Democratic Sen. Warnock defeats Republican Walker in Georgia runoff

ATLANTA – Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican football star Herschel Walker on Tuesday in the Georgia Senate Runoff election, NBC News projects that gives President Joe Biden and his party a key victory.

Warnock’s victory will give the Democrats one pure majority in the Senate after two years under a 50-50 split, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie votes.

The victory cements President Joe Biden’s unexpected midterm success, allowing his party to grow its majority in the Senate.

The result is also another blow to Donald Trump, who endorsed Walker, making him a finalist in a field of candidates. former president backed this year who failed to win competitive races.

Senate Republicans had hoped to get one ahead of 2024 election when the electoral map heavily favors the GOP. But Walker was pursued by scandalsa more than 2-to-1 consumption disadvantage and lack of self confidence in both the candidate and his campaign from some GOP officials.

Republicans typically wait to vote until Election Day, but their voters did not turn out on a wet and drizzly Tuesday in the numbers Walker needed to overcome the advantage Warnock had held during the early voting period.

“After a hard-fought campaign – or should I say campaigns – it is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken,” Warnock told supporters.

In an interview with NBC News, Warnock credited campaign manager Quentin Fulks’ victory in part to creating the contrast between the candidates — and continuing to appeal to independent and Republican-leaning voters who had reservations about Walker.

“When it turned out to be Herschel Walker, we immediately looked at the landscape and saw an opportunity to say we can make this race about ‘the Reverend’ versus ‘the running back.’ And if we did that, we could control our own destiny within this cycle,” Fulks said.

“There could have been other campaign managers or another campaign that could have said, ‘OK, Herschel Walker has all this baggage, so we’re just going to run to the left and just try to get as many of our voters out and just let the Republicans eat their own,” Fulks added. “We didn’t.”

Fulks said one of the biggest challenges was motivating voters to turn out on an unusual election day, Dec. 6.

“We had to make our own energy organically,” he said

The runoff election was triggered by state law because neither candidate won an outright majority in the November election

The Democrats’ 51st vote means they can tear up the power-sharing arrangement they made with Senate Republicans and secure a clear majority of votes in committee. They will also have one remaining vote on matters such as confirmation of executive and judicial nominees.

The extra seat could also be crucial to Democrats’ chances of retaining the majority in 2024, when some of the party’s most vulnerable sitting senators are up for re-election.

Democrats say Walker’s defeat is a sign that Americans are rejecting Trumpism as the former president looks set to regain the presidency.

“This election marks the first midterm since 1934 in which the party in power successfully defended all the incumbent Senate seats,” said JB Poersch, the president of the Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC, which says it spent $85.7 million in Georgia this year. “Voters in Georgia and across the country have sent a message loud and clear by firmly rejecting GOP extremism and re-electing a Democratic Senate majority that will continue to deliver for the American people.”

The result, along with last month’s defeat of former Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, also showed the limits of celebrity. Walker, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, was a star running back for the University of Georgia and the NFL and was a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic bobsled team.

Georgia has been a reliably red state until just two years ago, when it voted for President Joe Biden and then elected Warnock and Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff in double runoff elections.

Walker has warned Republicans that they need to show up to prevent national Democrats from gaining more power. “If you don’t vote, you’re going to get more of Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden,” he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Monday night.

A drizzle and cool Tuesday did little to dampen the motivated voters in Atlanta.

Duane Cochenour, a 61-year-old attorney, cast a ballot in his downtown Atlanta area for Walker. But he said he is “not crazy about” the Republican and was reluctant to endorse him.

“I’m not a Donald Trump fan at all. I really wish he would go away. That’s my biggest negative about voting for Walker — I didn’t want to be seen as a vote for a Trump candidate,” Cochenour said, echoing the sentiment that helped turn Georgia blue two years ago. “But I felt the importance of taking back the Senate outweighed that.”

Rebecca Perdomo, 29, a consultant in Atlanta, said she voted for Warnock because of his progressive views, particularly on abortion. Perdomo said he didn’t vote in the midterm elections last month because she was out of the country, so she made sure she voted this time.

“I was really sad. So I had to make sure I come here today. It’s really important,” she said.

Matthew Pinder, 24, said he voted for Warnock because he is “reasonable” and “the other candidate is not.”

Sahil Kapur reported from Atlanta, and Alex Seitz-Wald from Washington.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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