ATLANTA – Georgia voters are ready to settle one of the nation’s marquee midterm contests as they choose whether to reelect Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock to his first full term or replace him with Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
Yet the state’s quirky election law means Tuesday could be just Round 1. Georgia requires a majority to win statewide office, and with polls suggesting a close race and a third-party candidate on the ballot, it’s possible neither Warnock nor Walker will surpass the 50% threshold. That would set up a four-week blitz ahead of a Dec. 6 runoff that, depending on the outcomes in other Senate contests, could reprise the 2020 election cycle, when two Senate runoffs in Georgia doubled as a national winner-take-all battle for partisan control of the Senate.
The chamber is now divided 50-50 between the two major parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving Democrats the tie-breaking vote.
A runoff also would mean another month of Warnock hammering Walker, a sports celebrity turned politician, as unqualified and Walker assailing Warnock as a rubber-stamp for the White House.
“Raphael Warnock votes with Joe Biden 96% of the time,” Walker tells voters again and again. “He’s forgotten about the people of Georgia.”
• Warnock was elected to the U.S. Senate after defeating Kelly Loeffler in a runoff election in January 2021. Loeffler was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp after the late Johnny Isakson stepped down for health reasons. Warnock defeated Loeffler by 95,000 votes.
• Warnock had never been elected to office before winning the 2021 runoff election.
• Warnock is the first African American to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate.
• Warnock became prominent in politics as an activist to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
• Walker first entered politics in 2021 after he was encouraged by former President Donald Trump to run for Senate.
• Walker easily fended off a challenge for the Republican nomination in Georgia’s Primary election. Five other candidates sought the nomination. Walker got slightly over 68% of the vote, easily avoiding a runoff election.
• Walker is a University of Georgia football legend.
• Walker owns a number of businesses, including D’Lites fast food franchise in Athens, Renaissance Man Food Services and H. Walker Enterprises.
Warnock, who is also the senior minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, answers that Walker is “not ready” and “not fit” for high office. That’s an allusion to Walker’s rocky past, from allegations of violence against his ex-wife to accusations by two women Walker once dated that he encouraged and paid for their abortions despite his public opposition to abortion rights.
Both approaches highlight the candidates’ most glaring liabilities.
Amid generationally high inflation and with Biden’s popularity lagging in Georgia, Warnock wants voters to make a localized choice, not a national referendum on Democrats as a whole. Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator, Warnock pitches himself as a pragmatist who cuts deals with Republicans when they’re willing and pushes Democratic-backed cost-cutting measures when they’re not. Among the top accomplishments Warnock touts: capping the cost of insulin and other drugs for Medicare recipients.
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“I’ll work with anybody to get things done for the people of Georgia,” Warnock said.
Walker, meanwhile, denies that he’s ever paid for an abortion. And glossing over a cascade of other stories — documented exaggerations of his business record, academic achievements and philanthropic activities; publicly acknowledging three additional children during the campaign only after media reports on their existence — Walker touts his Christian faith and says his life is a story of “redemption.”
Through the scrutiny he calls “foolishness,” the Republican nominee has campaigned as a cultural and fiscal conservative. Walker, who is also Black, pledges to “bring people together” while framing Warnock as a divisive figure on matters of race and equality. Walker justifies his attack using snippets of Warnock’s sermons in which the pastor-senator discusses institutional racism.
Republicans used similar tactics against Warnock ahead of his runoff victory on Jan. 5, 2021. Warnock won that contest by about 95,000 votes out of 4.5 million cast. More than 2 million Georgia voters have cast ballots ahead of Election Day.
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