering the second round of voting. About 1.9 million votes already have been cast by mail and during early voting, an advantage for Democrats whose voters more commonly cast ballots this way. Republicans typically fare better on voting done on Election Day, with the margins determining the winner.
This year, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams ran for governor against Republican Brian Kemp, a popular incumbent. On Nov. 8, Abrams lost the governor’s race by 300,000 votes, a margin of 7.5 points.
That same day, Walker trailed the incumbent Warnock by fewer than 40,000 votes, a margin of less than one point.
Warnock, whose victory in 2021 was in a special election to serve out the remainder of GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, sounded a confident note Monday during a packed day of campaigning. He predicted that he had convinced enough voters, including independents and moderate Republicans who supported Kemp, that he deserves a full term.
“They’ve seen that I will work with anybody that helps me to do good work for the people of Georgia,” said the 53-year-old senator. “I think they’re going to get this right. They know this race is about competence and character.”
Walker, 60, campaigned Monday with his wife Julie. They greeted supporters and offered thanks rather than his usual campaign speech and full-throated attacks on Warnock.
“I love y’all, and we’re gonna win this election,” he said at a winery in Ellijay, comparing it to championships he won as an athlete. “I love winning championships.
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Warnock’s campaign has spent about $170 million on the campaign, far outpacing Walker’s nearly $60 million, according to their latest 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, buoyed by his status as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. And, beginning with the closing stretch before the Nov. 8 general election, Warnock added withering takedowns of Walker, using the football star’s rocky past to argue that the political newcomer was “not ready” and “not fit” for high office.
Walker, the runaway victor in the GOP primary, has sought to portray Warnock as a yes-man for President Joe Biden. Walker has sometimes made the attack in especially personal terms, complete with accusing Warnock of having his “back bent” and “being on his knees, begging” at the White House — a searing charge.
On the other hand, Walker may have sunk his campaign with false statements and scandals about his family life.
Georgia Republicans have defended Walker by promoting forgiveness for these scandals. Observers have also commended Walker for distancing himself from the attempts to relitigate the 2020 election.
At his lone debate against Warnock in October, Walker was asked whether he’d accept the results even if he lost. He replied with one word: “Yes.”
After the general election, Biden, who has struggled with low approval ratings, promised to help Warnock in any way he could, even if it meant staying away from Georgia. Bypassing the president, Warnock decided instead to campaign with former President Barack Obama in the days before the runoff election.
Walker was endorsed by Trump, and he campaigned with him on the campaign’s final day: The pair conducted a conference call Monday with supporters, according to a Republican National Committee spokesperson.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.