The U.S. Senate race in Georgia between Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker will head to a runoff after neither candidate secured the 50% needed to head straight to Congress.
Walker, a former football star, was one of several flawed Senate candidates Republicans coalesced behind this year. He lacked political experience, had a history of domestic abuse allegations, embellished his record, made several gaffes and was accused of pressing several women to have abortions despite campaigning as being staunchly opposed to abortion.
But none of that seemed to matter to GOP voters who acknowledged Walker’s flaws but backed him anyway if it meant taking back the Senate. The race was neck-and-neck down to the wire.
“We’re all sinners,” one Georgia woman in a suburb outside Atlanta told HuffPost last month, in defense of Walker’s past. “We’ve all done some things we’re not proud of.
Republicans focused more on kitchen table issues. Inflation and crime were some of the biggest themes in GOP ads this election cycle, and Democratic candidates had trouble offering effective responses.
Like other Democrats this year, Warnock sought to blunt GOP attacks over rising inflation and the high cost of living by touting his support of Democratic legislation lowering the cost of prescription drugs and capping the cost of insulin at $35. He also pushed proposals to reduce gasoline prices.
In their only debate last month, Warnock and Walker sparred over other hot-button issues, including abortion and immigration. Walker didn’t face-plant, as Democrats had hoped, and mostly held his own. In one notable exchange, though, a moderator reprimanded the GOP candidate for flashing a “prop” police badge after Warnock dinged him for pretending to be a police officer.
Warnock made history in 2021 by defeating Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and becoming the first Black senator from Georgia. The senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, owed his success in large part to Black voters, who turned out in strong numbers in 2020 and 2021.
During his time in the Senate, Warnock voted largely in lockstep with his fellow Democrats and President Joe Biden. He put some distance between himself and the leader of his party by refusing to weigh in on the question of a Biden presidential run in 2024 and whether he wanted the president to campaign for him in Georgia. But he was never a thorn in his party’s side.
Democrats pulled out all the stops in their efforts to save the Georgia seat. In the closing days of the race, former President Barack Obama appeared with Warnock at a rally where he argued that Walker’s success at football didn’t make him qualified to serve in the U.S. Senate.
“Does that make him the best person to represent you?” Obama said at the event. “Let’s say you’re at the airport and you see Walker and you say, ‘Hey, there’s Herschel, Heisman winner. Let’s have him fly the plane!’”
“You’d probably want to know, ‘Does he know how to fly an airplane?’” he added.