Five takeaways from the Georgia Senate runoff
Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D) victory over Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia’s Senate runoff Tuesday night wrapped up the 2022 midterm election season and set the stage for the 2024 presidential election.
The Democrat’s victory also gives his party more leverage with their majority in the Senate and signifies yet another midterm loss for a candidate endorsed by former President Trump.
Here are five takeaways from Georgia’s Senate runoff.
Dems get breathing room in the Senate
While Warnock’s win does not dramatically alter the balance of power in the upper chamber, it does give Democrats some much-needed leverage with a 51-seat majority.
Currently, Democrats and Republicans are tied 50-50 in the Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the breaking vote for Democrats, but there is a power-sharing agreement that evenly splits the committees. With a 51-seat majority, Democrats will hold majorities on those committees. Crucially, that dynamic will allow the party to quickly confirm President Biden’s judicial and executive branch nominees over the next two years.
Democrats will also be able to more easily conduct oversight investigations that Republicans disagree with. This could prove handy for Senate Democrats as House Republicans gear up to launch a host of oversight investigations in the lower chamber.
And a Warnock vote could help offset the impact from more centrist Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who have sometimes gone against key legislative priorities.
Trump dealt another blow
Walker’s loss marks another blow to Trump as he wages another campaign for the White House.
The former president saw many of his high-profile endorsed candidates lose this midterm cycle, putting a dent in his once-formidable reputation among Republicans. Walker’s loss will be especially bruising to Trump, who pushed for the former NFL star to jump into the race and appeared with him on the campaign trail in the run-up to Election Day.
Trump was noticeably absent from the campaign trail over the past month in a sign of his damaged brand following the loss of other endorsed Senate candidates like Blake Masters and Mehmet Oz.
Meanwhile, Trump’s impact on the two 2021 Senate runoffs in Georgia, which handed Democrats the majority in the upper chamber, has continued to haunt Peach State Republicans. The former president was largely blamed for the losses due to his touting of unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged, which likely drove down GOP turnout. Warnock seized on Trump’s endorsement of Walker, rolling out a campaign ad tying the two to each other.
Walker’s loss is just the latest bad news for Trump over the past week. He has also been grappling with backlash over his meeting with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, at Mar-a-Lago last month. Trump has also gotten blowback for saying he would like to terminate parts of the Constitution in the wake of revelations about Twitter’s handling of a controversial story about Hunter Biden.
Warnock delivered on expectations
While the full results were still coming in when multiple networks called the race for Warnock, the Democratic senator appeared to meet expectations with his win.
Polls showed a close race in the days leading up to the runoff, but consistently favored the Democrat.
An Emerson College/The Hill poll released last week showed Walker leading Warnock 49 percent to 47 percent. Democrats for their party were largely expressing optimism in the final days of the runoff campaign, citing Walker’s weakness as a candidate. The party also pointed to Warnock’s past successes, including his 2020 runoff win in which he received more votes than Walker this Election Day.
Tuesday night largely validated their optimism. While the race remained close throughout the night, Warnock consistently performed well in the areas he needed to in order to win, and even appeared to flip one county, Baldwin, that went for Walker in November. His Republican opponent, meanwhile, slightly underperformed in many counties he carried last month.
Turnout remained high
Turnout was high across the board, with both candidates getting voters out early and on Election Day.
According to Georgia’s secretary of state’s office, over a million ballots had been cast on Tuesday by the middle afternoon, bringing the total number of ballots cast in the runoff to more than 2.89 million voters. The turnout was lower than the Election Day turnout last month, but it did surpass past Georgia runoffs.
Warnock benefitted from the early vote and mail-in turnout, which tend to favor Democrats. Walker was largely dependent on in-person turnout on Election Day, which tends to favor Republicans. In the end, solid turnout in blue urban areas and lower-than-expected turnout in a number of red counties worked against Walker.
All eyes now shift to 2024
With the last midterm contest of 2022 in the rearview mirror, attention will turn to the 2024 presidential election.
Republicans mulling a 2024 bid will likely use Walker’s loss, along with other Trump-endorsed candidates’ defeats, against the former president. The GOP will also likely look to recalibrate its strategy when it comes to early and mail-in voting, as well as candidate recruitment.
This was reflected in comments from one close ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who called for introspection in the party following Walker’s defeat.
“Rs need honest evaluation of party’s problems,” Josh Holmes said on Twitter. “Not taking points that rile up loud voices. Nothing is unfixable but this is not a winning product from an infrastructure standpoint.”
Democrats, including Biden, have expressed newfound optimism going into 2024. The party largely defied midterm expectations, tempering its losses in the House and growing its majority in the Senate. Democrats credit Biden’s message during the midterms, but others argue that GOP candidate quality played a role in sinking Republicans and boosting Democrats.