Sen. Raphael Warnock won a full six-year term Tuesday, defeating Herschel Walker in a close but decisive runoff.
As of 11 p.m., Warnock led Walker by 50,000 votes, 50.7%-49.3%, with most of the votes left to be counted in blue metro Atlanta counties like DeKalb that will only pad Warnock’s lead. Multiple news outlets from across the political spectrum have already called the race for Warnock, who declared victory at 10:42 p.m.
The Walker campaign has yet to release a statement, but his very online son, Christian, did weigh in:
Despite a compressed early voting schedule and limited time to request and return absentee ballots this year, after Republican state legislators cut the time between the general election and the runoff from nine weeks to four, Warnock appeared to benefit from strong enthusiasm and early voting among Democrats.
Republicans sued to block early voting on Saturday, Nov. 26, but lost. The counties that held early voting that weekend, including Clarke, mostly leaned Democratic. That was likely a contributing factor to turnout actually ticking up by a few hundred voters in Clarke County for the runoff, compared to the Nov. 8 general election.
“Saturday voting may have been what pushed [Warnock] over the line,” said Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections Chairman Rocky Raffle, the board’s Democratic appointee.
In the home of the University of Georgia—where Walker’s football exploits are better known than anywhere—the Heisman Trophy winner who led the Bulldogs to a national championship in 1980 received just 26% of the vote. Perhaps that was to be expected, though, considering a restaurant Walker opened downtown bearing his name could only manage to stay open for two years amidst reports of fraud and theft.
Even in this liberal college town, Warnock’s 74% is the best a Democrat has done in decades, if not ever, especially noteworthy considering the Savannah native and Morehouse College graduate had no particular ties to Athens.
That may be attributable to Warnock’s campaign working hard to turn out young voters and the Black community by campaigning on campus and in East Athens. Walker’s only event in Athens since before the primary was a brief speech and photo op for fans before the Georgia-Tennessee game. He leaned heavily on nostalgia for his football career, rolling out an ad campaign featuring the late Coach Vince Dooley.
“We’re on a different kind of field now,” Warnock told supporters at a rally on campus Sunday, declaring himself “the SEC champion” of standing up for those on the margins of society.
Indeed, even several local Democrats gathered to watch the returns at Little Kings commented that a Republican candidate less beset by scandal could have beaten Warnock back in November, when the GOP swept every other statewide race. But Warnock doesn’t have to worry about that until 2028.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.