The incumbent Democrat was leading with Democratic areas still to report when the race was called Tuesday night. Warnock bested Walker by just under a percentage point during the general election last month, but didn’t cross the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. His victory means Democrats will hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, expanding their slim majority in midterm elections that were projected to favor Republicans.
Warnock’s return to the Senate could give Democrats room to maneuver around conservative obstructionists in the party’s ranks like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Krysten Sinema. It also leaves Democrats better situated to defend a majority in the challenging turf of 2024.
As far as public office goes, Walker will have be content with his “honorary sheriff” title and prop badge, which he brandished during the lone debate ahead of the general election last month.
Warnock’s win comes at the end of his fourth statewide Election Night in two years. He ran in 2020 to fulfill the final two years of retiring Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term. Warnock won that contest, against Republican Kelly Loeffler, in a runoff, as well. The tight senatorial contests underscore Georgia’s emergence as a pivotal swing state in American elections. Warnock has played to voters in the rapidly urbanizing counties around Atlanta. Walker played to staunch conservative voters in a rural Georgia that remains very much rooted in the Deep South.
Warnock comes to politics from the Black church, serving as senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist, the pulpit once occupied by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Atlanta. In the Senate, where his victory in 2020 helped secure a governing majority for Democrats, Warnock has enabled progressive legislation including a major Covid-relief package, an infrastructure bill, and historic legislation to fight the climate crisis.
Walker was undoubtedly one of the most flawed candidates to ever seek the a Senate seat, but his career as a football superstar gave him unique standing in the state. He won the Heisman Trophy as a Georgia Bulldog before a career in the NFL. The shine of Walker’s celebrity enabled many voters to turn a blind eye to deeply troubling allegations against him, including horrific accusations of spousal abuse. Walker allegedly pointed a pistol at his ex-wife’s head and threatened: “I’m going to blow your fucking brains out.”
Walker has also written of his struggles with dissociative identity disorder, and reckless behavior that included playing Russian roulette. The Daily Beast reported last week that several ex-girlfriends accused Walker of infidelity and erratic behavior associated with his mental issues, with longtime partner Cheryl Parsa describing an incident in which he erupted at her and put his hands on her throat after she caught him with another woman. Parsa told The Daily Beast that Walker “cannot” be a senator. “He cannot have control over a state when he has little to no control of his mind,” she said.
Walker has branded himself as a staunch foe of abortion, equating the practice with murder, but the campaign has featured multiple women alleging that he pressured them into getting abortions. He had a child with one of the women, who told The New York Times that he’s done “nothing” as a father, despite publicly lamenting that the “fatherless home is a major, major problem” in the Black community.
The GOP candidate also struggled to communicate clearly to voters, often going on digressive tangents about horny bovines, such that Warnock’s closing advertising in the runoff campaign featured voters reacting to Walker speeches wondering aloud WTF the Republican was even talking about.
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Among the upper crust of the Republican Party and Trumpland, Tuesday night’s result did not, in the end, come as much of a shock. By early morning Tuesday, the clear majority of longtime GOP operatives, Georgia Republicans, Trump advisers, and conservative lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill who spoke to Rolling Stone about Walker’s chances were predicting a 51 Democratic Senate majority. “If I were in charge of the [Walker] watch party,” a person close to Trump said on Monday evening, “I would make sure to buy the cheap champagne.”
Walker’s election loss adds to the pileup of winnable statewide races that the GOP squandered by nominating Trump-endorsed extremists, unqualified celebrities, or outright weirdos. Those contests include the governorships of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Arizona; Senate races in Pennsylvania and Arizona; and important secretary of state races in swing states like Nevada and Arizona. The Republican Party has been having something of an identity crisis ever since, which has only been made worse by virulent antisemite Kanye West dining with Trump late last month. Ye posted about his support for Walker earlier this week.