Incumbent senator beats Trump-pick Herschel Walker in crucial runoff election in US state of Georgia.
Democratic US Senator Raphael Warnock has defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a Georgia runoff election, according to the Associated Press news agency, ensuring his party an outright majority in the Senate for the rest of President Joe Biden’s term.
With Warnock’s runoff victory on Tuesday, Democrats will have a 51-49 Senate majority, gaining a seat from the current 50-50 split following John Fetterman’s victory in Pennsylvania.
There will be divided government, however, with Republicans having narrowly flipped control of the House of Representatives.
Warnock’s win cements Georgia as a battleground state certain to play a prominent role in the 2024 presidential election.
Democrats have now won three Senate races in the state in the past two years and Biden carried the former Republican stronghold in the 2020 election.
Walker’s defeat is also a setback for former US President Donald Trump as he seeks the Republican nomination to run for the White House again in 2024. The former president endorsed Walker and dozens of other high-profile Republicans in this year’s midterm elections, but he ends with a mixed record in his most competitive contests.
Walker’s campaign was plagued by repeated gaffes and claims by former girlfriends that he paid for their abortions, even though he has campaigned for the procedure to be outlawed. He has denied the accusations.
Warnock highlighted those concerns in campaign appearances and a barrage of television ads that made the race the most expensive of the 2022 midterm season, with more than $400m spent. His victory is the third Senate win for Democrats in Georgia in the last two years, fueled by a large Black population and the diversifying Atlanta suburbs that have offset the historic dominance of conservative white voters.
While voters in Georgia returned Warnock to the Senate, they had also reelected Republican Governor Brian Kemp by a comfortable margin and chose an all-Republican slate of statewide constitutional officers.
“I’ll work with anyone to get things done for the people of Georgia,” Warnock, the state’s first Black senator, said throughout his campaign, a nod to the state’s historically conservative lean and his need to win over Republican-leaning independents and at least some moderate Republicans in a midterm election year.
Warnock, 53, paired that argument with an emphasis on his personal values, buoyed by his status as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr once preached.
On Tuesday, Atlanta voter Tom Callaway praised the Republican Party’s strength in Georgia and said he had supported Kemp in the opening round of voting.
But he said he cast his ballot for Warnock because he did not think “Herschel Walker has the credentials to be a senator”.
“I didn’t believe he had a statement of what he really believed in or had a campaign that made sense,” Callaway said.