Raphael Warnock will win Georgia Senate runoff, CNN projects, in final midterm rebuke of Trump’s influence


Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock will win Georgia’s Senate runoff, CNN projects, giving Democrats more power in the Senate next year and dealing a critical blow to former President Donald Trump after another of his handpicked candidates lost. .

With Warnock’s defeat of Republican challenger Herschel Walker, Democrats will control 51 seats to the Republican’s 49.

The race caps a difficult midterm cycle for Republicans — who won the House majority but saw their hopes of dominance on Capitol Hill dashed by the troubled candidacies of some Trump-backed Senate candidates.

“There are no excuses in life and I’m not going to make excuses now because we had a big fight,” Walker told supporters after calling Warnock.

The runoff was a final midterm test of the former president’s influence as he begins a third run for the White House. It was also a sign that — in the wake of President Joe Biden narrowly carrying the state in 2020, combined with two Senate victories that gave him a Democratic Senate in 2021 — Georgia is now definitively a purple state.

In his victory speech, Warnock referred to the fact that the second round was his fourth campaign in two years. “After a hard-fought campaign – or should I say campaigns – I am honored to say the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken.”

“I often say that voting is a kind of prayer for the world we want for ourselves and for our children,” Warnock continued. “You’ve done the hard work and here we are united.”

The president called Warnock after arriving in Washington from an event in Arizona and he tweeted: “Tonight Georgia voters defended our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism and most importantly: sent a good man back to the Senate. Another six years are coming.”

Rebuttals came quickly for the GOP late Tuesday night.

“The only way to explain this is the quality of the candidate,” Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan told CNN, noting the delta between Gov. Brian Kemp’s victory in November and where it appears Walker will end up when all the votes are counted.

He said he hoped Warnock’s victory would serve as a wake-up call for the GOP. “If we don’t get our medicine here, it’s our fault. Every Republican in this country should hold Donald Trump accountable for this.”

Many Republicans attributed the closeness of the race Tuesday night to the fact that Kemp came to Walker’s rescue in the runoff after he kept his distance during last month’s general election. Not only did he campaign for him, but he put the power of his own turnout business into efforts to help the GOP Senate nominee.

Morale among Walker’s campaign staff hit an all-time low in recent days as it became clear their candidate would lose the race to Warnock, according to several people familiar with his campaign.

Several members of Walker’s staff grew disillusioned as the runoff election unfolded over the past month, feeling that their advice for the embattled candidate was being ignored as outside voices with little political experience gained ground.

In addition to dealing with a host of scandals, Walker’s campaign tried to tailor his message to more closely align with Kemp’s successful run, but ultimately felt the candidate refused strategic advice, was reluctant to campaign and he has largely declined media interviews in recent days.

“He’s so proud that he doesn’t like to take advice,” a person familiar with the campaign told CNN, adding that he leaned on his wife Julie Blanchard for most decisions rather than empowering his team.

Democratic control of the Senate next year had already been settled by tight races in states like Nevada, where Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto clung to her seat despite economic headwinds, and Pennsylvania, where Democrat John Fetterman picked up a GOP seat . .

The Senate was evenly split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris giving the tie. That has given too much power to moderates like Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, who have often single-handedly stymied their party’s ambitions. Securing Warnock for a full six-year term would allow Democrats to ditch their current power-sharing deal with Republicans while making it easier to promote Biden’s nominees.

Biden and his advisers are acutely aware of the significant difference the single additional seat can make. “It means a lot,” one Democrat familiar with White House thinking put it simply.

Although Warnock won more votes than Walker in last month’s general election, he fell short of the majority needed to win outright. The ensuing runoff had attracted more than $80 million in ad spending, according to data from ad tracking firm AdImpact, with Democrats spending about twice as much as Republicans.

Warnock held a slight lead over Walker in a CNN poll published last week. Walker had a negative approval rating as voters questioned his honesty after a series of scandals. He denied reports that he pressured or encouraged women to have abortions, despite having previously supported a ban on the procedure without exceptions on the campaign trail. CNN’s KFile reported that he is getting a primary residence-only tax exemption this year at his Dallas, Texas home while running for the Georgia seat.

The state broke records for one day of early voting last week, but the early voting period has been condensed significantly since 2021. The total number of voters has dropped from about 3.1 million last year to about 1.87 million in 2022. Democrats were optimistic , in part, because of Black voters – who strongly favored Warnock in the CNN poll. They accounted for nearly 32 percent of early voting turnout, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

Walker, however, was counting on a strong turnout among GOP voters, who tend to vote in larger numbers on Election Day.

But Trump — who, like Biden, avoided the Peach State during the runoff — has complicated the fortunes of the GOP across the country this year as voters rejected many of his candidates who were denied elections in swing states.

Some of the first signs of this were in Georgia two years ago, when his efforts to cast doubt on ballots and vote counting were blamed, in part, for GOP losses in 2021 in two runoffs that gave Democrats the control of the Senate.

This year, the former president’s efforts to retaliate against Kemp — who rejected Trump’s demands to overturn the 2020 election — were soundly rejected by primary voters. Kemp went on to easily defeat Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams last month, garnering about 200,000 more votes than Walker.

After watching losses in key states like Arizona and Pennsylvania, top Republicans are planning a more aggressive push to support primary candidates they see as more electable. The incoming chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Montana Sen. Steve Daines, told CNN, “Obviously you want to see candidates who can win the general election, and we’ll continue to work on that.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.


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