Sen. Raphael Warnock is projected to win reelection in a runoff on Tuesday night, putting an exclamation mark on Senate Democrats’ midterms performance and handing them a 51-seat majority.
Warnock defeated Republican Herschel Walker, a University of Georgia football icon. Walker won the GOP nomination with the backing of Donald Trump, only to see his general election campaign falter after multiple women accused him of domestic abuse or paying for their abortions and he repeatedly committed gaffes that brought his competence into question.
The victory for Warnock, a preacher at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and a rising progressive star, means Democrats successfully defended all four incumbent senators targeted by Republicans at the beginning of the 2022 midterm cycle, following victories for Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) in November.
Democratic control of the Senate was assured even before Warnock’s victory, but a 51-seat majority carries significant benefits for the party. Democrats will now have full control over the Senate’s committees, allowing them to move nominees and legislation at a quicker pace. In particular, the victory means Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will be able to move far more judicial nominees onto the federal bench.
Core to Warnock’s victory was his fundraising prowess: He raised more than $175 million this cycle, according to FEC records. Paired with a $125 million haul in the 2020 election cycle, when he and Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) won a pair of runoff elections to hand Democrats control of the Senate, Warnock has raised more money than any senator in history.
Compared to other Republicans, Walker was no slouch as a fundraiser either, bringing in $58 million as of the last FEC report. Both sides also saw more than $100 million in outside spending, making the race among the most expensive in U.S. history.
Warnock powered his victory with a mixture of turnout efforts aimed at Georgia’s expansive Black population and efforts to persuade Republicans they could not trust Walker, who was caught in lie after lie during the campaign. During the runoff, Warnock aired ads from voters who had backed GOP Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp but said they could not support Walker.
Walker, on the other hand, tried to damage Warnock’s brand by focusing on his church’s management of a low-income housing complex where several people had received eviction notices, and by attempting to relitigate Warnock’s messy divorce from his wife.
The GOP had long worried about Walker’s fitness as a candidate, but the combination of his celebrity and Trump’s endorsement eventually convinced establishment Republicans there was little they could do to stop him from seizing the nomination.