ATLANTA (WSAV) — Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker are neck and neck in a race that could determine the balance of power in the Senate.
The race has flipped-flopped back and forth since results started to trickle in. As it stands, 96% of precincts are reporting results and both candidates have garnered around 49% of the vote.
Sen. Raphael Warnock delivered a speech early Wednesday morning amid his very tight race with Republican challenger Herschel Walker. In the speech, Warnock admitted the race was not close to being over but declared that he would defeat Walker once the votes were completely tallied.
“Here’s what we do know, we know that when they’re finished counting the votes from today’s election, that we’re going to have received more votes than my challenger,” Warnock said.
“We will hear from the people who have given me the great honor of my life, representing you in the United States Senate,” Warnock continued. “We will move forward together, I remain as committed to this work as I have ever been, and I look forward to continuing on that journey together over the next six years.”
WSAV spoke with Warnock Tuesday morning ahead of the polls opening. The incumbent said he felt good as voting began and pointed to Georgia’s record number of early voter turnout as a benefit for himself more so than his challenger.
“I say that a vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and for our children. A vote is your voice,” Warnock said. “Your voice is your human dignity. So it’s great for democracy and yes I do think that voter turnout is good for me.”
A slight majority of Georgia voters, just over 50%, expect Warnock to win the election for Senate. About the same expect Walker to win. Warnock currently holds a two-point lead over Walker in the latest poll.
However, only about two percent of voters are undecided. This means that Warnock is just shy of the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff with 49.5% support to Walker’s 47.6%. Since the last Emerson/The Hill/WSAV poll in October, each candidate gained a percentage point, but the results still show most voters expect Warnock to win regardless of who they support.
“For voters who say the economy is their top issue, 75% plan to vote for Walker,” said Spencer Kimball, Executive Director of Emerson College Polling, “Nearly 9 in 10 voters (89%) whose top issues are ‘threats to democracy’ or abortion access plan to vote for Warnock.”
The chamber is now divided 50-50 between the two major parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving Democrats the tie-breaking vote.
Yet the state’s quirky election law means Tuesday could be just Round 1. Georgia requires a majority to win statewide office, and with polls suggesting a close race and a third-party candidate on the ballot, it’s possible neither Warnock nor Walker will surpass the 50% threshold. That would set up a four-week blitz ahead of a Dec. 6 runoff that, depending on the outcomes in other Senate contests, could reprise the 2020 election cycle, when two Senate runoffs in Georgia doubled as a national winner-take-all battle for partisan control of the Senate.
A runoff also would mean another month of Warnock hammering Walker, a sports celebrity turned politician, as unqualified and Walker assailing Warnock as a rubber-stamp for the White House.
Warnock, who is also the senior minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, answers that Walker is “not ready” and “not fit” for high office. That’s an allusion to Walker’s rocky past, from allegations of violence against his ex-wife to accusations by two women Walker once dated that he encouraged and paid for their abortions despite his public opposition to abortion rights.
Both approaches highlight the candidates’ most glaring liabilities.
Amid generationally high inflation and with Biden’s popularity lagging in Georgia, Warnock wants voters to make a localized choice, not a national referendum on Democrats as a whole. Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator, Warnock pitches himself as a pragmatist who cuts deals with Republicans when they’re willing and pushes Democratic-backed cost-cutting measures when they’re not. Among the top accomplishments Warnock touts: capping the cost of insulin and other drugs for Medicare recipients.
“I’ll work with anybody to get things done for the people of Georgia,” Warnock said.
Walker, meanwhile, denies that he’s ever paid for an abortion. And glossing over a cascade of other stories — documented exaggerations of his business record, academic achievements and philanthropic activities; publicly acknowledging three additional children during the campaign only after media reports on their existence — Walker touts his Christian faith and says his life is a story of “redemption.”
Through the scrutiny he calls “foolishness,” the Republican nominee has campaigned as a cultural and fiscal conservative. Walker, who is also Black, pledges to “bring people together” while framing Warnock as a divisive figure on matters of race and equality. Walker justifies his attack using snippets of Warnock’s sermons in which the pastor-senator discusses institutional racism.
Republicans used similar tactics against Warnock ahead of his runoff victory on Jan. 5, 2021. Warnock won that contest by about 95,000 votes out of 4.5 million cast. More than 2 million Georgia voters have cast ballots ahead of Election Day.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.